New episodes every Tuesday!
Feb. 8, 2022

60: Garter Stitch

60: Garter Stitch

This week we're going back to basics (and not-so-basics) by taking a look at garter stitch. Our question this week is about converting fair isle pullovers into cardigans without having to purl colorwork.


Garter stitch is one of our favorite fabrics: elastic, stretchy, and squishy!

NOTE: Karen said some nonsense about how to do a steeking panel during the question portion. Her nonsense was not correct. Listen to next week's episode instead of what she said here and you'll be much happier!

First historical mention of garter stitch from The Lady’s Assistant for Executing Fancy and Useful Designs in Knitting, Netting and Crotchet Work here

Book Recommendation

Patterns mentioned in this week's episode:

What's on our needles this week:

The Make Good Stashdown is still going!

It will continue until March 31, so there's still plenty of time to join. Join the fun by posting photos with the tag #makegoodstashdown (no year, please!)

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Transcript

Karen
Hi, and welcome to Make Good, the podcast about yarn and knitting from Scratch Supply Co. We're recording today in downtown Lebanon, New Hampshire, and we're really excited to be here. I'm Karen.

Jessica
And I'm Jessica.

Karen
We're going to talk about a particular type of fabric today. We're talking about Garter stitch.

Jessica
Can I start us off with a historical fun fact? Sure. The word Garter is actually a whole lot older than the word stock inet, and it dates back to the 13 hundreds. Originally, the word Garter referred to bands of fabric that were tied around the tops of your stockings to keep them from wiggling down your leg as you went about your day. And the name for the actual stitch that we use as knitters was taken from the name of those fabric bands. Apparently, history tells us that garters were knit using Garter stitch, which is a more elastic fabric than stock net stitches.

Karen
Oh, because of the way it's constructed. It's stretchy in the same way that ribbing is stretchy, except instead of being stretchy horizontally across columns, the way ribbing is, it's stretchy. I'm going to say vertically across rows.

Jessica
It's snappy and bouncy in a functional way and has a lot of squish, which I think would maybe make it feel better tied around your leg.

Karen
Yes, I'm picturing a band of like 20 stitches that you'd make long enough instead of casting on the whole circumference of your leg. That's cool. That's really smart.

Jessica
When I was booming around online looking for some historical info for you all, I also discovered the earliest mention of Garter stitch in a book. I mean, I didn't discover it. Some historical researcher discovered it at some point, but I found record of their work, and it was in a book in the year 1840 called The Lady's Assistant for Executing Fancy and Useful Designs in Knitting, netting and Crochet Work. In strict accordance, I shall be shown with the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter crochet spelled with two T's, of course. And it was written by a Scottish businesswoman who also apparently was a fiber arts author. And it's kind of a beautiful little book. And on the website archive.org, somebody has helpfully scanned it so you can page through the book and get to see the beautiful text that knitters used to have to rely on, and we'll link to it in the show notes if you are interested in either old books or knitting related content, or both. As an aside, when you find it and start looking through the book, it's actually the first set of instructions for any knitting in the book. There's like a glossary at the front, and then the first thing it tells you how to do is how to create Garter stitch.

Karen
That makes sense, because if you assume that you're knitting flat, Garter stitch is actually the fabric that requires the smallest number of skills to do correctly. Assuming you're not doing increases or something, but just creating the fabric.

Jessica
Once somebody gets stitches on the needles for you or you find a way to figure it out. If you've got a knit stitch, you can make Garter stitch fabric.

Karen
Right. Because the way you make Garter is assume you're knitting flat. You're going to knit across your needles, you're going to turn your work, and then you're going to knit back across to where you started, turn it again. You're just knitting back and forth, and it creates that sort of vertically bumpy fabric. If you're looking at the right side of you're knitting, you have a row of knit stitch and then a row of Pearl stitch, except you did knit stitch on both sides because you're turning your work.

