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The Ups and Downs of Knitting: Counting Your Rows

You, our readers, asked for it and we're happy to oblige! Designer and teacher Heather Lodinsky joins us for a new article on understanding the fundamentals of your knitting.

Knowing exactly where you are in a knitting project requires knowing where you have been. “Reading” your stitches by identifying a knit versus a purl stitch is helpful in showing you where you are in a stitch pattern. In the last article I wrote, I showed how to identify the stitches already worked to know where you are in your knitting.

Sometimes no matter how hard I try, I can easily lose track of which row I am working in a pattern. Life happens—the phone rings, we get talking or we just have to leave our knitting for some reason.  Then I come back to my knitting and…what row was I working? There are various tools out there to help us keep track of our rows. Row counters exist that either attach to your needle, or need to be clicked and there are even “counting boards” where pegs are moved to show what row we are working. Even the simple “hash mark” on a piece of paper works well, but there is still  that human element of just plain forgetting to mark the paper, move the peg or click the counter to the next number. As a knitting teacher, one of the most common questions I am asked is: “What row am I on?”

A skill as important as identifying your stitches is the ability to count your rows without a “counter”. The best way to count stitches is by first identifying a stitch and then being able to count stitches up and down, which will tell us how many rows we have done and what row we need to work next.

Counting Rows in Stockinette Stitch

Stockinette Stitch | Counting Your Rows | Lion Brand Notebook

Click the image to enlarge.

Lets’s first look at stockinette stitch – which, when we are working a flat piece, is knitted on the right side  of the fabric and purled on the wrong side.  First, we have to be able to identify a “knit” stitch.  Look closely at the right side of stockinette stitch and see that a knit stitch looks like a “V”.   This is what we are looking for in order to help us count our rows.

Knit Stitch | Counting Your Rows | Lion Brand Notebook
Click the image to enlarge.

I have outlined a knit stitch with a contrasting yarn to show what we need to count. When we are counting our rows from the beginning of a piece, we generally do not count the “cast on” row as a row of knitting. On the other hand, the stitches that are on our needle, do count as a row. So below, I have again “outlined” the stiches we need to count. The “V” at the bottom is actually the cast on row, which we will not count as a row. There are 8 outlined “V”s below and we need to count the one on the needle as well. Altogether, 9 rows above the cast on have been worked.  We are ready for row 10.

Rows of Stockinette | Counting Your Rows | Lion Brand Notebook
Click the image to enlarge.

Stockinette stitch on the knit side (or right side) is easy to see, but sometimes a project calls for Reverse Stockinette - which is the same except the purl side is on the right side. I have always found it difficult to count rows in reverse stockinette stitch–so what I do is count from the back where the fabric is stockinette stitch and then it is easy to count!

Counting Rows in Garter Stitch

Garter stitch is the simplest of knit patterns because every row is knit.  Counting rows like we just did for stockinette stitch doesn’t apply here because both sides are full of ridges with no “V”s to be seen. I find the best way to count rows in garter stitch is to count the ridges on the front, then the ridges on the back, and add them together. This will tell you how many rows you have worked!

The two pictures below are the same garter stitch swatch.  In the first picture, there are 4 ridges above the cast on row (which appears as a ridge).

Garter Stitch  | Counting Your Rows | Lion Brand Notebook
Click the image to enlarge.

The next picture shows the opposite side of the same swatch.  On this side there are 5 ridges to be counted.  Rather than stitches on the needle, the ridge just below these stitches is what we need to count.

Garter Stitch  | Counting Your Rows | Lion Brand Notebook
Click the image to enlarge.

Altogether, there have been 9 rows of garter stitch worked after I cast on.

Once you have learned how to identify and count rows (instead of writing or clicking what row you are working) you can use a detachable stitch marker or safety pin to mark a certain row. Then, as you are working up, you can just count up from that row you have marked.

This is especially helpful for cable patterns where the twist of the cable makes it difficult to know just how many rows have been done since the last cable was worked.  Here’s a great tip for keeping track of your cable rows.  After you have worked a cable, place a marker or safety pin on one of the stitches of the cable when that row is completed:

Cable Marker | Counting Your Rows | Lion Brand Notebook
Click the image to enlarge.

That marker or pin will tell you that the stitch marked was on the row you worked a cable. If the cable is every 8 rows, then 7 more rows need to be worked before another cable is worked. I worked the cable up a few rows and now we can count the “V”s above the marked stitch and need to include the stitch that is on the needle:

Cable Marker | Counting Your Rows | Lion Brand Notebook
Click the image to enlarge.

Above the marked stitch, there are 4 “V”s and the stitch on the needle.  I have worked 5 rows so far since the last cable twist. I need to work 2 more rows before I am ready to work the next cable. This technique of marking a row works well with lace patterns and with yarns that may be fuzzy or dark and harder to count.

Just as reading your stitches helps you to identify where you are in a pattern, being able to count your rows will help you become a better knitter by not having to constantly rely on marking down what row we are on. It can be easy to lose your place, but reading your stitches and identifying the row you are working will free you up for many happy hours of knitting and many less of ripping!

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