The garter stitch is the first knitting stitch that more beginners learn. Even if you never progress to learning any other knitting stitch, garter stitch allows you to make any number of knitted items with its distinctive pattern. Simple to use and suitable for all weights of yarn, garter stitch is the basis of any knitter’s skill set.
To begin, you will need to cast on a number of stitches on a pair of knitting needles. A good size for a practice square is 40 stitches. If you use a medium weight yarn (worsted or double knitting), then needles that are size 4mm are a sensible choice. These will create stitches that are large enough for you to see, but not so large that they become just a collection of holes.
The beauty of garter stitch is in its simplicity. Every row is a knitted row, there are no purl stitches to worry about. When you work the first row, you will see how the stitches you pull over the needle sit at the back of the work, snug against the knitting needle.
On row 2, as you knit the stitches they again sit snugly against the knitting needle, but this time at the front of the work. After you have knitted 4 rows, stop and look at how the stitches have formed alternate ridges on either side of your knitting. This is the garter stitch pattern. Complete your practice square in garter stitch and cast off.
Any knitting pattern can be followed by using just the garter stitch. However, the stitches do have an elasticity greater than stocking stitch, so making large heavy items is not recommended. To increase when using garter stitch, simply knit into the back and the front of a single stitch. To decrease, knit 2 or more stitches together.
If you wish to use more than one colour yarn in your garter stitch pattern, you will not achieve the crisp colour changes that stocking stitch gives unless you only introduce the new colour on a right side row. As each stitch is lifted off the knitting needle as you work in garter stitch, the different colours of yarn form a looped pattern along the ridge of stitch tops.
Garter stitch can be used to create deliberate geometric patterns, particularly when making blankets. A very effective technique is to knit several squares just like your practice piece. Try using a chunky yarn and larger knitting needles such as 5 or 6 mm. When you have several knitted squares, sew them together so that the ridges formed by the garter stitch pattern all go in different directions. This creates a basket-weave effect, and helps to prevent the blanket from stretching too far out of shape.
For added interest, you can knit in garter stitch on the bias for some of your squares. This means casting on at the corner of your square, and increasing at each end of the rows until the desired width and length has been achieved. You then continue to work by decreasing the stitches as evenly as they were added until you have a square of knitting. By working this square in garter stitch, you will have ridges that lay diagonally across the piece.
Garter stitch is fun to experiment with and forms the basis of many different stitch patterns.