How to Knit: The Stockinette Stitch

How to knit the stockinette stitch

Stockinette stitch is the most used knitting stitch pattern and one you need to master for many knitting projects.

But most patterns won’t have instructions for how to knit stockinette stitch or stocking stitch as it’s also called.

Stockinette stitch is the foundation for many other techniques, for example, stitch patterns and colorwork. If you learn to knit stockinette stitch it will be easy to proceed to more complicated stitching later.

What is the stockinette stitch?

Most beginner knitters start with learning the knit stitch, I will guide you through that further down. And when you have mastered the knit stitch you can knit garter stitch, garter stitch is the stitch pattern created when you knit all rows. (If you purl all rows you will also end up with garter stitch, as purl stitches are just reversed knit stitches)

The next step is usually to learn the purl stitch, which I also will go through further down. When you can work both knit and purl stitches you can knit stockinette stitch. Stockinette stitch is the stitch pattern created when you alternate knit rows and purl rows.

Stockinette stitch is abbreviated St st in patterns. It works with any number of stitches, odd or even, as long as you follow the pattern:

  • Row 1: Knit across the row
  • Row 2: Purl across the row
  • Repeat rows 1 and 2 until the desired length.

The two sides of stockinette stitch

Stockinette stitch fabric is built of knit stitches on one side, and purl stitches on the other side.

It’s the kind of fabric known as “knit fabric” and you see it in sweaters, hats, scarves, blankets, socks, and any other type of handmade or machine-knit, store-bought garment

The knit side is usually referred to as the right side. If you take a close look at this side you see that every stitch you knit forms a V. The V:s from different rows are placed upon one another, forming columns of V-stitches.

The other side, the wrong side, is built up entirely by purl stitches. Actually, a purl stitch is just that, the back of a knit stitch. This side looks like wavy ridges.

To produce a fabric like this you have to alternate between the stitches every time you turn the work over. So, every other row is a knit row and every other row is a purl row.

Smooth but keen to curl

This way of knitting produces a smooth and even fabric. But it also creates a fabric that’s very keen to curl at the edges.

Knitted stitches have a bit of tension in them, they always pull the fabric towards the right/knit side at the top and bottom and towards the wrong/purl side at the side edges.

Because of how the stockinette stitch is constructed, with all the stitches facing the same way, the tension in the stitches make the fabric curl.

A knit fabric that’s made up of a stitch pattern with stitches facing both ways, knit and purl on both sides, won’t curl at all or very little. This is because the tension in the stitches evens out when they’re mixed up.

Examples of no-curl stitch patterns:

Reading tip:
––> Learn how you can prevent stockinette stitch from curling, or even turn the curl to your advantage!

Use it as background or on its own

I feel like almost every project I have ever done has incorporated stockinette. Its smoothness makes it beautiful in a classic and sober way. The same characteristics also make stockinette perfect for variegated yarns, colorwork and as background for other stitch patterns, like lace or cables.

Reading tips:
––> Curious about colorwork? Start here: The guide to Knitting colorwork
––> Slipped stitches are super fun and easy to work with. For colorwork, structure patterns and more. Give it a try! Knitting with slipped stitches
––> Stranded colorwork is a common method for knitting colorwork. Learn my best tips for stranded colorwork
––> Color theory for knitters: Make your colorwork pop!

How to knit the stockinette stitch flat

What does knitting flat mean?

Knitting flat means that you knit back and forth. Work one row, and then turn the work over to work your way back on the next row.

To knit the stockinette stitch flat you need to master the knit stitch and the purl stitch.

Reading tip:
If you are a little more advanced and want to try something new (or just a purl-hater as me) you should check this post out. I show you in text and video how to knit backward instead of turning and purling back. This technique was really mindblowing to me when I first learned it, and yet it’s easy to learn!

What kind of needles do I need for knitting flat?

