Many people learn the basic knitting stitch — called the garter stitch — in school, or from friends or relatives, but, once having mastered that maneuver, never go on to further develop their skill. Sometimes this happens for lack of a satisfying project, one that's really good-looking as well as practical. Well, if you can handle the basic knitting stitch and know how to increase and decrease, I think you'll find that the diagonal garter-stitch square is reason enough to get those needles out of storage.
I was taught this easy, attractive design by my mother, who learned it from friends, and right from the start I was impressed by the speed with which it allows projects to be made. In an hour or so, my mother would have a triangle 6 to 8 inches across, on its way to becoming an infant's afghan. The pattern looked delicate, even elegant, yet it was astonishingly simple:
- Cast on 2 stitches.
- Row 1: Knit 2 stitches, increasing on the second stitch to make a total of 3 stitches.
- Row 2 on: Repeat as for Row 1, but knit to the end of each row.
- When the afghan reaches half the desired size, begin to decrease by knitting 2 stitches together on the second stitch of each row.
- Continue until there are no more stitches, cast off, and tie in the ends.
As you work, you form a border with the first two stitches of each row. This border can be made wider, if you prefer: Simply make your increase and decrease stitches farther into the row. I found that I could knit as many as seven stitches into the row before increasing or decreasing, and the border looked just great.
Because each half of the diagonal square is a mirror image of the other, and because there's often quite a bit of leeway possible in the final sizes of projects, it's easy to figure the distribution of yarn so that you have no leftovers to worry about: two skeins in, two skeins out, so to speak. This knowledge can be useful if, for example, you fall heir to several skeins of yarn and would like to make a small afghan. Just knit and increase until you've used up half your yarn; then knit and decrease until the square's finished and you have no more yarn left.
Baby afghans, as you probably know, are popular birthday and shower gifts. I made the one pictured in the image gallery with two 4-ounce skeins of three-ply yarn and size 10 needles. My favorite project — and the one that went the quickest — was a warm poncho for my 1-year-old daughter. I made this garment in two evenings, and it turned out so well that it has become a best-loved piece of winter wear. With a double strand of four-ply yarn to insure warmth and size 13 needles, I knitted the first half of the poncho using one of her jackets to gauge the proper length. At about the halfway point, I measured the poncho directly on her. When it proved to be the correct size, I bound off 15 stitches in the center of the next row — the last increase row — to make a neck opening. In the following row, which was the first decrease row, I simply cast those 15 stitches on again.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To cast on stitches in the middle of a row, just throw a series of half-hitch loops onto the right needle. Since these tend to be rather loose along the bottom, MOTHER'S staffer made our test poncho — shown in the image gallery — with a crocheted edge on the neck opening, which firmed it up nicely. Our poncho, incidentally, took 7 ounces of four-ply pink yarn plus a bit of white for the borders.
There are various ways to finish off the completed diagonal square. You can leave it just as it is, tie fringe all around the edges, crochet a border or even sew on an edging. Any one of these looks good.
Much depends on the particular yarn and the size needles you use, but in general, the diagonal garter-stitch square is a stretchy pattern that lends itself well to soft, cuddly wraparounds, lap robes, carriage blankets, ponchos and afghans. I've also made dishcloths, using one-strand cotton yarn, and pot holders, using two-strand cotton yarn.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Remember to make pot holders extra thick, or of two squares with a good filling in between, as the knitted fabric can iet heat through! By the way, we found that half a diagonal square makes a lovely triangular shawl. Ours — shown in one of the photos in the image gallery — took a little over 9 ounces of exquisitely soft Phentex Chunky yarn, and was given a border of single and double crochet with a shell-stitched outer edge. We used size 13 knitting needles and a size J crochet hook. Still another suggestion is to use the triangle pattern for diaper-style baby soakers made of wool, if possible, and held on with a large safety pin or sewn-on fasteners.
There are, of course, special rewards to be found in tackling challenging knitted patterns, but as the photographs in the image gallery should show you, it's possible to make something truly attractive and useful with this quick, easy design.