As a new knitter, the garter stitch is the first one you will learn. This stitch is one of the easiest and most common stitch patterns in knitting, and it's made by knitting every row. (You can similarly create the garter stitch by purling every row, too. The consistency of sticking to one or the other is what's key.) You can easily recognize the garter stitch by the bumpy, horizontal ridges that form on every other row. This produces a dense, strong fabric that is reversible, stands up well to wear, and lies perfectly flat—no flimsy movement and no curling edges! Knitting in garter stitch compresses the stitches, so that the fabric grows gradually. Unlike most knit patterns, the garter stitch has a square gauge, which means that when you count your row gauge, one garter ridge is equal to two rows.
To knit the garter stitch, hold the yarn in your right hand and the knitting needle with cast-on stitches in your left hand (the pointed tip of the needle should be pointing to the right). Make sure that the first stitch is no more than one inch from the tip of the needle. Knitting garter stitch flat means that you can knit every stitch of every row. This technique, however, is different when knitting in the round. When knitting with circular needles or double-pointed needles, alternate a knit round with a purl round. The reason that this works is because the knit and purl stitches are opposites; therefore, the purl produces the ridged texture you see in a garter stitch.
How to Knit Garter Stitch
To begin, make a slip knot on the shaft of one needle. (This counts as your first stitch.) Place this needle in your left hand. Hold the other needle in your right hand to control the yarn. Cast on a foundation row of stitches in any number required by your pattern.
With yarn in back (this is typically abbreviated in a knitting pattern as wyib), insert the right needle into the slip knot and under the left needle. Visually, this forms an "X" with the needles. Wrap the yarn around the right needle, counterclockwise. Catch the yarn with the right needle and pull it through the opened stitch, dropping the stitch off the left needle. You will have made one new knit stitch on the right needle. Repeat this action to the end of the row. When you reach the end of your first row of knit stitches, transfer the full needle to your left hand and restart the process of knitting each stitch all over again. Remember: When you start a new row, always hold the needle with the stitches on it in your left hand, with the working yarn at the right end of the needle. The needle in your right hand will knit the stitches.
For your first project, why not consider a knit scarf? This is ideal for practicing the garter stitch for a few reasons: one, the garter stitch is solely made up of knit stitches; two, any gauge variations aren't very noticeable; and three, the dense fabric makes for a warmer scarf. A garter stitch only has one row vertical repeat, so you can easily modify the length of the scarf. Simply knit continuously, and bind off when you've reached the desired length.
Don't miss out: Get Martha's Guide to Knitting—it's the exclusive resource for knitters of all skill levels.