Conquer Gauge for Knitting: How to Count Rows & Stitches

Gauge in knitting is used to calculate the number of rows and stitches per inch in a knitted fabric, allowing you create garments that fit exactly as intended and use the yardage you have on hand. And to know your gauge, you have to know how to count rows and stitches in knitting!

Check out this comprehensive guide to learn everything you need to know about mastering gauge for knitting!

how to count rows in knitting

Understand Gauge for Knitting

In knitting, gauge is a measure used to determine the number of rows and stitches in a set area—often 4”/10 cm for larger projects and 2”/ 5 cm for socks. By knowing your gauge in advance, you can reduce the amount of time needed when adjusting patterns to get the perfect fit and make more accurate calculations when purchasing yarn!

Common Misconceptions About Gauge for Knitting

As a knitter, understanding gauge is key to achieving success in projects where fit is important—like hats, socks, and sweaters. Issues can arise when your gauge does not match that of the pattern – whether that’s too tight, too loose, or simply off. But have no fear! We can get you back on the right track.

Let’s tackle the most common misconceptions about gauge for knitting:

  1. Gauge is not important: Wrong! Gauge is essential when it comes to knitting projects. Even the slightest difference in gauge can have a huge impact on the end result.
    • Example: If your gauge is supposed to be 20 sts over 4”/10 cm, but you get 21 sts. This extra stitch multiplied out over a 40”/100 cm sweater will add 2”/5 cm to your sweater circumference.
    • If your stitches are too tight or loose, your project may end up looking odd, not fitting correctly, or needing to be reworked.
  • Gauge is difficult to do: Not at all! You can easily measure your gauge using a ruler. It’s a quick and easy process that takes less than 3 minutes. All you need to do is check the pattern’s recommended gauge and compare it to the swatch you have made.
  • Gauge is fixed: Not true! Gauge can be adjusted to create different effects. Using different needle size or needle material can easily change the gauge.
  • Project gauge or gauge for knitting is different from yarn gauge. (Check out this post to learn all about yarn gauge!)

So, there you have it! Gauge is not a difficult concept and understanding it will help you create fantastic projects.

Below I’ll show you how to check and double-check your gauge before starting and during a project, to solidify your chances of knitting success!

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The Gauge Swatch: Do I have do?

Determining gauge for knitting a project is often achieved by knitting the dreaded gauge swatch (which I do totally encourage). If you need to know how many stitches are in 4”/10 cm, I recommend knitting a 6”/15 cm swatch for more accurate measurements. (Even though I don’t always do that.)

But even a gauge swatch can lie. (Especially if you’re knitting your swatch flat for an in the round project.)

So why do it? Because it gives you a good jumping off point and lets you know if your needles and yarn are a good pairing for the stitch pattern or if you should give something else a try.

But if you absolutely CANNOT STAND knitting a gauge swatch. There is an alternative…

Project Gauge for Knitting: How to Figure It Out Before It’s Too Late

So we all knot that even if you take the time to do a gauge swatch, it can lie to you? Little bugger. That’s why on sweaters and cardigans, I take the time to do a mid-project gauge check.

(And if you absolutely cannot stand gauge swatches, you could do only this… though I can’t in good conscience recommend it.)

Once you get going on your project, you get comfortable, you loosen up, and your gauge can change. So I like to knit 6-8”/15-20 cm into my project, then I put the project on some plastic cords and wet block it.

Sure, you’ve got to figure out something else to knit for the day, but taking this little extra step can save you LOADS of heartbreak.

It gives you the chance to course correct before you’re too far so you can get the perfect fit every time.

Now that you know why, let’s dig in to the how to count stitches and rows in knitting!

gauge for knitting

Tips for Accurate Stitch and Row Gauge Measuring

When you’re ready to count rows and stitches in knitting, there are a few tips to keep in mind for success.

  • Lay the piece out on a flat surface. (The only time I ever count rows or measure a piece while holding it up is with sleeves, since they will experience this pull naturally.)
  • Do not pull on the fabric. Any tension you place on the stitches could give you an inaccurate measure, as well as distort the fabric of your garment.
  • Use a ruler, not a tape measure. Tape measures can stretch out over time giving you an inaccurate measurement.

