For most projects it is recommended to use counters and/or pen and paper to keep track of rows as your knitting progresses. Doing so saves time, as you don’t have to continually go back and count the rows on the knit fabric, and more efficient as there is less chance of losing your place. The main advantage to counting rows for garment pieces is they will match row for row when seaming. For complex pattern stitches such as cables or lace, it is very difficult to count rows from the piece, without some way of keeping track of the rows. I often use a pen and paper along with counters. Refer to my post “Do You Really Need To Learn How To Use A Row Counter?” for the types of counters and how to use.
If you consistently use a system for counting rows, there will still be times when it is necessary to count rows on the knit fabric for dropped stitches, ripping back and losing your place. In these instances it is important to understand how the pattern stitch is formed, recognizing the stitch multiples and the number of rows per repeat. Remember that each pattern stitch is based on repeating a number of stitches and rows. The number of stitches is called a “multiple”, and the number of rows is called a “repeat”. Some pattern instructions will use the word “repeat” to describe both the number of stitches in a multiple and the number of rows in a repeat. Complicated patterns may have as many as 40 rows to the repeat. If you are inexperienced there are hundreds of simple patterns that are rewarding to work and will help you gain confidence and skill. The test swatch is the best way to practice unfamiliar pattern stitches.
Most pattern stitches require you know four basic operations: how to make the knit and purl stitches, how to make a yarnover (yo) and how to use a cable needle. The easiest pattern stitch to count from the knit fabric is stockinette stitch (knit one row, purl one row). The “V’s” running horizontal is the stitch count, and each “V” running vertical is a row. Each purl row on the back side of stockinette stitch can be counted as one complete row. I find it easier to count the “V’s” on the right side.
For garter stitch, every ridge is equal to two knit rows, because you knit each row.
For seed stitch patterns, each knit “V” stitch and purl “bump” is counted as one row.
Cable patterns are formed by exchanging the positions of two or more stitches, by crossing a stitch or group of stitches over another. The row where the crossover is made is the cable row of your pattern repeat.
Lace is probably the most difficult to count from the fabric, so keeping track of rows is critical. Remember that the “yarnover (yo)” is a stitch. Also learn which direction the decreases slant. The two basic decreases, knitting or purling two stitches together slants to the right on the knit side of the work. “Skp” or slip one, knit one, pass slip stitch over is a left slanting decrease on the knit side of the work.
When ripping back any pattern stitch, count the pattern rows backward referring to the completed rows you tracked, so you know which row you’ll be on when reaching the exact spot to start over. With knitting experience this becomes easier.