Do You Really Need to Learn How to Use a Row Counter?

different types of row counters


You may be thinking, wow is she for real – of course I know how to use a row counter. I know this may seem like something not worth talking about, or an insult to your abilities. But sometimes in life it’s the small tips that make all the difference to creating the projects we desire.

I’m technical when knitting my projects. It is important to me that my projects are finished professionally, and my pattern instructions are readable. I can appreciate if you are more of a free-wheeling type, but trying a new approach may make all the difference. There are times when the pattern instructions read something like “bind off 4 sts at the beg of next 4 rows, then dec 1 st each side every other row 8 times…”. Ultimately you’ll need to develop a system to keep track of your rows, or you will have a meltdown.

Firstly, what are these tools? Counters tally rows as you knit. They aren’t absolutely essential, pen and paper will suffice. But like many tools, counters make your knitting more efficient. The most common type is a circular, rotary counter that slides onto the end of the needle. The central core is designed to fit a range of needle sizes. A favourite of mine is the peg board, allowing you to keep track of rows, increases, decreases, and stitch pattern repeats. Other types available include a mini hand held clicker, pendant and finger counters, electronic counters, and software applications.

You have to be conscious of moving the counter after each row is completed. If you have been knitting for awhile, you know simple patterns can be visibly counted. For stockinette stitch, one “V” is a row and one ridge in garter stitch equals 2 rows. But going back to the beginning of your work and recounting is tedious and inaccurate. As you knit more complicated pattern stitches, this is not easy to do and leads to frustration. It is not only important to count rows, but to understand how the pattern stitch evolves, so you can determine what row you’re on if you make a mistake and have to rip back. The following is my system of keeping track of rows.

When beginning a project, I think of odd rows as the right side and even rows as the wrong side of the knitted fabric. For most pattern instructions, the first row is the right side, thus my reasoning behind odd numbers for right side and even numbers for wrong side. Knitting garments or any project requiring pieces, such as back, front, and sleeves, I count rows and record them for each section of the piece.

Most garment patterns begin with the back, so I begin by counting the number of rows to complete the border. I write this number in the instructions, and  I also measure the border and record this number. If the border is knit on smaller needles, it will likely be a different gauge from the body of the work. I subtract the border measurement from the total measurement for the piece, to calculate approximately how many rows I need to knit to reach the armhole. I move the counter back to zero and count the number of rows knitted to the armhole, and again write down this number. I repeat this process for the armhole to shoulders. Now, when I go to knit the front, I know how many rows to knit for each section of the piece – the border, border to armhole, and armhole to shoulder. By keeping track of rows, the garment pieces match up row for row, and seaming is much easier.

The project with the shaping chart below is knit in simple stockinette stitch, so I’m using a circular counter on my needle for total rows. But there is shaping with decreases and increases along the side edges. In addition to using the counter, I made a chart on paper so I know which row to decrease or increase. If you look at the notations below, when I reach row 15 on the circular counter, I begin to decrease one stitch on both side edges every 6th row. You’ll also notice I use shorthand.

Chart to use when counting decreases and increases.
Chart to use when counting decreases and increases.


When working multiple charts for different pattern stitches, writing down such things as cable rows and repeats on paper helps to keep track of the different rows required for each pattern stitch. In addition, I use a counter for total rows for the sections, referring to the chart when I need to make a decrease or increase.

The most important message to take from this, is to count your rows, whatever system you devise. But when the frustration sets in, I guarantee that you won’t get lost and all your pieces will fit together with ease. So toss a counter, along with your pen and paper in your toolbox!

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