Skill building takes place over a lifetime of knitting. And knitters at all levels of experience make mistakes. We covered a few fixes to have in your toolkit in last month’s Skill Builder column.
This month, let’s talk garter stitch.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that garter stitch is easy to knit, but a bit of a bear to fix …
To pick up a dropped stitch in garter stitch is a bit more complicated because you have to create both the back and front.
Bear with me while I get briefly technical: What’s happening with the crochet-hook-picking-up method shown last month is that you’re creating knit stitches, pulling the yarn through the stitch from the back to the front, just as you do when you knit a stitch.
Cue the flashback music
Remember that the purl stitch is the backwards version of the knit stitch; working a purl creates the back side of a knit (and vice versa), so that if you alternate knit and purl rows, you get one side of your fabric as all knit stitches (stockinette), and the other side of the fabric being all purl stitches (reverse stockinette). This means that when you are ‘picking up’ stitches with your crochet hook, you’re rebuilding the knit stitches, working exclusively from the front of the stitches.
When you look at a garter stitch fabric, what you’re actually seeing is rows of alternating knit and purl stitches. If you hold your work so that you’re looking at Row 1—that is, looking at the side you were looking at when you knitted Row 1—you’re seeing the front of the stitches that you made on Row 1 (and all odd-numbered rows), and the back of the stitches that you knitted on Row 2 (and all even-numbered rows).
So if you knit the stitches in Row 1, on the front you see those stitches as knit stitches. And you’re seeing the BACK of the stitches you knitted on row 2. And since you knitted row 2, and the back side of a knit is a purl, what you’re seeing for row 2 is purl stitches.
Put another way, in garter stitch, you get valleys and ridges—a valley being the front side of the knit rows you worked facing this side, and the ridges being the backs of the alternate knit rows. And the backs of knit stitches are purls.
the upper box surrounds a ridge of purl stitches; the lower box surrounds a valley of knit stitches.
You’re also seeing columns of alternating knits and purls. And when rebuilding a stitch, you need to alternate between making knits and purls.
Step 1: Making the Knits
It’s easy to make a knit, as in the top image.
The key step to making a knit stitch in garter is to catch the stitch with your crochet hook so that the purl bump is immediately below it. This means that you’re ready for a knit stitch.
Loose stitch caught!
Ready to pick up that knit stitch.
And pull the yarn through just as you would to make a knit stitch in stockinette. You got this.
Knit stitch made.
Once the knit stitch is made, you can see the knit ‘valley’ below it.
The Ultimate Learn-to-Knit Kit
Step 2: Making the Purls
There are two ways to go about doing this: one is slower but a little bit easier, the other is more fiddly but faster.
The Slower Method:
Work only on the knits. Catch the stitch you just pulled up on a removable stitch marker. Then flip your work over so you’re once again positioned to make a knit stitch, just above a purl bump. Take the marker out, and pull up the next row of knit stitches.
Tip: If you get good at this, and your yarn isn’t too slippery or the stitches too small, you can actually skip the step of catching it on the marker, and just move the stitch loop to the other side when you flip the fabric.
The Fiddlier Method:
To save yourself flipping the fabric over, you can alternately pick up knit and purl stitches. To create a purl stitch, put the crochet into the stitch from the back, grab the yarn from the front and pull it through.
Insert the crochet hook from the back of the stitch (making sure it’s not twisted!), and pull the yarn through from the front, to the back.
There are double-ended crochet hooks that work for this task, or you can just use a regular one, moving between the front and the back of the fabric.
As with stockinette, make sure that base of the stitch isn’t twisted. If you’re picking up to make a knit stitch, make sure that you have a purl bump, a ridge, immediately below the loop on the hook. If you’ve got a knit stitch, a valley, immediately below the loop on the hook, you need to make a purl.
Work slowly and carefully. And if it doesn’t work? Just drop and let it unravel back to that handy little removable stitch marker and try again!
And when you’re done? You might find that the stitches look a little untidy, perhaps a little tighter or looser than the ones around them. That’s fine! Everything gets sorted out when you block the piece!