Jessica
And if you're newer to knitting, those Pearl bumps that are visible are called Garter ridges. So sometimes in a pattern, you'll see instruction to create a Garter Ridge. And that's actually two rows of knitting, not one home, because you need a row of knit, which is like your foundation fabric, I suppose. And then the back side of that knit stitch, what appears visually as the Pearl, is your raised stitch. That's in relief. It's the Ridge that pops out against the knit.

Karen
So some characteristics of Garter stitch, it's really stretchy because of the corrugation you have that sort of standing up and down. It gives you a lot of elasticity, which if you picture tying the top of your stockings, it's going to be really elastic and it doesn't curl on the edge. You know how stock and that stitch does if it's flat? That's why we put ribbon on a lot of our stuff.

Jessica
Yeah. The curl factor of stocking up is one of the most frustrating memories I have as an early knitter.

Karen
Right.

Jessica
It was baffling to me. I was positive I was doing something wrong, and I was powerless to make it stop. I was a selftaught knitter, so I didn't have the support of knitting friends or mentors. I didn't have access to instructors in a local yarn shop, so I was just creating a fabric. Once I learned how to Perl, that was flat and my stitches felt beautiful, and I was really proud of myself, and then the edges would just suck themselves under.

Karen
Right.

Jessica
Baffling to me. As far as edges go.

Karen
Though, with Garter stitch.

Jessica
You don't have that problem. And because Garter is kind of like a bumpy fabric, if you want your edges to look a little bit more tidy, sometimes designers will tell you to slip the first stitch of every row, and it gives you a cleaner edge.

Karen
Are you slipping Pearl wise or knit wise? When you do that.

Jessica
You'Re slipping knitwise because it's at the beginning of the row that you're working, which is a row of knit stitches in whatever direction you're going, unless the designer, for some reason wants you to slip Pearl wise.

Karen
And then they'll tell you in the pattern so if you wanted to make Garter stitch and you were knitting in the round, how would you do that?

Jessica
So to create Garter fabric, knitting three dimensionally, like a Garter stitch hat or the sleeve of a Garter stitch sweater, you are no longer just knitting. You are knitting your first row or round in this case, and then you're curling your second round. So you're alternating, and what you're doing is creating the same fabric that you do from knitting every row flat. So you get this great kind of reversible symmetrical textile. Whether it's something you intend to wear that way or not is one thing, but you've given yourself that aesthetic option. I think that Garter stitch has a lot of appeal. It's a nice fabric. It's really thick compared to stock in it. Even though you're casting on the same number of stitches, you're working yarn in the same way. If you were to Swatch with the same yarn and needles, a little stock in the square and a little Garter square, you're going to end up with different gauge.

Karen
Oh, for sure.

Jessica
Your stitches are behaving differently in that fabric construction. And because Garter is more textured than stocking, it you've got that, like, squish factor, right?

Karen
You're going to end up with different gauge, both horizontally and vertically, probably. And I'm not going to pretend I don't have to do this every time I do a gauge Swatch or I'm trying to calculate gauge from something that isn't technically a gauge Swatch. So you, like, lay it out with whatever your little guide is. I have to physically touch the right leg of every knit stitch, not necessarily with my hands, because my hands are human hand size.

Jessica
But, like, I have to take.

Karen
Like, a VPN or a blocking pin or something and just touch, touch, touch. Otherwise I lose count. It's a disaster. And it's even worse for me on Garter stitch because there's, like, visual distraction. That's just how I have to do it.

Jessica
I love how different all knitters do things. Like, you touch the right leg of your stitch, I take a VPN or a blocking pin or something, and I poke it right in the middle of the knit stitch hole. I'm like, these are my little V's right in the middle. And that's how I know that I'm counting them correctly for me to be able to figure out where I am in this fabric.

Karen
I have a really hard time keeping track of which hole is the middle of a stitch and which one is in between stitches. So that's why I have to alternate if I can get it right one time, and I'm just going every other one.

Jessica
It's a lot of struggle.

Karen
But you know what it is?

