When you first learned to knit, you may not have given a thought to how to count your stitches and rows (or why you should do it). Learning the motions for making stitches was enough to keep track of. Fair enough. But then you thought “this is fun, let’s make a hat!” Suddenly, you had to know how to count your stitches and rows so that the hat would actually.....y’know.....fit.
Stitches are the building blocks of knitting, and the number of stitches you have on your needle determines the width of your piece. You can simply count the number of loops on your needle to see how many stitches you have on there.
But there's more to it than that! How many stitches you are getting per inch makes a difference too! Thick yarns take up more space, so you will get fewer stitches per inch than with a skinny sock yarn. If you have 100 stitches on your needle and the number of stitches per inch (or gauge) is 4 stitches per inch, you have a piece of fabric that is 25" wide. If your gauge is 6 stitches per inch, you have a piece of fabric that is 16.6" wide. Quite a difference, huh?
We will talk more about gauge in another post, but for now, know that whatever gauge (or stitches per inch) your pattern calls for - that's what you had better have if you want a good fit.
According to the great and mighty Alicemay, the most effective way to count your stitches when checking your gauge is to knit a swatch in stockinette stitch that is about the size of a piece of toast. (Why toast instead of a piece of bread? I have no idea.) Anything smaller than that won't give an accurate measurement. Lightly steam your swatch and smooth it out on a table. Be sure you use a slick surface, not a couch or bed, because you don't want the yarn to stick to the surface and give you a wonky measurement.*
*I did that once many years ago when measuring for pocket placement on a cardigan. It did not end well.
Using a stitch gauge like this one, or a tape measure if you don't have one handy, carefully count the number of stitches over 4" and divide that by 4 to get your number of stitches per inch. Using a 4" measurement instead of 1" will average out any irregularities.
Rows are stitches measured vertically, and this determines the length of your piece. To count your rows, look at the front of your knitting and count the number of stitches in a column. For stockinette stitch, you will count the Vs in a column. It can be a little tricky, so here are a couple things you need to know:
- The loops on your needle count as a row.
- Depending on your cast on method, your cast on row might look like a row of knitting. If so, you should not count it. This is true for long tail cast on, which is what I recommend for beginners. There are a number of invisible cast ons too, so check to see if your cast on is fooling you by doing this: work the first 4 rows, then look at the right side of your knitting. Does it look like you have 4 rows (counting the loops on the needle as a row) or 5?
Tips for Counting Stitches and Rows
- When you have a lot of stitches to cast on, use stitch markers at regular intervals so you don't have to start from the beginning if you lose track. I usually place a stitch marker every 25 stitches. Stitch markers are small rings that can be placed on your needle between stitches. When you finish casting on, work the first row of your knitting, removing the stitch markers as you come to them.
- Use a row counter. You can use a pencil and paper to make a mark at the end of each row, but a row counter will make it much easier. Here are some good mechanical row counters. You can also use digital row counters for your smart phone or tablet. There are good options for both iPhone and Android - search for "row counter" in your app store.
- Periodically count your stitches on the needle at the end of a row. This way, you'll know if you've made a mistake and can correct it before it gets out of hand.
Counting stitches and rows in knitting is a fundamental skill that is essential for success. By following these tips and keeping accurate track of your stitches and rows, you'll be able to produce beautiful, well-crafted pieces that match your patterns and meet your expectations. Happy knitting!