Garter Stitch or Stockinette? Your Drawing Canvas

Garter Stitch or Stockinette

Basic knitted fabrics are so fundamental that some types have been adopted as part of the language of knitting, similar to techniques such as yarn over or decrease. Examples include stockinette stitch, reverse stockinette stitch, garter stitch, seed stitch and some others.

The Complete Guide to Lace Knitting: Table of Contents

In some cases, these fabrics appear differently on the right side (as seen when making the stitch) than on the wrong side (as seen from the other side, when the work is turned).

Lace knitting is done mostly on either garter stitch or stockinette stitch ground. This ground I refer to as your drawing canvas: it’s a bit like a white, empty canvas inviting you to play with. Your colors and brushes are the stitches you choose to use.

Garter Stitch

Garter stitch – also known as the Knit stitch – is the most basic form of knitting. In the round, garter stitch is produced by knitting and purling alternate rows. By contrast, in the flat, garter stitch is produced by knitting every stitch (or purling every stitch, though this is much less common).

In garter-stitch fabrics, the “purl” rows stand out from the “knit” rows, which provides the basis for shadow knitting. Garter-stitch fabric has significant lengthwise elasticity and little tendency to curl, due to the symmetry of its faces.

garter stitch shawl: clean edges
An example for garter stitch worked with regular gauge (not lace gauge).

When worked in fine yarns on larger needles, the ridges don’t stand out that much any more and some of the elasticity is lost, too. It makes a better basis for lace stitches this way, though.

Stockinette Stitch

Stockinette stitch (also called “Stocking Stitch” in UK, Australia, New Zealand etc.) is another basic knitted fabric; every stitch (as seen from the right side) is a knit stitch. In the round, stockinette stitch is produced by knitting every stitch; by contrast, in the flat, stockinette stitch is produced by knitting and purling alternate rows.

Stockinette-stitch fabric is very smooth and each column resembles a stacked set of “V”‘s. It has a strong tendency to curl horizontally and vertically because of the asymmetry of its faces.

Neon striped shawl work in progress
An example of a stockinette stitch shawl (the center part, the border is worked in seed stitch): my Neon Stripes shawl pattern.

Reverse stockinette stitch is produced in the same way as stockinette, except that the purl stitches are done on the right side and the knit stitches on the wrong side. In the round, reverse stockinette stitch is produced by purling every stitch.

Garter Stitch or Stockinette Stitch?

When creating shawls, choosing your basic canvas is either a question of tradition or personal preference. Shetland shawls are mostly worked on garter stitch ground, and most Orenburg shawls are too. For Estonian and Austrian lace knitting, the stockinette stitch ground is more common.

Which One is Your Favorite?

Which ground is your favorite to work with? I’d love to hear your opinion – just leave a comment below!

Our topic tomorrow is going to be charts in lace knitting, so stay tuned!

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  1. Kerry says:

    If I’m looking for something ‘mindless’ to bang out, it’s garter stitch all the way. Sometimes it’s the ‘squshiness’ of it I’m looking for. Large expanses of stockinette bore me but sometimes it’s the right blank canvas for the pattern stitch I’m using.
    So I guess ‘favorite’ depends on the project.

    • Jriede Knitwear Design says:

      Definitely! I’m using stockinette stitch most often, though – I mostly use stitch patterns that show better on stockinette stitch ground.

  2. Toni says:

    I like stockinette the best. I can pick up these stitches but it is trial and error on garter. It looks more like one knows what they are doing.

  3. Liisa says:

    In lace weight yarns I prefer stockinette ground. For fingering or sport I like either. If I want something smooth and flowing, I select a pattern with stockinette ground – if something soft and ‘squishy’, I select a garter stitch ground. It is also fun alternating in sections.

  4. Lynne says:

    My choice of background stitch depends a lot on the yarn I am using. If I am using a really multicoloured yarn or soft squishy homespun, I prefer garter stitch. For plainer yarns I use stockinette. I love it’s plainness for a more complicated lace.

  5. Donna says:

    For overall preference it’s garter stitch. But it also depends on both the pattern and yarn. I love garter ground for blankets/afghans and baby sweaters. I prefer stockinette for fingering and lace weight yarns when knitting shawls or socks.

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