Jessica
It's attention to fine detail. Yes, that is varying degrees of easy or not easy to look at, depending on the colors of your yarn, depending on the fiber content. Some stitches are like, Bam, I'm a stitch, and it's really easy to identify. And then, for example, my Rhinebeck sweater that I knit using a bouquet yarn that was a blend of wool and alpaca. Who knows what my gauge is like? It was a total surprise. I knew how many stitches I had cast on for my gauge Swatch. And I was like, Great, we're just measuring this and doing a little division. It was not how many stitches are in this inch, it's how many inches is the square. I know how many stitches I cast on gauge process because they were so difficult to look at, right?

Karen
Yeah. Those stitches were lost in a little furry alpaca forest.

Jessica
That's okay. We're knitters, we have creative solutions, all sorts of struggles we possibly create for ourselves.

Karen
All that being said, if you are accustomed to knitting stock a net stitch with, like, this particular yarn, let's say you knit with the wool stock a lot. You knit a lot of Stockinette top down sweaters. You decide you're going to knit a Garter stitch hat, you're going to need to check your gauge because it will be different. Even if you know your gauge on stock net, it may not be wildly different. It may be wildly different. Some people have very different gauge in a different type of fabric.

Jessica
Surprise mittens watches.

Karen
So what are some ways that you might choose to use Garter stitch in a project that you're working on?

Jessica
There are all sorts of different ways, and I think it's kind of nice to revisit Garter stitch, to think about it in terms of what are the possibilities in my knitting practice? Because I think there's a tendency for knitters to be in a constant state of progression. We're always wondering what new skill we can build, what new thing we can learn. And a lot of us are driven to really advance our skill set and our techniques. So once you master Garter stitch, I think there's a fair number of us who are kind of like, well, that was my starter stitch, and you kind of leave it behind. Yeah, I'm going to go do more complicated things.

Karen
Once you learn how to Pearl, you feel like you're graduating from Garter stitch. It's like a psychological thing. You're like, oh, I don't have to make just that anymore. And it's true you don't have to make just that anymore, but it's still something that is worth making and gives really good results.

Jessica
So let's revisit. Let's fall back in love with Garter stitch and think about some different ways to use it. You can use Garter stitch as your all over fabric in a project, whether it's a garment or an accessory. And this is actually one of my favorite ways to use Garter stitch, particularly in shawls and wraps. I like them to be squishy, and sometimes you just need that not overly complicated, easy to do while you're tired or watching a movie or whatever kind of project, and we're going to recommend just a handful of projects that are good examples of this. But for all of our fabric, I think the Melting Marl Shawl by Stephen West is a great example. It's a really big squishy Crescent shawl, and it's full of different color transitions. I'm suggesting this pattern is something to look at because the color transition piece is my personal favorite reason for using Garter stitch in my shawls. I have a little just simple Garter stitch triangle shawl that I wear all the time. It's great when it's not too freezing or there's a little chill.

Karen
It's the right size for that.

Jessica
But I picked up a bunch of single skeins of indie dyed yarn at a trunk show that we hosted, and I use them all together in that shawl. And I find that using Garter stitch really softens color transitions in a way that Stockinette can't do.

Karen
Right.

Jessica
When you have stock and that's fabric, and you can see that it's just knit stitches stacked on top of each other on the front side of your fabric, they Nestle into each other, so it's like a line of red and a line of Orange. But when you look on the back side, there's the transition row where you can see those colors interlock, and that's fine. But I like to kind of blur that and hide it. So when you're knitting and Garter stitch, I find that those transition pieces where your colors are interlocking are less stark. It's less visible.

Karen
Yeah.

Jessica
So high recommend for Garter for hiding things. It's like a filter for your knitting.

Karen
Well, and that works really well with patterns by designers like Steven West, who are playing with color. And it's not just sort of incidental to a color work pattern. Stephen west patterns are almost always some kind of color work, but they're not like, this is a motif of hearts across the yoke of my sweater. The color working with each other is the whole point.

