Knitting Garter Stitch - How to for the Absolute Beginner

The ONE Stitch To Start With

Last Updated 05-08-2023

The Garter stitch is one of the first stitches a beginner knitter learns, but it doesn't stop there.  This is such a versatile stitch, and is the foundation of so many others.  It can also be called the knit stitch because you will use only one type of stitch:  the knit stitch.

In a pattern, you will see the knit stitch abbreviated k.

Garter Stitch

The technique you'll learn here consists of casting on, then knitting. 

The casting on process is something that you adapt to, over time. Everyone does it differently, there is no one way that you need to learn.

Tips for Learning the Garter Stitch

For the very beginner, I recommend that you use US 7 or 8 (4.5 to 5 mm) and medium weight yarn (number 4).  I also recommend that you start with a light colored yarn.  Dark colors such as black or navy are difficult to see even in natural light.  

The yarn should be thick enough to not show all the holes - large needles with small sized yarn will make lace, which may be something you want if you're knitting a shawl but not for other projects.

Practice by making some squares of this stitch, to get the hang of casting on, and also casting off at the end.

It's really easy to pull this too tight, especially casting off.

The Garter Stitch Characteristics

The garter stitch is the simplest of all the stich patterns used in knitting and is accomplished by knitting every row.  The front and the back of the garter stitch looks the same.  It will lay flat and will not curl on the sides which is a plus.

Use this stitch when you want something to stretch,  when you want to create something which is reversible - both the wrong side and the front side look identical, and when you need the item to lay flat.

  • It lies flat and doesn't curl like the stockinette.
  • It's stretchy.
  • It makes a good border stitch.
  • It's reversible.
  • It's the first stitch beginning knitters learn.
Circular knitting needles, a swatch of green knitted garter stitch and a ball of yarn.The Garter Stitch

Garter Stitch Directions

Let's get started.  Before you can begin to make the garter stitch, you will need to know how to cast on, how to hold your yarn, and eventually how to bind off.  I've got you covered for these skills.

How to cast on knitting

How to bind off knitting

How to hold yarn while knitting

For the purposes of this tutorial, I will be walking you through the steps of making a small garter stitch swatch.

Supplies Needed for this Tutorial

  • Yarn, preferably in a light color and a worsted weight (Craft Yarn Council Number 4).  If you haven't read my tutorial on yarn labels, you might want to start there.
  • Knitting Needles that correspond to the type of yarn you are using.  For example if you have chosen a light colored worsted weight yarn, I would recommend a size US 7 (4.5 mm) or US 8 (5.0 mm) knitting needles.
  • A pair of scissors for cutting yarn
  • A tapestry needle for weaving in ends (more about that later)

Step One (Working on Straight Needles)

One short row of stitches has been cast onCasting on or the process of placing stitches on the needle is always the first step for any knitting project.

Start by casting on 16 stitches.  Hold the needle with the cast on stitches in your left hand and the empty needle where you will do your work in your right hand.

Place the piece of yarn under and to the back of the stitch you will make.

Shown are a pair of blue knitting needles beginning to be used in the garter stitch.

Step Two

Insert the tip of the right needle into the top loop of the stitch on the left needle.  Pass the right needle under the left needle so the tips form an X.  Wrap the yarn up and over the left needle and hold with your finger. 

The garter stitch is being demonstrated with a ball of blue yarn

Step Three

While holding the yarn with your left finger, carefully pull back slightly on the right needle and pick up the loop onto the right needle.  Bring the tip of the right needle forward and over the left needle. 

Step by step instructions for making the garter stitch.  Step 3

Step Four

Slip the "original" stitch off the tip of the left hand needle. The new stitch will be on the right hand needle.  This is one stitch.

Continue to do this until the last stitch is on the right hand needle. Switch hands so that all of the stitches are now on the left hand needle again.  Turn and Repeat, knitting each stitch until you reach the end of the row.

Garter stitch, last step of the process

Making the Garter Stitch When Working in the Round

If you are learning to make the garter stitch in the round, either on circular needles or double pointed needles, you will need to make it slightly different from the way you make it on straight needles.  

