Garter stitch is supposed to lie flat right? Then why does the Garter cuff or hem at the bottom of a sweater or dress flip up? Why does a Garter hem on a neckline fold downwards?
The reason is that there is a difference in gauges. The Garter stitch itself does lie flat, but it’s the part of the knitting that moves from Garter to Stockinette that causes the flip. This can also occur with Seed Stitch, but it’s not as common of a problem.
For most knitters, stitch gauge with Garter stitch will be slightly larger than with Stockinette. If you are getting 5 stitches to 1 inch/2cm with Stockinette, you may be closer to 4.5 or 4.75 stitches to 1 inch/2cm in Garter stitch. This difference causes the Garter stitch to flare out a bit and flip up.
To fix this, first you need to know what’s going on with your knitting, yarn, and needles for the project you’re working on. Knit two different swatches with the needles you intend to use for each section; one in Stockinette stitch or the stitch pattern used in the pattern and one in Garter stitch. Wet block them, squeeze out excess water in a towel, lie them flat to dry, and pin the Stockinette in place. The Garter stitch swatch doesn’t need to be pinned. Once dry, measure stitch gauge over the largest number of stitches, including half stitches, then divide to find the number of stitches per inch/cm. If the gauge is off even slightly between the two, this is the problem.
To fix this, do one of two things:
a) go down a needle size or two (or three) for the Garter stitch portion,
b) or reduce the number of stitches for the Garter stitch.
a) Swatch the Garter stitch again with smaller needles until you have the same exact gauge as the stockinette stitch, or the stitch pattern used in the portion that the Garter stitch is attaching to.
If you want to continue using the same needles, you can reduce the number of stitches, usually by about 10% for the Garter stitch. To find the exact number of stitches to reduce, multiply your stitch gauge per inch in Garter stitch by the width or circumference of the portion you’re knitting. Then subtract the number of stitches that the pattern calls for in Stockinette or the pattern stitch.
Example: A 40” sweater worked flat = 20” back = 10 stitches in Stockinette (+ 2 selvedge stitches) = 102 stitches
Gauge in Garter stitch = 4.5 stitches per inch x 20 = 90 stitches in Garter (+ 2 selvedge stitches) = 92 stitches.
102 – 92 = 10 stitches less for Garter stitch portion.
The pattern may say to use smaller needles for the Garter stitch, or it may have the different stitch counts worked into the pattern, but not always. There are times when the gauge of both portions was the same for the designer so this could depend on the needles used, or type and weight of yarn.
For you, and to ensure success in your project, you must understand the exact gauges that you are achieving in your knitting with this yarn, these stitch patterns, and the needles you’ve selected.
The good news is that this is very fixable. Even after a garment is blocked and finished, if you notice the flip, bands are on the outer edges and can easily be unraveled and re-knit. Then you have a worry-free garment that you can be proud of.