Garter-stitch Knitting: The Diagonal Garter-stitch Square

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Baby afghans are a popular birthday and shower gift, and you can make one using this tutorial.
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This easy, attractive design is surprising quick to replicate.
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This easy, attractive design is surprising quick to replicate.

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
  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
  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

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