Friday, May 25, 2007

How to count rows

Angie, a reader, (and a blogger who takes a nice photo) asks:
"How do I count the rows accurately in my active work? Do I include the cast-on row and the stitches on the needle(s) or not?"
A 2-part question gets a THREE-part answer...

Whether to count the cast-on depends on HOW you cast on.
  • If you cast on with a loop method (such as backwards loop or forwards loop) the first row you knit is the first row of the work--the loop cast-on is not usually counted as a row. (This is a convention because, if the cast-on were to be counted as a row, pattern writers would have to write a different set of instructions for the first repeat of a texture pattern counted in rows.)
  • If, however, you cast on with a long tail method, the first row is knitted at the time of the cast on. Therefore, the first row you knit (or purl) after the cast-on is actually the second row of the work. (There is a more detailed explanation in the long tail post.)
  • If you cast on with a cable method (also called "knitting on" or "chain cast on") then it's knitter's choice -- this kind of cast-on is heavier than a mere loop cast-on, but not quite doubled as is the long-tail cast on. You must make up your own mind.
click picture
This illustration came out small (another mystery of html). If you click it, though, it'll get bigger.


As to whether to count the loops on the needle -- the answer is "yes." You do count the loops on the needle, because they are stitches which have already been knit. The confusion about this is understandable--it is the NEW stitches you are going to put INTO the loops already on the needle which is going to determine how those loops will lay--whether they will be knit stitches or purl stitches. BUT, because they have already been created and are laying on your needles, there is no question that the stitches on your needle have already been knit. Because they have been knitted, they ought to be counted, unless the directions tell you otherwise.

Now, having said all this hyper technical stuff, I can also tell you that one row more or less might make a horrible mess of a TEXTURE pattern in a fabric (such as this one, for example). BUT -- one row here or there is unlikely to make a difference in the FIT of any knitted garment. Whether you choose to follow the convention to exclude the cast-on row from your row count will not make a noticeable difference in your finished garment. What WILL make a difference in your fit is whether you are CONSISTENT in counting rows between the different parts of your project.

Example: suppose the front of your new sweater is knit to 76 rows to the underarm, NOT counting either row of a long-tail cast on as the first row, and NOT counting the stitches on the needle (in other words, not counting the red, green or blue rows of the illustration.) Now suppose the back is knit to 76 rows to the underarm. This time as part of the 76 rows, you DO count the rows you didn't before (in other words, this time, you do count the red, green and blue rows of the illustration.) The front piece would wind up 3 rows longer than the back. This will make for awkwardness when it comes to seaming up.

Bottom line: There is a convention for which rows to count as part of the row count. However, to achieve a good fit, CONSISTENCY in counting is the most important thing--much more important than whether you choose to follow the convention.

Even though it's not part of Angie's question, the title may have readers wondering a different question. Many knitters ask: "If you want to keep track of rows as you knit them, what's the best way?"

There are lots of ways to keep track of your rows as you go--clickers of various sorts are popular, I often use the little green kind that hangs around the neck. Also popular is that hardy perennial--pencil and paper. Some knitters make hash marks on a blank page, some make Excel spreadsheets with little boxes to check off. As to the question of whether the row should be noted BEFORE starting or AFTER finishing, this is a dispute into which I will not go. As long as you are (say it with me now) CONSISTENT in your approach, it makes no difference whether you mark the row before you start or after you end.

Whatever way you keep track, however, the one certainty is that you will lose track. The phone will ring, or your kid will crash into something, or your city council rep will ring the bell to explain why she should be re-elected as you stand there wishing you'd brushed your teeth after that cheese-and-pickle sandwich. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that "reading" the fabric, as Angie wants to do, is your best insurance policy.

Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, and drive carefully!
(You have been reading TECHknitting on: How to count rows)