I want to talk about what is usually the first stitch pattern learned - garter stitch. My Psychology teacher was not a knitting professional or even American, so terminology was not emphasized. Some of the early patterns I worked through would say something like, “work garter stitch until piece measures four inches.” I would then look at one of those teach yourself books to figure out what garter stitch is. Most newer pasterns write out the stitch patterns in the general notes, but you may run into “work garter stitch,” in older patterns.
What is Garter Stitch?
Garter stitch is simply performing a knit stitch across the row on both the right side (front of the work) and wrong side (back of the work) of the work. The first thing I knit with my Psychology teacher was a garter stitch scarf. I cast on around 45 stitches in a worsted weight yarn and knit every stitch of every row until the scarf was approximately four feet long. I ended up with a scarf that was too wide and too short. I never wore it, but I still have it.
I was very anti-garter stitch after making that scarf. I find garter stitch takes a bit more effort physically than stockinette stitch and I think there is a mentality that its too simple once you move on to more complex stitches. But, after knitting for years I have fallen in love with the humble garter stitch. I think that it is a beautiful stitch in all its simplicity. It also works beautifully as an edging to prevent stockinette stitch from curling. Many throws and baby blankets have garter stitch borders.
How to Count Rows
Garter stitch is also one of the easiest stitches to count the rows. Each ridge of garter stitch is made of two knitted rows. If a pattern calls for 15 rows of garter stitch it is easy to count each of the ridges and multiply by 2. That will give you the total number of rows that have been worked. It is important to remember that the cast on row is never counted and the stitches that are on the needle count as one row. Seven ridges, plus the row of stitches that are on the needle would equal 15 rows of garter stitch.
Below is a quickly and poorly knit two-color garter stitch sample. I started alternating white and blue ridges (six rows) followed by two blue and two white ridges (eight rows). Then, it is back to one ridge of each color. The cast on and bind off rows aren't counted for a total of 18 rows.
Please ignore the uneven tension and unwoven ends :-)