A step-by-step tutorial on counting rows – no matter if it’s garter stitch, stockinette stitch, cables, or any other pattern.
Your knitting pattern tells you to knit 5, 10, or 20 rows, you lost track, and now you have no clue if you need to continue knitting or not? Fear not because in this tutorial I will show you exactly how to count rows the easy way.
The technique is actually super simple once you understand how a knit stitch or a purl stitch looks like. And from there, reading your knitting is just as easy. So, first, I’ll show you the anatomy of these two stitches, and then I’ll show you how to count rows for various knitting stitch patterns. The method will be a bit different for garter stitch, stockinette stitch, etc.
Without further ado, let’s dive right into it, eh?
The anatomy of a knit and a purl stitch
If you want to know, how many sheep are on a farm, you have to know how sheep look. And if you want to count knitting stitches, then you obviously need to know how they appear. So, let’s take a look!
A knit stitch is formed by pulling a loop through another loop from behind. On the needles you do this by going into a loop from left to right, wrapping the yarn around the needle counter-clockwise, and pulling through. But if you look at it off the needles, it may be a bit more apparent.
This loop will look a bit like a V with the two legs barely touching each other at the bottom. By knitting into every stitch in a row, you form many little adjacent little Vs. They are connected with little strands you typically can only see when you pull the fabric a bit apart.
A purl stitch, on the other hand, is formed by pulling a loop through another loop from the front. On the needles this is done by going in from right to left, wrapping the yarn around counter-clockwise, and pulling through.
The result will be a stitch that has a little bump at its base that looks a bit like a little dome. By purling all stitches in a row, you form many such bumps. Since you hold the yarn in front, the strand connecting two stitches is clearly visible and it looks a bit like a cup.
To sum it up: A knit stitch looks a bit like a V and a purl stitch creates little bumps in your fabric. The two stitches are mirror-inverted. A knit stitch will appear exactly like a purl stitch on the wrong side and vice versa (here’s a deeper analysis of knit vs purl). With that knowledge, we can start counting rows.
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- Identify the right side of your work. This should be the smooth side. The wrong side will have a lot of little bumps (here's how to tell the right side from the wrong side in case you need to catch up).
- Find the first row you actually knitted. It will be the first row that shows many little Vs next to each other.
The actual first row will, however, depend on the cast-on method you picked. A longtail cast-on will already form the first row in the same breath, while a single cast-on (the thumb method) won't do that.
If you just have to count rows, then this difference won't matter. If, on the other hand, you are following a pattern that tells you to start with a longtail cast-on and then knit 20 rows, the distinction is very important because the designer probably already factored in that first row created with the cast-on.
In both cases I only knitted across one row, yet, only the longtail cast-on shows a row of Vs
- Use your knitting needle (or a pencil) and move up one more row. You should be able to see many little Vs stacked upon each other and you have to follow them with your knitting needle in a direct line. Each little V is one row and you should count them accordingly.
It's up to you or the pattern if you want to count the first row as such. In this case, the swatch was created using a longtail cast-on and I decided not to count it.
Make sure to add one row for the stitches currently still on your needles. They don't form Vs yet but should be counted regardless. The row directly below is sometimes a bit squished together.
If you need to count a lot of rows, I recommend using stitch markers every 10 or 20 rows in case you loose track. In fact, you can actually attach a stitch marker after every 5 or 10 rows while knitting to make this even easier. Later on you can simply count the stitch markers.
How to count rows in garter stitch
Garter stitch is probably the pattern most beginners start as it only consists of knit stitches. It is, however, very important to realize that the result will be a bit more difficult to count. Why? Well, when you knit a knit stitch on the wrong side, and you turn your work around, this very stitch will look like a purl stitch. As I said, the two stitches are mirror-inverted.
As a result, when seen from the right side only, garter stitch will always have one row of knit stitches followed by a row of purl stitches (and that’s actually the repeat for garter stitch in the round). Up-close you will actually be able to see many little Vs stacked upon purl bumps.
As garter stitch typically contracts quite a bit, it’s often a bit harder to see the knit Vs. But once you realize that always two rows in garter stitch form one little ridge, it’s super easy to count.
You simply have to count the ridges and multiply them by two. The only slightly difficult part is how you have to treat the current row, the one still on your needles. For the full details, please check out my full tutorial on counting rows in garter stitch.
How to count purl rows
But what if you need to count purl rows? How do you do that? Especially for beginners, this can be a bit confusing as reverse stockinette stitch and garter stitch look very similar. Both will show ridges of meandering little bumps. Always one bump that looks a bit like a cup, followed by one that looks a bit like a dome.
Purl rows, will, however, be a lot more condensed than garter stitch. There is no knit row in between. So in this case, you can simply count the ridges and that will be how many rows you have knitted so far.
Personally, I find it a bit easier to focus on the top purl bumps (the one shaped like a dome) and follow those in a straight line to the top with my knitting needles. Or you could turn your project around, where the purl stitches will appear like knit stitches and you count the Vs as shown above.
Counting rows in cable knitting
The cable stitch is a particularly beautiful knitting technique that may look complex but is actually rather easy to knit. But it can be a bit confusing to count. Typically, your pattern tells you to have 3, 5, or 7 rows in between a cable crossing. But if you don’t pay attention, it can be difficult to count because the Vs are slanting to the left or right. Where is the actual start of each cable repeat?
This is quite easy to solve. Focus on the cable and find where the two stitches cross in the center. The first row that is all knit stitch Vs next to each other is the row where you executed the cable stitch (no not the row where you can see the stitches crossing!).
So, to count rows in cable knitting, you simply have to count the Vs following that first full row of knit stitches.
Here’s another way to approach this: A lot of people have a problem with one loose knit stitch on the left side of the cable. This loose knit stitch is always created in the row below your actual left cable cross. So, you can also use it as a reference point but you would have to subtract one from your total row count.
More complex knitting pattern
Of course, you can use the same principles to count more complex knitting stitch patterns. For example a moss stitch or a seed stitch. If you stretch things out a bit and focus on just one column, you will always be able to see knit or purl stitches stacked upon each other. And you just have to count the loops.
At the end of the day, every knitting stitch is a simple loop. And you can pierce your needle through the center of it. It doesn’t really matter which way it slants, if there’s a purl bump at its base or it forms a V, at the center there’s always a hole. And if you count these holes stacked upon each other in one column, you always have your row count.