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The Stockinette Stitch: What Is It and How Do I Knit It?

It's your secret technique to making garments with beautiful drape: scarves, shawls, and more.

stockinette stitch in knitting
Photography by: Amanda Mustard Illustrations

New to knitting? Odds are, you aren't new to the stockinette stitch. Even if you've yet to pick up a pair of needles, it's present in knit items everywhere: scarves, sweaters, blankets, and shawls. As one of the most common stitch patterns in knitting, the stockinette stitch is made up of the two main stitches, knit and purl, in their simplest combination. The right side of the project is formed by knit stitches, and these produce V-shaped columns that run vertical to the fabric. The wrong side of the project is formed by purl stitches, and these produce horizontal ridges that look similar to the garter stitch. (This could be viewed as the right side, in which case the stitch pattern is simply called "reverse stockinette stitch.") The side edges are hidden within the seams, while the top and bottom edges are trimmed by binding off the row.

 

To knit the stockinette 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 stockinette stitch flat (with straight or double-pointed needles) means that you can knit and purl, alternating every row. This technique, however, is different when knitting in the round in joined needles. When knitting with circular needles, continuously knit round after round. These interlocking V-shapes produce a smooth foundation for layering unique stitch work and better showcases the quality of more textural yarns. 

 

There is, however, a downside to this stitch for beginners. Because the stockinette stitch produces such an evenly smooth surface, it's more prone to showing errors (a dropped stitch, loose tension, etc.). A common problem is uneven rows or a noticeable difference in size between the stitches on knit rows versus purl rows. If this is the case, try working the purl rows with a smaller needle than recommended. Another problem you might encounter is an elongated edge to your knit piece. This often happens due to the yarn not being tightened at the beginning and end of your rows. If that's the case, practice making a conscious effort to tighten the last knit stitch in a row before working the first purl stitch in the next. It's worth noting that if you are working reverse stockinette stitch, it can be easier to count the rows on the wrong side, the stockinette side.

 

RELATED: This Is Why "Slow Knitting" Is Good for You and the World at Large

 

How to Knit Stockinette Stitch

To begin, make a slip knot on the shaft of one needle. 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. Stockinette stitch (which is typically abbreviated in a knitting pattern as st st), is worked identically regardless of having an even or odd number of stitches. With yarn in back (this is typically abbreviated in a knitting pattern as wyib), insert the right needle into the next stitch and under the left needle. Visually, this forms an "X" with the needles. Wrap the yarn around the right needle, counterclockwise. Draw the yarn through the stitch on the left needle to the front of the work to create a loop on the right needle. Drop the original 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. 

 

Start the next row: With yarn in front (this is typically abbreviated in a knitting pattern as wyif) insert the right needle purlwise into the next stitch and under the left needle. Visually, this forms an "X" with the needles, albeit with the right needle at front. Wrap the yarn around the right needle, counterclockwise. Draw the yarn through the stitch on the left needle to the back of the work to create a loop on the right needle. Drop the original stitch off the left needle. You will have made one new purl stitch on the right needle. Repeat this action to the end of the row. 

 

For your first project, why not consider a knit shawl? This is ideal for practicing the stockinette stitch for a few reasons: one, a shawl is solely made up of knit and purl stitches; two, the trim can be embellished with a bright contrast yarn; and three, the smooth fabric allows for beautiful drape. (A good tip? To craft a fabric with beautiful drape, try knitting stockinette stitch in a lighter yarn with a size needle that's larger than recommended.)

 

Don't miss out: Get Martha's Guide to Knitting—it's the exclusive resource for knitters of all skill levels.