The most important is that you’re using needles that are appropriate for the yarn you have chosen to work with. Look at the yarn label if you’re not sure which size of needles would work.

You can knit flat on straight needles, two long knitting needles with stops at the ends. The kind old ladies use in movies 🙂

But, you can also knit flat on a circular needle. It really just depends on what you prefer.

Small projects could even be done on double-pointed needles. I write small because those needles are short and I don’t want your stitches to fall off!

If you have interchangeable knitting needles you could either put them together as a circular needle or as two flexible straight needles. You can do this by using two cables, adding one tip at each cable and stoppers at the other end.

Reading tips:
––> Interchangeable Knitting Needles are very pleasant to work with, for a few different reasons

How to cast on

There are a lot of ways to cast on for knitting and they all have their pros and cons. Today I’m showing the long tail cast on, it’s easy to do and it’s usually one of the first new knitters learn.

Watch the video below to see how to do the long tail cast on. I use a circular needle in the video, but it’s done the same way on straight needles if that’s your thing!

If you need to you could also read this post where I go through this in text and images as well.

Reading Tip:
––> Curios to learn more advanced ways to cast on? There are several ways to do a Provisional cast-on. It’s a temporarily cast-on for when you need to knit in both directions.

How to do the knit stitch

Now that you have made the cast on it’s time to start knitting! I knit continental so that’s what I’m going to show you.

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to hold the knitting
I hold the needle with the stitches in my left hand and knit them over to the right-hand needle.

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to do hold the yarn
I hold my yarn like this, maybe you like another way? There’s no rights and wrongs here.

How to hold yarn and knitting needles

Hold the needle with stitches on in your non-dominant hand, for me that’s my left.

This hand also holds the yarn. I hold my yarn wrapped around my pinky finger to add tension and over my index. You can see how in the second picture.
If you hold the needles near the tips it’s easier to have control.

Step 1

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to do the knit stitch step 1

Slip the first stitch of the row. This is done to make the edges nice and tidy, to much yarn in the edges makes them loose and sloppy.

Insert the needle tip into the stitch through the front leg. That’s the part of the loop that’s facing you. Your needle should go into the stitch from the front and come out on the back.

Let that stitch slip off the first needle and over to the second needle.

Insert your needle, in the same way, one more time. But this time you should wrap it with yarn and make the first knit stitch.

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to do the knit stitch step 2

Step 2

When you have inserted the needle tip into the stitch, pick the yarn up with the needle tip with a clockwise motion. The yarn should be wrapped around the needle from beneath, coming up in front and going upwards to your index finger holding the yarn.

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to do the knit stitch step 3

Step 3

When you have picked up the yarn, you take it with you back through the stitch and let the old stitch slip off the needle.

Congratulations! You have knitted your first knit stitch!

Now you just keep on doing this until the row is finished. Turn your work over, slip the first stitch and learn how to purl 🙂

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to purl step 1

How to do the purl stitch

Step 1

When you have slipped the first stitch of the row, move the yarn to the front of your work.

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to purl step 2

Step 2

With the yarn in front, you should insert the right needle into the front leg of the stitch.

The needle should move from the back to the front. And your right needle tip will be placed in front of the left ready to pick up the yarn.

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to purl step 3

Step 3

Now it’s time to wrap the yarn around the needle Slide the right tip upwards, behind the yarn and down so that the yarn wraps around the tip. The motion is clockwise and the yarn should be coming from behind/below the needle and then up in front of it.

All about the Stockinette Stitch | How to purl step 4

Step 4

Bring the yarn with the needle out through the stitch and slip the old stitch off the left needle. The new stitch should be on the right needle.

How to knit the stockinette stitch in the round

Knitting stockinette stitch in the round is a blast! Why? Because there are only knit stitches and no turning. Just knit, knit, knit. It’s the perfect stress relief…

When you knit in the round you use circular or double-pointed needles to create a spiral of stitches rather than rows. Because of that, you never have to turn and knit back on the other side as you do with flat knitting.