Jessica
Another fun way to use Garter stitching your projects is as sturdy, flexible edges. I think there's a tendency to just kind of assume you've got edge work on a project. That's a garment. So you use ribbing, some type of ribbing, one by one, two by two, one by three, whatever the case may be, ribbing is kind of the gold standard, but it doesn't have to be. You can use Garter stitch instead and get a different visual effect and still have the stretchiness and the flexibility that ribbing gives you, but with a totally different aesthetic.

Karen
So I did a cardigan a couple of years ago. It was the Afield cardigan, and the designer was Fiona Alice. It was in, I want to say, the winter 2019 issue of Pompom that had a lot of really good texture in it. There are still a couple of patterns I really want to go back and knit from that issue, and it used a Garter stitch. It was an open no button cardigan, and it used Garter stitch for where the button band would be like the edge. It also used Garter stitch for the sleeves, knitting the round. The body of this thing had slip stitch, slanted faux brioche kind of thing, which that's a story because it's beautiful. It's a really gorgeous cardigan. And I will tell you, I was knitting it at our New Year's Eve, not really a slumber party. And I was like, I get this. I understand. I know what I'm doing. And incorrect, because it was mirrored and reversed, and I had to frog that whole thing. Like, first thing New Year's morning. It was so depressing. But even though the sleeves were knitting around, they were in Garter stitch, which I have to say, as somebody who doesn't love Purling, I get a little salty about large amounts of fabric in the round in Garter stitch, because I'm like, I could just be knitting. If they had just been knit, they wouldn't have gone with the rest of the cardigan. There was a reason, right.

Jessica
But that was an impressive piece. I loved that sweater, and there was a lot going on. It was beautiful.

Karen
Yes. So specifically, the Garter neck band inner edging on the cardigan really gave it that structure because it was big and heavy. It was a ton of fabric. And I think if that hadn't been there, it might have been one that slowly became a Duster where it just keeps growing down. That was also the one that has you do a three needle bind off, reversed from the normal way you do a three needle bind off, so the join stands up as a Ridge, which Woof, that threw me, too. I love that cardigan. It was a labor of love.

Jessica
If you're interested in trying a cardigan that has some of those qualities, but is maybe more potato chip knitting, like less complicated design features. And just here's a pallet to experiment with your edge work. Harvest from Tin Can Knit is a good cardigan that has that really simple construction, top down Raglan, and it's got the Garter neck band wrapping all around. So there are no buttonholes in it. But if you wanted to, that'd be a good place to practice your button holes because the Garter will hide them in the squish. So if you're like, oh, maybe this isn't a buttoned cardigan for me. Who cares if there are holes there no one can see it. It's fabric of illusion. And then it's got the Garter cups at the sleeves and the hem at the bottom of the sweater. So that's a cute little cardigan. That's a free pattern and great to learn those skills on another time. That Garter is fun is as a decorative element. And I think you're a field cardigan also featured that because it was not all Garter stitch.

Karen
Right.

Jessica
But it was intentional specific design focus, Garter stitch, but just little sections of it here and there kind of create squish and shaping that's different than the rest of your fabric. So that's kind of neat. A shawl that I really like that features. This is called A Break in Tide by TIFF Nealon, and it's a big triangle shawl that's got sections of Garter stitch, and there are slip stitch sections and then Fisherman's ribs. So this thing is super squishy and fun to play with. Color and texture.

Karen
There's also a book that came out pretty recently by Brandy Cheyenne Harper. The title of the book is Knitting for Radical Selfcare, and it has a lot of really beautiful projects that feature Garter stitch. The projects that are in this book are largely knit with bulky yarn. In between that and the texture that the Garter stitch gives these projects, they look very modern. They're just really cool. Specifically, the Olay jacket, the Audrey Cowell and the Sola scarf are the ones in there that we think really fit that really well.

Jessica
And while we're thinking about Garter stitch and design, I just want to give a shout out to the OG knitting pattern garment construction with Garter stitch. Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise jacket is a Garter stitch masterpiece. I don't know if people are still knitting this.

Karen
Yes, they are.

Jessica
Sure. They'll never stop.

