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Working to Length & Tracking Rows

Working to length

As you knit, you’re often instructed to knit to a certain length. There are two ways you’ll see this in patterns, and if you’re familiar with my style – you’ll know I prefer one over the other!

“Work to 5 inches” vs. “work 96 rows”

These instructions will get you to the same place – 5” of knitting. But only if two things are true:

  1. Your gauge does not change with blocking

  2. You can accurately measure the length of your piece while it is still on the needles.

Gauge usually changes with wet blocking.

If you’re going to steam or spray block, and don’t intend to wash your piece, you may not have to worry about your gauge changing. But if you’re wet blocking, it’s rare not to have some change in gauge. That’s why you should always measure gauge after your swatch has been wet blocked and thoroughly dried.

Some textures change more with blocking

I find that ribs, textures, and colorwork change the most with blocking. Ribs and textures tend to settle into their natural wide-stitch formats. Colorwork’s tension evens out, and the stitches settle into their tall formats.

A long, narrow knit panel in green, with deep knit/purl texture, lies on a log
When knitting long panels and joining them together, counting rows keeps all those pieces the same EXACT length.

Some yarns change more with blocking

If you’re working with a high-memory, bouncy yarn, it may not change as much as a slippery yarn, such as superwash or silk. Similarly, stretchy yarns like cotton may change more than wools.

Measure before AND after

Measuring before you block will give you working gauge. With working gauge in hand, you can check your work periodically to make sure that your gauge isn’t changing as you knit.

Having both working and final gauge will also tell you if your gauge changes with blocking. If it does, you will not want to rely on a ruler to know when to stop knitting, or your lengths will all change when they get wet!

Note: You’re making a nice big swatch, right? Just because gauge is given over 4” / 10 cm doesn’t mean you should make your swatch that small! Go for at least 6” of measurable work, measure whole stitches, and divide the number of stitche