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Happy New Year, Skill Set knitters! You’ve probably heard someone say it: There are only two stitches in knitting, and every knitted fabric is just a combination of those two.

It’s true! We have knit and we have purl and from that knitters make anything and everything. Here’s an annotated and illustrated glossary of some basic textures.

Garter and Stockinette

Skill Set: Beginning Knitting introduces a few key stitch patterns: garter stitch, which is made by knitting all stitches on every row; and stockinette stitch, which is made by knitting one row and purling the next. 

Garter Stitch on the left and stockinette stitch on the right

Here I’m showing you full swatches—not just the tidy middles—so you can get a sense of what the edges look like and see how the different fabrics behave.

Garter stitch is the same on both sides and stable.

Stockinette, however, does not want to lie flat, the edges roll in. (More on that below!) 

Stockinette stitch offers, actually, two different fabrics … the lovely smooth front or RS (right side) pictured above; it’s the fundamental fabric in knitting. Sweaters, mittens, hats, socks—whether hand-made or machine-made—are likely based on stockinette stitch. 

The back of stockinette stitch, the purl side is called reverse stockinette stitch. When you see it on the RS, it’s often used as the background to cables, to make them stand out more.


(K1, p1)

Across an even number of stitches, it’s worked like this:

All rows: (K1, p1) across.

This will give you a fabric that’s exactly the same on both sides … the row will start with a knit stitch and end with a purl.

If you have an odd number of stitches, it’s worked like this:

Row 1 (RS): K1, (p1, k1) to end.

Row 2 (WS): P1, (k1, p1) to end.

Worked on an odd number of stitches, the RS rows and WS (wrong side) rows will look slightly different: RS rows start and end with a knit stitch, and WS rows start and end with a purl stitch. Doing it this way makes the edges symmetrical and tidy, but it’s a cosmetic difference only. 

(K2, p2)

Across a multiple of four stitches, it’s worked like this:

All rows: (K2, p2) across.

To make the edges symmetrical, you need a multiple of 4 stitches plus 2 more, e.g. 6 or 10 or 14 or… 

Row 1 (RS): K2, (p2, k2) across.

Row 2 (WS): P2, (k2, p2) across.

(K3, p3)

Across a multiple of six stitches, it’s worked like this:

All rows: (K3, p3) across.

To make the edges symmetrical, you need a multiple of 6 stitches plus 3 more, e.g. 9 or 15 or 21 or… 

Row 1 (RS): K3, (p3, k3) across.

Row 3 (WS): P3, (k3, p3) across.

Why We Use Ribbing Patterns 

Ribbing pulls in the width of a piece, so it’s used for edgings like sleeve and mitten cuffs, and at necklines where we usually want a bit of snugness.

Knitting ribbing, it’s advisable to use a smaller needle than you’re using for the stockinette stitch or main portions of a garment or accessory.  Although ribbing pulls in when you’re knitting it, over time it relaxes and stretches out, so using a smaller needle helps it hold its shape and stay tidy.

The mostly commonly used ribbing patterns we see are even – that is, they have the same number of knit stitches as purls – there’s no reason that needs to be true; one of my favorite (free pdf!) sock patterns uses (K3, p1) ribbing. 

Caveat Knitter

Sometimes ribbing instructions are just for the first row, and all subsequent rows just tell you to “knit the knits and purl the purls.” Here’s where you begin to develop the all-important skill of reading your knitting—identify what’s a knit stitch and what’s a purl. Knit stitches are smooth, purl stitches are bumpy.

Knit stitch on the left and purl on the right!
Let's make more knitters!
Skill Set: Beginning Knitting is a portable book of 9 simple lessons. It's a freestanding video app for Apple iOS and Android. It's how to knit. And it's a basic techniques resource for all knitters. Thanks for your MDK Shop purchases. They support everything we offer here.
By Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne


There really are endless variations when you combine knits and purls.

Seed stitch is a classic. It’s reversible, it lies flat, and because of the way the yarn wraps through the stitches, looks really good—in a busy variegated yarn as well as in solids. 

Across an even number of stitches, it’s worked like this:

Row 1 (RS): (K1, p1) to end.

Row 2 (WS): (P1, k1) to end.

Across an odd number of stitches, it’s worked like this:

All rows: K1, (p1, k1) across.

Seed stitch is sometimes referred to as “broken ribbing” because you deliberately do the wrong thing. Instead of knitting the knits and purling the purls, you are purling the knits and knitting the purls.

Moss stitch is a variation of seed stitch.

Across an even number of stitches, it’s worked like this.

Rows 1 & 2: (K1, p1) to end.

Rows 3 & 4: (P1, k1) to end.

Both of these make super fabrics for all sorts of projects. I’ve made lovely baby blankets in moss stitch, and there’s Jen Geigley’s very popular GAP-tastic Cowl design in seed stitch. 

Going Further

You can “break” other ribbings, too … and combine knits and purls in literally thousands of different ways. This is one of the great joys of knitting: so many options, so many variations! 

And isn’t getting exactly the effects we want one of the reasons why are making our own clothing and accessories?

Save it for later. Here’s how to tuck this article into your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • I’m knitting a scarf for my BIL right now that’s a great beginners pattern (Free on Ravelry). Beginner’s Stitch Sampler Scarf. It’s 6 different easy stitch patterns: garter, stockinette, basket weave, seed, smooth sand, and 4×4 ribbing.

  • I’m curious as to how you keep your stitches tidy when switching from knit to purl in your ribbing. My last stitch before purling is generally somewhat loose and sloppy!

  • I had always thought that moss stitch was a fancy name for seed stitch! Thanks for the clarification! I like how it has a diagonal texture.

  • Wise Hilda’s sock was my first sock! You prepared a clear, informative pattern that set me up for future sock success. It’s still my go-to when I recommend a pattern for a new sock knitter.

  • I think that “knit the knits and purl the purls” can be confusing for a beginner because this is describing the look of the stitches as they present on the reverse of the previous row. So the stitches you have just knitted present as purls (to be purled) and vice versa. This used to really bewilder me when I was learning.

    I can see it as one of those terms that has been passed down verbally; it would make perfect sense if it was being shown or demonstrated to you that way.

  • May I simply admire the beauty of the purl side of your stockinette? You have such tension control and the results are so attractive in all the samples!

  • This question relates in a way to garter and stockinette stitches.

    When doing a gauge swatch flat for a project knit in the round, The accepted technique is to knit a row, bring the working yarn across the back and knit the next row.

    Why can’t you knit the swatch in garter stitch? Isn’t it basically a knit row on top of a knit row? I have the intuition that if this was an alternative I would have seen it somewhere.

    Very curious.

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