Karen
Who could stop? People who started knitting this for their own kids are now knitting it for their grandkids.

Jessica
Yes. It's a pattern that's from the late 60s. I think I could be wrong, though, and it could be the late 50s. It is an old pattern at this point, and it is timeless. It's all Garter stitch. If you're not familiar with it, just Google it. There are so many options online. I think the Ravelry project pages feature, like, almost 280 of them. It's a shocking number.

Karen
But it's a Garter stitch shape.

Jessica
A piece of fabric, and then you fold it in a couple of places and pop in some seams, and then it's a coat. It's shocking and kind of fun. So Garter stitch, you are squishy and lovely and give us so many options as knitters. You beautiful tropical fish, you're smart as a whip, and you're cool under pressure. You've resuscitated a human heart in your bare hands. No, I haven't. You haven't? No, you will. Don't overlook it.

Karen
What's on your needles, Jessica?

Jessica
My Sorrick I'm still working on that dress, and not very often because I'm also working on other projects, but slow, all stock knitting. It's a lot of slow skirt knitting. So nothing really exciting to report this week. What's on your needles, Karen?

Karen
Same. I'm still working on my Amber Wing socks by Summer Lee. I love them. I love them so much, but they're not done yet, so I'm still working on them.

Jessica
They're super cute.

Karen
Hey, Jessica.

Jessica
Yes, Karen?

Karen
Are you ready for a letter? I sure am. The letter this week comes from Angela.

Jessica
Hey, Angela.

Karen
I love knitting. Fair aisle, and I use the two handed method because I find it goes a ton faster. I really want to knit a fair aisle cardigan, but the two options I know of are both scary to me, I. E. Knitting flat, which means Purling, and far aisle with two or more strands in my right hand, as I can't currently do a Purl stitch with my left hand, or knitting it in the round and sticking parentheses insert horror movie scream here as he wish. Are there any other options that I don't know about, or is there a recipe for converting fair aisle pullovers into cardigans?

Jessica
Oh, Angela, I think you know the answer to this question, and I think you just wanted to hear someone else say it to you. So I also love a good cardigan and have mixed feelings about fair aisle because I'm lazy, but it's gorgeous and fun to knit. And apparently you also like knitting it faster and not slower. So let's look for a second at your proposal of knitting a fair aisle cardigan flat. Is it possible? Sure. Do you want to do it? Doesn't sound like it, and that's specifically because pearling's stranded color work is slow and it's complicated. And I think that it also gives you an additional layer of concern about gauge. Yes, when you're knitting far aisle, traditionally you're knitting in the round, and that means that every stitch you're making is a knit. So if you are able to find a comfortable place for tensioning your yarn, your stitches are just what they are. You don't have to worry too much once you get the hang of carrying the floats. But if you're knitting across the front of your fabric and then you're Purling across the back of your fabric and you're carrying your floats as well, there's more opportunity for gauge discrepancies, I think, and it's not impossible, but it's a type of knitting that you might not be interested in and then sticking. So at some point we're going to need to do a whole episode on sticking, because sticking is a process that I think knitters have a lot of feelings about.

Karen
I'm going to hide under the table for the entire episode.

Jessica
And I'm going to, like, bring my pompoms and just be here to cheer you all on. So speaking, if you don't know what that is, is the process of knitting a project in the round in one piece. Usually it's color work. 99% of the time it's color work and then securing some stitches and taking scissors to it to cut it open. You might be cutting open the front of a cardigan. You might be cutting armholes in the yoke of a sweater or cutting out a placing in the chest of a sweater. You're just cutting your knitting up and then doing a little bit of finish work. It's a process, but it's totally doable. You can definitely convert a far aisle pullover pattern into a cardigan but the ways to do that are either playing with the charts and knitting it flat or inserting a sticking panel into that instruction so you can just hack up your sweater once you've finished knitting it. I will say that the way to insert a sticking panel is totally possible. It's not overly complicated. You need to identify where you want the cut to happen. So if you are turning a sweater into a cardigan, that would be the center of the front, unless you want some funky asymmetrical action, which you might it's fashion. But identify where we're assuming the center of the front. And then in your instruction, in your charting, you're going to insert a section of stitches that are between five and seven stitches wide, and you're going to carry color work across that not in pattern, but in an alternating one by one stitch, because it helps you easily look at that sticking panel later and it differentiates that section of fabric from the rest of your sweater.