And when you don’t have to knit back, you don’t have to purl. If you want to knit garter stitch in the round, on the other hand, you need to purl every other row. Or try one of the ways to come around the purling-bit I explore in this post

How to cast on for knitting in the round

You can use the same techniques for cast in on stitches for knitting in the round as for knitting flat. It’s basically the same thing, the only difference is that you join in the round when the stitches are cast on.

This video shows how to add stitches, cast on, on a circular needle.

When the cast on is done it’s time to join the first and last stitches to be able to knit around. I have seen this done in a few ways, but I like to go for the easiest so I just start knitting and pull my first stitches tight to ensure there’s no gap.

Just be sure that the stitches don’t twist around your cable (or double pointed needles). They easily do before joining and in that case, your knitting will be twisted too.

(The only occasion I can think of when this is a good thing would be for a Moebius knit! This is a bit fun and stylish way to knit a cowl you can see a few ones in this post from myBluprint.)

You can see how to I join in the round and start knitting in the video below!

Binding off stockinette stitch

Binding off stockinette stitch is just as binding off any stitch. It’s always a good idea to bind off in pattern to make the finishing as invisible and neat as possible. Binding off in pattern for stockinette stitch would mean that you only use knit stitches if binding off at the knit side or vice versa.

I like the basic bind off when you just knit two stitches, and pass the first one over the second. Then knit one more, pass the first one over and so on.

Sometimes it can be a bit tight, try to pull the edge gently after working a few stitches. If it’s not stretchy enough you can undo it and try again with a larger needle.

Reading tip:
––> This post goes deeper into the basic bind off

Troubleshooting the stockinette stitch

Sometimes your knitting doesn’t look like you wished for. This happens to all of us, beginners and experienced knitters alike. The difference is that skilled knitters know what to do about it!

Also, knitting is a skill that takes a bit (a quite large bit) of practice. You have to find out how to tension yarn and hold your needles. And it will take time to refine one’s technique and learn to hold the same tension through a large project!

In this section, I have listed some of the issues all knitters face now and then.

I keep gaining stitches, what am I doing wrong?

Probably one of three things:

  1. You make yarn overs (YO) by accident
  2. You pick up the bars between the stitches
  3. You pull the first stitch so tight that it looks like two stitches and therefore knit it twice.

If you make accidental yarn overs

Take a close look at your knitting. Are there any holes?

If you find round holes in your knitting and your stitches are multiplying my guess is that you’re doing yarn overs by accident.

A yarn over (YO) is when you wrap the yarn around the needle tip between two stitches. When you knit into this wrap on the next row you get an extra stitch and a hole.

This technique is used to make decorative increases and lace (hole) patterns.

So what can you do about it?

If you spot your accidental yarn over before you knit into it you can just let it slip off your needle. There is a risk that this extra yarn will make your knitting a little looser. But if you knit into it you’re making a hole. So the first alternative is easy, less visible and will not mess up your stitch count.

If you spot your YO when it the hole is already a fact? Then the best solution is to unravel your knitting until your mistake is gone and re-knit it.

An accidental YO can also appear if you’re not pulling the yarn through the old stitch and slipping it off your needle correctly. The new stitch can then sit on your needle as a yarnover alongside the old stitch when you come to this spot on the next row.

If this happens just complete the stitch, put it back on your left needle and knit it one time for this row too.

If you pick up and knit the bar between the stitches

Sometimes knitters pick up that bar or bridge between two stitches and knit it as a stitch.

This is not as easy to detect as the accidental yarn over. But if you see that you have done this on the previous row, just slip that stitch off your needle and it will probably be fine. Maybe a little looser.

When knitting garter stitch, this won’t be visible and if you discover that you have added a stitch and don’t see any holes you can just knit a pair of stitches together.