How to Count Rows in Knitting

Knowing how to count the rows in your knitting is essential if you want to achieve the right fit for your project. It’s a process of counting vertically how many stitches are stacked up in a line. When counting rows, it is helpful to count from the bottom-up so that you can easily identify each stitch and accurately count each row. So let’s get started!

How to Count Rows in Stockinette Knitting

how to count rows in knitting
  1. A single knit stitch looks like a V. To count rows, pick a single column of Vs, stacked one on top of another in the center of your knitting.
  2. Align starting point on your ruler to the bottom point of a V. You can measure on the outside of a stitch or up the center of the stitch, just make sure you’re consistent throughout.
  3. Place your finger along the 4”/10 cm line, over the fabric to mark your stopping point.
  4. Count one leg of the V (either the left or right side, whichever is closest to your ruler) from the 0 to the 4”/10 cm.
  5. Write down the number, include any half stitches if applicable.
  6. Repeat 2-3 times in different places throughout the knitted piece. Take the average of all counts.

Modification for Counting Rows in Knit Garter Stitch

how to count rows in knitting

Counting rows in garter stitch is just as easy, but a little bit different. You’ll be counting garter ridge rows. The garter ridge is made up two parts, the upper curve or umbrella and the lower curve or smile.

Align your ruler with the bottom of a smile. The count smiles up to the 4”/10 cm. Each smile counts for 2 rows. If at the end of 4”/10, the line reaches the top of an umbrella, not the bottom of a smile, add only 1 stitch to the final count.

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How to Count Stitches in Knitting

Learning how to count stitches in knitting follows a similar process to counting rows. You start by identifying the V of a single stitch, but this time you’re going to count horizontally along a single row instead of vertically. You’ll be counting from left to right.

How to Count Stitches in Stockinette Knitting

how to count stitches in knitting
  1. A single knit stitch looks like a V. To count stitches, pick a single row of Vs, sitting next to each other in a line (VVVVV) in the center of your knitting.
  2. Align starting point on your ruler to the center of the stitch on the outside of the left leg of the V.
  3. Place your finger along the 4”/10 cm line, over the fabric to mark your stopping point.
  4. Count both legs of the V as a single stitch from the 0 to the 4”/10 cm.
  5. Write down the number, include any half stitches if applicable.
  6. Repeat 2-3 times in different places throughout the knitted piece. Take the average of all counts.

Modification: How to Count Stitches in Knit Garter Stitch

how to count stitches in knitting

You can choose to count garter stitch stitches in exactly the same way, pulling the ridges slightly open to measure the knit stitches between. Or you can count stitches on the ridge rows by counting the smiles (see Garter Stitch Mod above) along 4”/10 cm.

how to count rows in knitting

Troubleshooting Your Gauge for Knitting

If your knit gauge is too big…

Switch to smaller knitting needles.

If your knit gauge is too small…

Switch to larger knitting needles.

If you like the fabric but it’s the wrong gauge for knitting…

Then you’ve got a couple options. It’s important to love the fabric you’re creating. So if you’re getting gauge but don’t like the fabric, or get a different gauge and love the fabric you can:

  • Change the yarn
  • Change the pattern
  • Modify the pattern. For example, if you’re getting a bigger gauge but love how it feels, you could knit the pattern one size smaller. This could require you to make minor modifications as you go, so choose this option only if you’re ready to tackle that challenge!
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And Remember Gauge is Not Crucial to Every Project

Okay so after all that… it may not truly matter. If you’re knitting a shawl or a scarf. Fit is not crucial. You could totally just cast on and go for it. But if you do, just remember a different gauge for knitting can dramatically affect your yarn usage—up or down. But if that’s not a big deal to you, then more power to you!

gauge for knitting

Count & Be Happy

Sure knitting swatches and stopping for measurements is a pain when you just want to knit, knit, knit. But taking a few minutes here and there to make sure you’re on track can save you a world of heartache!

So now that you’ve mastered the art of gauge for knitting, what project will you tackle first?

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