Karen
So when Jessica says to insert a panel, that's something you have to plan to do before you cast on.

Jessica
Yes.

Karen
Like you have to cast on that extra number of stitches. You're not like doing increases or something. You need those stitches all the way up so you don't run into some kind of fiasco.

Jessica
Yes, Karen is absolutely right. You are planning extra stitches and not physically sticking a panel in later or increasing at all. So thank you for that, clarification. So, Angela, you know what you need to do? You just have to decide what sounds more appealing. And you know that we're here to cheer you on. So I said make a plan and we will support you.

Karen
I'm going to say you can do it, Angela.

Jessica
You totally can do it. I've seen your color work before. I know what it looks like. Hi, Karen.

Karen
Yes.

Jessica
Should we do a quick Knitalong check in?

Karen
Absolutely. Yeah.

Jessica
So it is February.

Karen
How is it February?

Jessica
Okay, so it's February, and we are a couple of weeks into our first Knitalong of the year, which is the Make Good stash down.

Karen
It's so fun. You are amazing.

Jessica
Lots of people are posting photos of their multiple projects on Instagram and tagging us wildly. And I am here for it.

Karen
I love it. It's so good.

Jessica
We've got socks, we've got shawls. We have sweaters that have been pulled out of abandoned project bags and finished with shocking speed decorative wall hangings on your front door. All sorts of fun stuff is happening, and we're proud of all of you for conquering your stash. It's definitely not too late to join, so if you've been thinking about it, just jump in at any point. We've definitely had people reach out to us and say we missed the cast on. Can we still participate?

Karen
Here's a secret.

Jessica
If you don't know, we don't care.

Karen
When you start.

Jessica
Join us at any time, the Nidalong will run through the end of March, so there's plenty of time to play with your stash and make some amazing things you don't need to be done by the end of March to participate in this Nidal Long, you don't have to choose a certain pattern. It's a free for all. You're making whatever you want.

Karen
No one can stop you.

Jessica
No, not even if we tried. The only rules are that you have to find a way to share this image with us and it's mostly on Instagram. So the hashtag that we're using for this Knitalong is #makegoodstashdown. Please do not put a year on the end of this because I'm not looking at other hashtags and you will never see it. If you want to be eligible to win the prize at the end of the Knitalong, which is a $150 gift card to Scratch Supply Company, you need to make sure that you are following the Make Good Pod Instagram account and the Scratch Supply Co Instagram account and then we will choose at random, finished or unfinished. It does not matter. Someone's going to win at the end of March and you are going to keep knitting until you finish your project. Because finishing is fun too.

Karen
I think that might be it for us this week. You can listen to us all over the place. You can subscribe if you haven't done that yet by hitting some kind of subscribe button somewhere on one of your robots. You can rate and review us. It helps other knitters find us.

Jessica
Tell your friends personally too. Everyone loves a good suggestion for a new podcast. You can follow us on Instagram. That's where all the exciting visual stuff happens. Our account is at Makegoodpod a super big thank you to all of our Patreon supporters.

Karen
We love you, we appreciate you.

Jessica
You let us do this every week without ever even thinking about advertising because nobody wants to hear that.

Karen
You can visit our website makegoodpod.com. The show notes are there. The show notes are also maybe in your podcast app by swiping some direction and you can send us questions to dearscratch@scratchsupplyco.com and we will try to answer them.

Jessica
If you're on our website, you can click the little Contact us form and fill out a question form there or click on the little microphone at the bottom of the page and leave us a voicemail because we absolutely want to hear from you.

Karen
We’ll talk to you guys next week. Bye.