A detailed tutorial on stockinette stitch knitting for beginners and how to fix the most common mistakes.
Are you wondering how to knit the stockinette stitch? Then you came to the right place. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you step-by-step how to knit the most basic knitting stitch. While the repeat itself is pretty easy, I’ll show you a couple of things you need to be aware of, some important alternatives, and how to fix common mistakes.
What is a stockinette stitch?
A stockinette stitch is a classic knitting pattern where you alternate knit stitches in the first row and purl stitches in the return row. It creates a very smooth and stretchy surface on the right side and that’s the reason why it is favored in very fine stockings. Most commercially available socks and pullovers are knitted in this stitch.
ⓘ In knitting patterns, the stockinette stitch is often abbreviated as st st. You’ll sometimes also hear stocking stitch.
Let’s dive right into teaching you how to knit this classic knitting pattern, eh?
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- Step: Cast on any number of stitches. A moderately stretchy cast on works best with this stitch.
I recommend the longtail cast on, but any other technique is fine as well
- Row 1: Knit across all stitches with the knit stitch
After you finished the firt row, turn your work around, and bring the yarn to the front.
- Row 2: Knit a purl stitches across
- Repeat row 1 and 2 until you reached the desired length. It’s that easy. Just switch between knit and purl stitches.
It's very important to keep an even tension across all stitches. A lot of beginners struggle with their purl stitches. They sometimes are a bit too loose. If you got an interchangeable needle set or some spare needles, you can try knitting the purl return round with a smaller needle to fix that problem
Another very common issue is knitters twisting either their knit stitches or their purl stitches. This happens when you are inserting the needle the wrong way and accidentally knit a purl through the back loop (ptbl) or a knit through the back loop (ktbl).
And last, but certainly not least, if you are knitting yarn with a multistrand ply (say 8-ply merino wool) or a single thread yarn, then the "V"s of the stockinette stitch will appear to look quite a bit different. It almost looks a bit like a continuous vertical line with a slanting line in between.
If that happens, there's nothing wrong with your stockinette stitch. It's just the way the yarn wants to lay.
Cast on alternatives
Typically knitters care a lot about different cast-off methods but always cast on the same way. If you think about it, that makes little sense. If you have a stretchy pattern, then you need both a stretchy cast on and a stretchy cast-off. Otherwise, you end up with a rigid edge on one side and a loose edge on the other side.
The stockinette stitch is moderately stretchy. Hence the standard longtail cast on is perfect.
The only thing you need to consider is that a longtail cast on will create knit stitches. Once you turn your work for the first row, these will appear as purl stitches. This means you can…
- either start your with a purl row
- or do a purl long-tail cast on (in case your pattern prevents you from switching right and wrong side)
…at least, if you want a nice knit stitch edge. The knitted edge is rather prominent and will make a nice hem, but tends to curl rather easily.
If you want a less conspicuous edge, then do the standard longtail cast-on and knit the first row. That way, you create a flat, non-curly garter-stitch edge.
The single cast-on works with stockinette stitch knitting as well but is quite a bit looser. So, I personally prefer the longtail cast on.
If you need to join the cast on edge to another piece using mattress stitch, then the single cast on is no option as it lacks the little bars in between the stitches.
The knitted cast-on creates a very loose edge as well that could be ideal for scarfs. Just make sure that you cast on in the same stitch as the first row since you are casting on the other way round and won’t turn the work. Here’s my full tutorial for the knitted cast on.
How to prevent curling
Once you start knitting the stockinette stitch, you’ll soon notice the edge curling in and it doesn’t really lie flat. If you join your project to another piece later on (like when you are knitting the front of a pullover) it doesn’t matter. But in a scarf, it’s probably not what you want. To prevent curling, you have a couple of options. Here are the two easiest solutions:
- Add a non-curly selvage. A garter stitch edge (so knit the last two stitches on each side in both rows) or a seed stitch helps a lot to prevent the edges from curling in. Also, a cast on in a different stitch (see above) can help to prevent curling.
- You could also block the finished work. This is a method where you wet or steam your final piece after locking into the intended shape with needles. It will not take out all of the curling though.
I wrote a detailed guide with 7 more ways to prevent knitting from curling here.
Stockinette stitch in the round
A lot of people are wondering how you knit stockinette stitch in the round. This is incredibly easy.
You only have to knit across. That’s it.
This is probably one of the reasons why it became such a popular pattern for socks, as it’s super easy to knit. And you don’t need to purl at all.
Note: Be careful when you switch to the next needle. Often, you create an accidental yarn over. Also, keep the tension extra tight when switching needles or you create a visible ladder.
Reverse Stockinette Stitch
The reverse stockinette stitch is actually the very same stitch as the regular stitch. The only difference is that you’ll use the reverse side (“wrong side”). It sounds a bit like it was a different stitch order or some other magic, but it’s really that simple.
- Row 1: Purl across
- Row 2: Knit across
- Repeat row 1+2 until the end
2-Colored stockinette stitch
The fun starts, when you add a second color or a third or a fourth. You can easily knit a 2 colored stockinette stitch by starting with a different yarn in every knit row.
If you change the yarn every two rows, you don’t even need to sow in any tails. A 4-row repeat also works without cutting the yarn as long as you remember to thread the yarn you are currently not working into the selvage stitches.
Using the fair isle method, you can achieve even more elaborated multi-color patterns. You will need a special yarn ring in this case as you will be knitting both colors at the same time (I’ll try to write a detailed tutorial on this amazing method soon).
Note: Fair isle patterns are not reversible. The wrong side is rather messy, with a lot of so-called “floating threads” (or floats), so you cannot use it for a scarf, etc.
Double Stockinette Stitch
If you like the way the standard stitch looks but you want it to be reversible and not curling in at the edge, then you would have to knit the double stockinette stitch. It is a bit more difficult to knit, but only slightly so:
- Right side: Knit 1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front*
- Wrong side: *Knit 1, sl1 purlwise wyif*
Read my full tutorial on the double stockinette stitch here.
Garter stitch vs stockinette stitch
In Garter Stitch, you only do knit stitches in every row. For the stockinette stitch, you alternate between purl and knit rows. The garter stitch will produce a reversible pattern, meaning there is no right or wrong side. When knitting this stitch, you end up with two different sides – one very smooth and a purl side that looks a bit like the ribbings of the garter stitch.
Unlike the st sts, the garter stitch will produce a soft and pretty stretchy work. The stretchiness is also towards the top, rather than just to the side (like in stockinette). Both patterns easily allow you to add color by knitting two rows or multiples thereof in a different yarn.
Please note, that when you are working in the round, things are completely opposite. To knit the garter stitch in the round, you have to switch between purl and knit rows, while you’ll produce stockinette with just knitting across. I think that’s where a lot of beginners get confused.
One more thing: Both garter stitch and stockinette stitch can be used to create beautiful edge stitches (click on the link to read more about selvage techniques in knitting)