It’s useful to think of your knitting as a grid, especially when reading and writing charts. But as it turns out, knit stitches aren’t equally proportioned like the graph paper you used in math class. Knit stitches are typically wider than they are tall, and whether you’re working in stockinette stitch or garter stitch has a major impact on your stitch proportions too. Furthermore, stitch proportions can be affected accidentally by gravity, or intentionally by blocking.
In stockinette stitch, knitted stitches are typically 4/5 as tall as they are wide. That means that if you cast on a number of stitches, then knit the same number of rows, your knitted swatch will be about 4/5 as tall as it is wide (say 5 inches wide and 4 inches tall).
In garter stitch, knitted stitches are even squatter at 1/2 as tall as they are wide. Conveniently, if you count the ridges instead of the rows, you’ll typically find that an equal number of stitches and ridges will produce a nearly perfect square. That’s why modular knitting is typically worked in garter stitch and lays neat and flat when you pick up one stitch per ridge along the side!
We usually only measure the height and width of our stitches, but knit stitches live in a 3-dimensional world! It’s the depth of the stitches that explains why garter stitch requires more yarn to cover the same area. In garter stitch, your stitches are deeper. More yarn goes into making a thicker, stretchier fabric. The image on the left shows the same swatches as above with three rows of stockinette colored orange and three ridges of garter colored magenta.
Here’s when you want to keep stitch proportion in mind:
- When you’re checking your stitch gauge and row gauge. Stitch gauge refers to stitches per inch measured horizontally. Row gauge refers to stitches per inch measured vertically. Many patterns only require matching a stitch gauge for sizing because they instruct you to knit for 10 inches as opposed to 50 rows, for example.
- When you’re picking up stitches along a side edge. Skip every 5th stitch (or every 2nd for garter stitch) along the side for a smooth, unpuckered fabric.
- When you’re seaming a cast on/bind off edge to a side edge. Skip every 5th stitch (or every 2nd for garter stitch) along the side edge for a neat seam.
- When you’re designing a chart for colorwork or surface decoration. If you use regular graph paper (like a cross stitch chart), remember that the design will appear vertically squished.
Knit stitch graph paper is designed with boxes that reflect the typical knit stitch proportions. Download knit stitch graph paper at theknittingsite.com.
More technical gems of wisdom from the blog:
- The Case for Charts: Your Knitting is a Grid, by Lauren
- How to Run a Safety Line, by Lauren
- The Physics of Knitting: Why Does Stockinette Stitch Curl?, by Mim + Lauren
- The Kitchener Stitch Waltz, by Mim