Garter and Stockinette

This is part of a sometime series called Anatomy of a Knitted Stitch. This part is about Garter and Stockinette.

Garter and Stockinette

To long time knitters garter and stockinette are obvious and so ubiquitous.  We don’t even think about how confusing they can be to new knitters. Patterns will say “work 20 rows in garter” or “work 20 rounds in stockinette.”  Well, that’s great if you know what that means, but garter and stockinette rarely explained in patterns.  If garter and stockinette are new terms then you must look it up online. New knitters often ask me why the designer didn’t just tell them what to do!

The thing is, they have told you what to do!  And once you have been knitting for a while you don’t even think about it. You just KNOW.  But I think it’s good to review what we “KNOW” once in awhile to see if anything has changed or if there is more we can learn. So let’s talk about the old standbys – Garter and Stockinette.


Garter and Stockinette

Generally students learn the knit stitch first.

Most people learn to knit on straight needles.

This means they knit a row, then they turn their work and knit back, and so on.

This type of fabric is called garter stitch.

When you DO garter stitch you knit every row.

When you SEE garter stitch you see a knit row then a purl row, then a knit row.

Remember that every stitch is like a coin and has two sides.  If you work a knit stitch it shows up as a purl stitch on the back of your work. And vice versa.

Garter stitch is funny because from a distance it can look like all purl rows.  The purl stitch is kind of a bully. It will take over how your fabric looks and feels.

In Knits and Purls  I said “PURL stitches are a tiny, itsy bit larger than knit stitches.” That tiny bit of bigness is the purl bump hanging out the back of the stitch. When you knit in garter stitch you see a whole row of those bully bumps, then a row of the sedate and lessy bully-ish knit stitches, then back to the big bully purls – obviously the purls are going to show up more.

This isn’t really a bad thing because it makes garter stitch into a flat fabric.  Garter is alternate rows of knits and purls which balance each other out.  This balance allows the fabric you create to lay flat and not curl up or wrinkle.


Garter and Stockinette

If you only know how to knit you can only make Garter stitch.

However, once you learn how to purl you have a million more options.

The first and most common option is to create stockinette stitch.

As a beginner on straight needles, this means you knit a row, turn, and purl a row.

When you DO stockinette stitch you knit a row, then purl a row.

When you SEE stockinette stitch  you see rows and rows of knitted stitches only.

Stockinette stitch is probably the most common stitch fabric.  Stockinette has has two distinct sides.  The knit side is smooth and you only see knit stitches.  The purl side is only purl stitches.

Fashions Change

When I was growing up we thought the knit-only side was more “attractive” than the purl side.  Back then we thought the purl-only side, or “reverse stockinette” was less sophisticated.   Nowadays people are a bit less purl-prejudiced.  You can find whole sweaters made in reverse stockinette stitch!

Reverse stockinette stitch makes a great background for cables since the rougher texture of a solid purl background makes the smooth knitted cables stand out more.

I am a bit “knit-centric.”  I don’t like the look of reverse stockinette stitch on sweaters.  They make me itch to turn the garments “right side out.”  I guess I am old fashioned. I think the reverse stockinette fad has been brought about by people trying to innovate by putting the “wrong side” on the outside. It’s good to push the envelope, of course, but I prefer in general the “right side” of smooth knits, and the “wrong side” of purls for large swathes of fabric.

Stockinette is the stitch of choice for most color work, not all certainly, but most. Color work gets muddy on the purl side.  When you start using a different color the purl side of the stitch is half the old color and half the new color.  The knit side is generally more simplistic – one stitch, one color.


No, I am not talking about the grand Canadian sport.  Stockinette may be ubiquitous but it has one really big draw back.  It is NOT a balanced fabric.  By that I mean that because all the knits are on one side, and all the purls are on the other then the thuggish purls force the fabric to curl up at the bottom.

And, to make matters worse there is another type of curl in stockinette fabric.  You already know that PURL stitches are a tiny bit larger (meaning longer) than knit stitches, but additionally, KNIT stitches are a tiny bit WIDER than purl stitches. Which mean that at the side of the fabric it curls THE OTHER WAY! (Stockinette curls UP at the bottom, and curls BACK at the sides.)

This is why at the bottom of large swathes of stockinette (like a sweater for example) you will find a border – ribbing, seed, garter, etc. That is a balanced fabric so it lies flat and can act as an anchor.

Knitting in the Round

Keep in mind that your perspective changes when you are knitting in the round. To get the same look you have to DO different things.


  • When you SEE garter stitch you see a knit row then a purl row, then a knit row.
  • IN THE ROUND when you do garter stitch you must knit a round, then purl a round.
Garter and Stockinette


  • When you SEE stockinette stitch you see rows and rows of knitted stitches only.
  • IN THE ROUND when you DO stockinette stitch you knit every round.


Garter and Stockinette


It used to be that every students learned to knit on straight needles. This meant that they learned garter stitch right off the bat.  Then they learned purl stitches so they could create stockinette.  Nowadays some shops teach students to knit in the round. The students are told that all they need is the knit stitch.  I have met knitters who have been knitting for months, and never knew how to make a purl stitch.  These new knitters are often frustrated and annoyed.  They wonder what all the fuss is about because they find knitting boring. So sad!

Garter and Stockinette are easy and useful fabric types to use in your knitting.  And reverse stockinette is much more popular now for whole garments than it used to be.  Knowing how the stitches make the fabric work can help you make your project come out the way you want it to, or help you design something you can’t find a pattern for.

Click here to learn more about the Anatomy of Knitted Stitches!

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