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.

This article is part of the Complete Guide to Lace Knitting.

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 colours 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 or stockinette stitch? Knitting 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.

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

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 Favourite?

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

27 thoughts on “Garter Stitch or Stockinette?

  • Myrna Miranda- O'Neill

    Can you substitute one stitch for another in a pattern?

    • Of course you can. The appearance, gauge and give will be different, though.

  • I love garter stitch however I find when I’m in my zone and I inspect my work that I find mistakes. I need to be more mindful. HOWEVER, I am learning not to be so judgemental of myself, such a perfectionist, that I knit, crochet, and sew to unwind, to ground myself, to center.

  • Kate Smalley

    I like garter stitch because 1) faster to do all knit, 2) it seems to me that it would be warmer (trapping air between the rows). Granted I have never knitted a lace shawl.

  • Marie

    I prefer stockinette stitch.
    One question I would love to have addressed is charts that show only right side rows. What is done on wrong side rows – knit, purl, or follow the previous row? The charts I am referring to are the ones from a stitch dictionary including the ones online. They have no pattern or instructions.
    Thanks for your wonderful tutorials and patterns.

  • I prefer stockinette stitch.
    One question I would love to have addressed is charts that show only right side rows. What is done on wrong side rows – knit, purl, or follow the previous row? Thanks for your wonderful tutorials and patterns.

  • Jeanette Holmes

    I like the look of Stockinette better, but enjoy the mindlessness of Garter, so either one is fine with me πŸ™‚

  • Pat Petri

    Either is great – garter stitch is nice on both sides and doesn’t curl. SS is smoother on one side but requires the dreaded purling and has that curling habit so needs a border of some sort, which sometimes gets floppy. I think I’ve just talked myself into preferring garter stitch. Thank you for all the knowledge you share with us!

  • Barbara Pampel

    I really love lace against the garter stitch background. If done with even tension, it makes it a beautiful background.

  • Cathie Sanders

    I prefer stockinette. When I knit lace, I like the look of lace on that. I have knit small items (hats, etc) in the round, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. Plus, Knitting one side and purling the other does break up the monotony. Garter stitch can look sloppy, and depending on whether I purl every row or knit every row, I get a different gauge. In a shawl, I like to add an edge strip of garter stitch. Depending on the yarn and needle size, I may add 2-4 stitches to the normal 3 on each edge. Blocking the final product will keep it flat, especially if blocking wires are used.

  • Jackie Bates

    I love the smoothness of the stockinette. No, it’s not reversible, which can be a pain, but when I do lace patterns, I think stockinette showcases the lace best.

  • Judi Robins

    I’ve tried Lace Knitting many times, but the Shawl I’m knitting now is the only success I’ve had. It’s a Cornucopia-shaped one with simple alternating rows of Stockinette stitches and YO-K2tog Lace, with Purling on wrong side. Looking at the various Shawls you described above gives me a headache, much like looking at most quilts does–too many patterns or too many colors. I like Stockinette and Purling the same–in a simple one- or two-color pattern. I’m enjoying your Lace Knitting series very much!

  • I prefer garter stitch. It’s not only reversible, which is good for a shawl, and lays flat, but it also affects the shape of the shawl, which is much easier to control for a triangle than stockinet.

  • I hate the sloppy look of garter stitch, always looks inside out to me, so I vastly prefer stockinette stitch.

  • So many of the beautiful handpainted or hand dyed yarns need stockinette to avoid visual chaos.
    The issue of curling has ruined more than one stockinette/stocking stitch project or pattern. Even slipping the first stitch or garter stitch on the first 3 stitches of an edge sometimes isn’t enough.
    Have you found a reliable way to avoid curling?

    • Cathie Sanders

      Do you block your final item? I use steam and just hover above the area. Also, using blocking wires on the edges makes this process even easier. You don’t want to actually press the item as that will flatten the knit. Pulling on the knit when it’s wet can cause it to be permanently misshapened.

    • Yvonne Murray

      I think I prefer Garter Stitch because the knitted piece nnaturally lays flat, is reversed, and I feel is simply more easily knitted with complex stitch patterns.

  • Mary Cunningham

    I really dont mind either of them, but if I were honest I would say the knit stitch, (garter stitch).
    I don’t mind purling because I knit in the english style, but purling in the continental style has me beat. It just seems so awkward to me. I tried continental knitting because one of the ladies at my craft group knits that way. She is Danish. She makes it look so easy, and her movements are so tiny. When I try it my all my hands want to do is scream. πŸ™‚

  • I prefer stocking stitch, as i find it shows off the beauty of the yarn better. I am on the hunt for a plain, rectangular stocking stitch wrap, using fingering singles. Any suggestions? Thanks, liz

  • I prefer stockinette stitch. Going back and forth between knit and purl adds some variety to the process instead of just knit knit knit which can become quite boring.

  • Kathleen Roe

    I have used both garter stitch on a Faroese shawl and Stockinette on a lace caplette, I have just finished. I think, I prefer to use garter stitch, I can control my stitches much better. When I used the stockinette on the caplette I noticed I had trouble keeping tension on the stitches. It seems strange because when I am using stockinette to knit Christmas stockings or any of the other items I knit, I have no issue with my tension.

    • In most cases stockinette. But if there is lots of open space than garter works for me too

  • I like the look of stockinette better but dislike purling. That being said, I really don’t have a preference.

  • Helene B Croteau

    To me I love the garter stitch the only reason it seems to go faster and you can see your project faster

  • Marci Pinkerton

    For me, it depends othe needles. Straight needles – garter stitch; circular – stockinette. Hmmm. May also have something to do with the fact that I’m not keen on purling #

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  • Bonnie Cameron

    I really have no preference. I like to do both. I do use two different size needles when working Stiocking stitch because I abhor those “corn rows” on the right side of the fabric. The purl stitch is naturally done a little looser than the knit stitch so I compensate for this by using a smaller needle on the WS of my work ( the purl stitches)


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