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)


Knitting Granny said...

Just wanted to pop by and tell you how much I enjoy and appreciate your blog. Have you thought of making it (the entries) into a book? Also - you sure do know your way around - Like your illustrations, for instance. You're incredible! Thanks again.

marjorie said...

I usually decide whether to count the cast-on row depending on the pattern. If it is the first row of the pattern (as it sometimes is with the long-tail), then I count it. If it is not, as with a provisional or cable, then I don't because the pattern will really start on the following row. I agree with you that consistency is the key. If I'm doing something that must match (two sleeve cuffs, fronts and backs), then I just make a note that I either did or did not count the cast on (cast on + 5 rib rows, for example). I add copious notes to my patterns, either in the margins or on separate pages so I will know what I did, even if it is a one-time event for the project.

I find that with the mechanical counters, I forget to turn them. This is not a senior moment. I've been doing screwing this up since I was a young knitter. It is pencil and paper for me!

marjorie (

Angie said...

Thanks for the explanation, TECHknitter. Discussion of a topic always helps me remember and your illustrations are great.

Have a great and safe weekend.

Micki said...

I'm amazed at how few "beginning" knitting books don't address this issue. Many thanks for the public service you provide!

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

Berry Gal said...

Anotehr trick for keeping track is keep a long cast on tail. For each repeat put a knot in the tail. So when you pick up the work you know what repeat you are on!

Thanks for all your help. You are amazing and keep sharing. The illustrations also make the blog!

Criquette said...

I LOVE cheese and pickle sandwiches, with yellow mustard! I was just referred to your blog for help with avoiding ladders on dpn's. Thank you - this is not only the info I've been looking for, but you actually explain why it works the way it does and throw in some great pictures as well! When I get home tonight, I am going to read every one of your posts. And I'm going to put your blog on my knitting links too!

Anonymous said...

I am a new knitter and had trouble initially with counting rows. I would wonder if I had remembered to advance the counter on the previous row about mid way through the next one. Here is the solution! A friend saw this in a magazine and I made one myself. String beads along a wire with a loop in the wire between beads big enough for the needle. The number of beads should be a multiple of the rows in a repeat of your pattern. Place this at the join in your circular knitting and advance one bead each round. You CANNOT change the count at any time except the end of the row and you MUST handle the counter to advance. I don't forget or double count anymore. For straight needles put the counter at one end and advance two beads when you get there.

knitsandroses said...

You are my knitting hero. I'm captivated by your tutorials; thank you.

becka said...

just found your blog today, really enjoying it!

For things like cables or needing to insert regular short rows i use a piece of extra yarn and just use it sorta like a 'lifeline' but through only 1-2 stitches...that way i can go back and count a million times if a need to and i still know where to do my next needle switch or short row. I also use it w/ needing to do a specific amount of rows just by figuring how many rows i need and divide em up evenly to know how often i need to stick a line in em. :)

Brittany said...

How do I learn to "read" my knitting? How do I know how many rows I have just from looking?

I am just learning how to knit, so I am doing the easy knit stitch (which I think is also called a "garter" stitch, but I am not sure).

TECHknitter said...

Hi Brittany:In garter stitch, each "ride" is made up of two rows. So, if you count the ridges and multiply by two, you will have your row count.

narruda789 said...

This is really helpful! It's something I've been wondering about for a while but never got around to Googling (sometimes I forget that the internet knows EVERYTHING).

I'll keep you in mind if I have any more knitting questions, which I guarantee I will!

InfinityOfIdeas said...

To my mind that's what I refer to a magnificent article! Do you run this site for your personal joy exclusively or you actually exploit it to get profit with its help?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Infinity--so far, TECHknitting blog has not been monitized in any way, but one day, I hope to write a book. Thanks for writing, and thanks for your kind words. Best, TK

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, I'm brand new to knitting and this entire business about "rows" was confusing the heck outta me. Very informative, I will keep up with your blog for sure!

The Sidewalk Goddess said...

I have a strange additional question...

Say I'm knitting some stockinette (such as a sleeve) and I need to knit x number of rows of ribbing at the end. Now, I already have stitches on my needle, nothing is ribbed, and I knit one row of rib, so now I can see I knit one row of ribbing. Would I still count the stitch on the needle? Because... That seems so strange to me (but, you are indeed a genius, so I trust you!)

How I would do it would be to count all of the rows that are ribbed. Not the stockinette before, and also not the stitches on the needles. Is that wrong? Is this different than what you mention above?

Thanks for this blog, it is an amazing wealth of information!

TECHknitter said...

Hi SG--you count the row on your needles, yes, BUT, it's not a row of RIBBING until you knit the following row.

Here is a post which explains more about the structure of knitting. It uses color knitting and texture knitting as the example to make the point, but the structure is the same regardless of whether you are using two colors or one.

Write again if still confused, OK? --TK

Joanne B. said...

Simply put .... you are fantastic.

Merci beaucoup ;)