When working in the round, you are always working on the right side (RS) so the pattern to create the garter stitch requires you know how to knit and purl.

Round One: Knit all stitches

Round Two: Purl all stitches

These two rows are repeated until you reach your desired length, then bind off.

Counting Stitches and Rows in the Garter Stitch

If you are working with a light, solid colored yarn it should be easy to see your stitches.

To count rows, you will count the "ridges" you see.  Each ridge is made up of two rows.

To count individual stitches you will count either the "frowns" or the "smiles."  Each little frown represents one stitch.  Don't count both frowns and smiles.


What is Gauge?  

Gauge measures the size of your stitches and is the number of stitches and rows within one inch of knitted fabric.  It is usually determined by counting rows and stitches in a four inch square (10 x 10 cm) and then dividing by four to get the one inch measurement.

It matters because everyone knits differently.  Some of us knit tightly while others knit losely.  If we are making something like a potholder, it doesn't really matter but it does matter when we expect our projects such as wearables to fit.  

It's important to understand how to "read" our knitting, meaning how to point out individual stitches and how to determine rows.

What Does the Garter Stitch Look Like on a Knit Chart?

Beginning knitters learn how to make stitches first, then progress to written patterns which describe in words and abbreviations how to make a project. 

Simple patterns such as how to make the garter stitch do not require elaborate charts, but it's important to know that charts are available and even beginners can start to understand how to read them.

Knitting instructions in the form of a chart for the garter stitchThe Garter Stitch in Chart Form

Learn more about reading and understanding knitted charts.

Projects Using Garter Stitch

You can make practically anything using the garter stitch. Blankets, Pillow covers, Table Runners, Dishcloths and Coasters are just a few of the items you can knit using the garter stitch.  Easy sweater patterns incorporating the garter stitch make for a beginner friendly project that new knitters find challenging but doable. 

Here are a few free patterns on this website that use the garter stitch.

Garter Stitch Washcloths

The garter checkerboard stitch worked in green cotton and shown on the reverse side

Frequently Asked Questions About the Garter Stitch

What is the difference between a knit stitch and a garter stitch?

Knit stitches are the stitches themselves and may or may not be combined with other stitches.  The Garter stitch refers to the stitch pattern that is created by making the knit stitch, row after row.  

What uses more yarn, garter or stockinette?

The garter stitch uses more yarn than the stockinette (knit one row, purl one row).  Garter stitch also uses more yarn than lace stitches but requires less yarn than cables.

What is the right and wrong side of garter stitch?

It is difficult to determine which side is right and wrong because it looks the same on both sides. The only way to know is to mark the first row you knit after your cast on.  That will be your right side.

Is the garter stitch stretchy?

Yes, this is a very stretch stitch that can be used in projects requiring a certain amount of stretch.  To prevent any problems, to not cast on or bind off tightly.  It will cause the fabric to curl and the elasticity will be lost.

Is there more than one way to make the garter stitch?

Yes, you can knit through the front loop or the back loop.  For a complete tutorial, visit my page on the knit stitch for more information.


The garter knit stitch is likely the first stitch you will learn when you begin your knitting journey.  It's not difficult but it does require you to build up some muscle memory so creating the stitches become easier over time.  

In the meantime, there are many projects you can make with just this one row repeat pattern.

Pin for Future Reference

How to make the garter stitch, tutorial pin image

You might like these

About Janice

Hi, I’m Janice, the voice behind Smart-Knit-Crocheting. I love to knit and crochet and even more, I love teaching others what I know.

Though I learned to knit and crochet as a child, I didn’t get serious about these amazing hobbies until I retired. I’m a certified knit and crochet instructor through the Craft Yarn Council and am working on becoming a Master Hand Knitter through The Knitting Guild Association.

I’m currently living with my husband of over 50 years and our 7 Shih Tzu dogs.

I love hearing from you, so please drop me a line and let me know what you’re working on, whether you love knitting or crocheting more, and if you have any questions. Please visit my about me page for more information.

Happy Crocheting