How to knit the Garter Stitch

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 every thing else you need to know (like counting rows, etc).

What is a garter stitch?

a swatch knit in garter stitch knitting pattern with a couple of knitting tools and yarn next to it

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.

  ⓘ 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.

close up of a swatch in garter stitch so you can see the structure

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How to knit the garter stitch

working on a little swatch in the garter stitch knitting pattern

Knitting this stitch is incredibly easy as it's a simple 1-row repeat that doesn't require any complicated techniques and you don't need to remember any complicated pattern. All you need to know is how to knit the knit stitch.

  • Every row: *knit*
Active Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Instructions

  1. Cast on any number of stitches with a long tail cast on.
    a simple long tail cast on as a preparation for the garter stitch
  2. Row 1: Turn your work around, bring the yarn to the back, and knit every stitch.

    starting the first row of garter stitch by knitting the first stitch

  3. Row 2: Once you finished the first row, turn the workaround, and bring the yarn to the back again.


    brining the yarn to the back after you turned the work around to start the second row of garter stitch
    And then, and knit across again.

    continuing knitting the knit stitch across the whole second row
  4. Repeat knitting across all rows and stitches until you reached the desired length.
    counting garter stitch rows with a project still on the knitting needles

Notes

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 produced the exact same fabric. As 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

illustration showing you 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 this pattern creates, 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

a swatch in garter stitch knit 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 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 row marker so you don’t lose track!

The is just one problem with this method. It will create a visible faux seam. Knitting in the round means you are actually knitting a spiral, and not round after round, so every new round you begin, there will be a quite visible little jog.

a visible jog at the start/end of the round when you are knitting garter stitch in the round

There are two solutions to 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.

comparing a method to knit garter stitch in the round with a jogless option that is less visible
Bottom: knitting without a special technique | Top: Slipping the first stitch of every round

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

weaving in the tails of garter stitch by pulling the yarn through the legs of the knit stitches with a tapestry needle

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.

how the garter stitch swatch looks like after you wove in the ends
My swatch after I wove in the tail.

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?

A swatch in garter stitch with stripes in two colors

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 isn’t really reversible again. 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).

the wrong side of a swatch knit in garter stitch with stripes with floats clearly visible

How to fix dropped stitches

fixing a dropped stitch in garter stitch with a crochet hook several rows down

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).

Here’s how to fix a dropped stitch in garter stitch.

Joining two pieces together

seaming garter stitch with the mattress stitch using a red contrasting yarn

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.
going through the first bottom bump on the edge of the first garter stitch ridge from right to left
  • 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

two pieces joined together by grafting garter stitch horizontally to create an invisible seam

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.

Here’s my full tutorial on grafting garter stitch

Reverse Garter Stitch

the reverse garter stitch knitting pattern on the right side

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

a triple garter stitch selvage helping against curling of knitting

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

So, that’s how to knit the Garter Stitch. Make sure to comment below in case you have any questions.

How to knit the garter stitch for beginners - step by step tutorial

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