In stockinette stitch, this kind of increase will show a bit, as well as it will show if you knit two stitches together. Sometimes that could ruin a project. Another time it won’t matter. Take a close look at your work and decide if you’re going to rip back or decrease (knit two together).

Steps on the edges? You’re adding stitches at the beginning of the row

If your edges have little steps on them rather then beeing straight you’re adding stitches at the beginning of the row.

The first stitch of the row is a bit loose, new knitters often try to fix this by pulling the yarn super tight. What happens is that the stitch gets so tight that it pulls up the legs of the old stitch over the needle. This looks like two stitches, both “stitches” are knit and you have one stitch too many. If this happens on every row you will end up with a lot of stitches!

To avoid this, learn how to without pulling your yarn.

If this happens, rip back and start over.

Reading tips:
––> Learn to knit neat edges
––> Learn to add a lifeline to rip you knitting back safely

Trouble shooting Stockinette Stitch | If your purl stitches are looser than your knit stitches they become bigger and stand out a bit, creating a striped effect. This is called "Rowing out".
If your purl stitches are looser than your knit stitches they become bigger and stand out a bit, creating a striped effect. This is called “Rowing out”.

My stockinette stitch look uneven

There are a few reasons for uneven knitting

  • You’re a new knitter
  • You’re using the wrong needles
  • You knit tighter than you purl

A common reason for uneven knitting is that you need to practice more. Knitting is a series of motions that need to settle in your muscle memory to get even and precise. And for that to happen you need to repeat those motions thousands of times.

The wrong needles can also make your knitting uneven. Maybe your yarn isn’t sliding easy enough? Or too easy? A rule of thumb is that slippery yarns are easier to tame on wooden needles and more sticky fibers work well with metal needles.

Personally I knit more even on my circular needles than on straight ones. The cable lets the weight of the work rest on my lap, and the short tips are easier to maneuver.

If your knitting looks striped because of some rows having larger stitches the cause is called rowing out.

Rowing out is when your purling is looser than your knit stitches, causing that stripey effect.

There are a few ways to work around this. This used to be a big issue for me, so I have had reasons for digging deep into the solutions.

This post will give you some options to choose from! Smooth stockinette how to fix uneven knitting

Sloppy edges

This is a big issue for many knitters, but it can be solved in beautiful ways! This post is all about how to knit neat edges.

Trouble shooting Stockinette Stitch | If your stitches look too big, your tension is to loose. Try a smaller pair of needles.
If your stitches look too big, your tension is loose. Try a smaller pair of needles.

My stitches are too big!

When the stitches get too big it’s a result of loose tension. The easiest way to correct this problem is to change your needles to a smaller size.

Try one or maybe two sizes smaller for US / a half or one size if your needle sizes are in mm.

Be aware of that knitting on smaller needles, will not only give tighter tension and smaller stitches, but it will also affect gauge. Smaller stitches take up less space and your project will also be smaller than expected.

If you change needles it’s a good idea to make another swatch if you’re working on a gauge-sensitive project like a fitted garment.

Reading tip:
––> You can read more about gauge and tension here: Measuring Gauge

Sometimes changing needle size is not an option, maybe you don’t have smaller needles on hand or they are caught in another project.

In this case, you can try to hold your yarn tighter. Maybe you can just hold it firmer? Or if that’s not working you could try to hold it another way.

I wrap my yarn around my pinky-finger and hold it inside my hand and let it slide over my index (you can see how in the video of joining and knitting above). It could also work to wrap it around one more finger to get more tension.

Why are my stitches too tight?

If your stitches are too tight your tension is too hard. There are two reasons for this.

Either your needles are too small for the yarn. In this case, all you have to do is change them to a bigger size.

Or, you hold your yarn really tight. If you get tired in your hands or get strained by knitting it’s possible that you hold on a bit too tight to your yarn and needles.

Try to hold your knitting in a different way or let the yarn run more freely between your fingers.