A detailed tutorial on the garter stitch knitting pattern for beginners with step by step instructions and a video.
At the beginning of your knitting career, you probably only know one stitch: the knit stitch. But here’s the good news – with this single stitch you can already finish amazing projects (like a simple coaster). Here’s how to knit the garter stitch, and everything else you need to know (like counting rows, fixing mistakes, etc).
What is a garter stitch?
The garter stitch is the most basic knitting pattern that results from knitting standard knit stitches across all rows. It creates a very sketchy, fully reversible, and elastic fabric that was once used for garters and similar hems that require a tight grip (before the age of rubber bands). The resulting texture looks a bit like meandering little waves and is quite fluffy. This is why it’s also a popular stitch for baby clothes. Most tutorials for knitting beginners start with this stitch.
ⓘ In knitting patterns, the garter stitch is sometimes abbreviated with g st.
Interesting to know: The Garter Stitch is one of the very few knitting patterns with a square gauge. This effect can be used to knit mitered squares.
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- Cast on any number of stitches with a long tail cast on.
- Row 1: Turn your work around, bring the yarn to the back, and knit every stitch.
- Row 2: Once you finished the first row, turn the workaround, and bring the yarn to the back again.
And then, and knit across again.
- Repeat knitting across all rows and stitches in that manner until you reached the desired length.
You also do not need to worry about adding a selvage (edge) to your project as it lays perfectly flat. In fact, a lot of other stitches/patterns use a 2 stitch garter selvage to prevent the work from curling (typically stockinette stitch).
You can knit the garter stitch by knitting purl stitches across all rows as well. This is called "reverse garter stitch" and produces the exact same fabric. A lot of knitters find it a bit harder to purl, so it's probably not the preferred method. But try it out! (Once you started with one method, you have to stick to it, though!).
How to count garter stitch rows
Sometimes you lose track of your knitting. Your pattern says “knit 20 rows” but which row are you in now? Counting garter stitch rows is really easy. If you look closely at the pattern you created, you’ll see little “bowls” and “domes” (for a lack of a better word). And these form little ridges.
You simply need to count those ridges and multiply this number by two. That’s how many rows you have knitted. But be careful, though. Don’t forget to count the row currently on your needle and be careful so you don’t accidentally count the cast on edge. Especially as the long tail cast on actually creates a sort of fake first row.
Here’s a more in-depth tutorial on counting garter stitch rows (+video).
Garter Stitch in the round
Some patterns require you to work in the round (typically socks or gloves). If it says knit x rows in garter stitch, then you have to be careful because you won’t be able to knit across all rows anymore.
When knitting the garter stitch in the round, you have to alternate between knit and purl rows.
- Row 1: Knit across
- Row 2: Purl across
- Repeat rows 1+2 over and over again to knit the garter stitch in the round
Tip: Use a stitch marker or row counter so you don’t lose track!
There is just one problem with this method. It will create a visible faux seam. Knitting in the round means you are actually knitting an upward spiral, and not round after round. So every new round you begin, there will be a quite visible little jog.
There are two solutions for this problem. You can either move the end of the round by one stitch with each round by slipping the last stitch purlwise, but this will still be somewhat visible.
The more ingenious solution to this age-old problem is actually knitting with TWO yarns. So, when you finish one round, you switch to the second yarn (can be the same or different color). This method is called helix knitting and I talk about it in my post about knitting jogless stripes (you can knit “stripes” in the same color as well *smirk*).
>> Here’s my full tutorial on knitting garter stitch in the round.
How to weave in ends for garter stitch
There are many ways to hide the ends and I really urge you to read my full tutorial on how to weave in tails. But here’s the gist: For garter stitch, I personally believe the most invisible way is by going through the legs of the knit stitches between to ridges.
So, I thread my end on a tapestry needle and then I spear right through the knit stitches. I don’t go around them, I go right through them (about 6-8 stitches). And if you are working with a really slippery yarn, I usually go one more time in the other direction.
This presses the ridges a tiny bit further apart but I feel it’s much more secure than going through the edges or using duplicate stitch. Plus, both these methods reinforce the fabric as well, so it’s not like they were more invisible (quite to the contrary).
How to knit stripes in garter stitch?
Changing colors in garter stitch is pretty simple if you stick to one golden rule: Only start a new stripe on the right side. It doesn’t matter how many rows or how wide you knit as long as never do it on the wrong side. Since garter stitch is actually reversible, this means changing colors in uneven rows.
So for example a repeat could be like this
- Row 1-4: knit in color a
- Row 5-8: knit in color b
- Row 9-12: knit in color a
The only problem about knitting stripes in garter stitch is that the fabric stops being reversible. The wrong side will look a bit mixed together. Also, remember to cross the yarn every two rows, so you don’t end up with big floats on the right side (I intentionally didn’t do it for the first color-change and you can clearly see a long red float on the left side).
How to fix dropped stitches
You can easily fix a dropped stitch with a crochet hook. Sometimes a stitch accidentally slips off the needle but it’s nothing you ever need to panic about as long as you secure the stitch at once using a stitch marker (or a spare needle or a safety pin, etc).
Joining two pieces together
Sometimes you need to join two pieces together. Maybe because you are knitting a sweater or you just want to join a flat piece in the round (for a hat, etc). You can seam garter stitch by using the so-called mattress stitch. It’s a very simple technique that lays flat and is almost invisible.
It basically boils down to threading the cast-on tail on a tapestry needle (or a separate length of yarn) and going through the edges – alternating between left and right.
- Step 1: Pull the yarn through the first and last cast-on stitch on both sides as a preparation.
- Step 2: Pull your tapestry needle through the last lower purl bump of the first horizontal ridge right at the edge on the left side.
- Step 3: Pull the yarn through the last top bump of the first ridge on the right side.
- Step 4: Repeat steps 2+3 until you closed the seam.
Here’s my full tutorial on seaming garter stitch (tons of big pictures + video).
Grafting garter stitch
If you want to join two pieces together with an invisible horizontal seam, you do need to learn to graft. It sounds scary, but it’s actually very easy. All you need is a tapestry needle and then you can join either two pieces that are still on the needle together. Or you use it on things like mitered squares (etc) where you want to join cast-on edge to bind off edge.
Note: I also have a tutorial that shows you how to seam edge stitch to cast-on stitch in a super invisible way.
Reverse Garter Stitch
Last, but certainly not, least we have to talk about reverse garter stitch. You might already know that a knit stitch looks exactly like a purl stitch from the wrong side and vice versa. So you can also purl all stitches to achieve the same fabric.
Here’s my full reverse garter stitch tutorial in case you are interested. And check out this post about the difference between garter stitch and reverse stockinette stitch.
Garter Stitch Selvage
Garter stitch can also be a very smart choice as an edge stitch. Add a selvage of 2 or 3 knit stitches on either side to prevent your knitting from curling. Here’s the repeat:
Every row: k3, continue in the knitting stitch pattern of your choice, k3
Here’s a more detailed list of the 10 best edge stitch techniques in knitting in case this is a topic that interests you.
Next lesson: How to cast off knitting stitches