Garter-stitch Knitting: The Diagonal Garter-stitch Square

Garter-stitch knitting creates a beautiful, practical design to please the neophyte knitter and the needlework veteran alike.

| January/February 1985

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:

  1. Cast on 2 stitches.
  2. Row 1: Knit 2 stitches, increasing on the second stitch to make a total of 3 stitches.
  3. Row 2 on: Repeat as for Row 1, but knit to the end of each row.
  4. When the afghan reaches half the desired size, begin to decrease by knitting 2 stitches together on the second stitch of each row.
  5. 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.  

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