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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 stitches/rows by length to get stitches/rows per inch / cm. Multiply that by 4 / 10 to see how your gauge stacks up.

In my patterns, I give you both the measurement and the rows when you’re knitting to length

Personally, I like to know how many rows to knit. I want to make sure my garment comes out the exact length I’m picturing – and that all sides and the front and back are all the same length.

That kind of precision matters more for designers, but I think knitters deserve access to the same tools!

A stack of gorgeous, highly textured sport weight yarn stacked on a log.
This gorgeous yarn is from Lavendar Lune Yarn Co!

Tracking your rows

Knitters find so many clever ways to track their progress. I’ve heard it can be more intimidating to stare down 160 rows in pattern than 10” in pattern though, so I wanted to share some of the ways I track progress.

  • Use progress keepers. I prefer lightbulb stitch markers because they’re light and I typically work with light fabrics. I put in one every 10 rows.

  • Write out a progress chart. I’ve written about progress charts before, but basically, write out every row and any instructions you’ll work on the row when you’ll work it, and then check it off as you go.

  • Try a row counter chain. These are chains of stitch markers with chains on them. As you work each row, you move to the next highest number on the chain. Once ten rows are complete, you can clip a stitch marker to the end for your tens unit. If you have a difficult-to-count stitch pattern, it might be very helpful to have each row counted.

  • Go with a traditional stitch counter! Whether it’s a ring or one of those satisfying clicky-jobbies, these tools have been around a long time for a good reason.

One more tip – develop a convention for when you’ll check off your progress. For example, if I’m knitting something with shaping only on the RS, I’ll usually mark two rows complete at the end of WS row. That means I’m spending half as much time marking progress. This is my absolute standard convention, and if I vary from it on any project, I write that down!

I hope y'all find this helpful - both the why and the how! If you have any other tips for readers on tracking rows, pop them in the comments!

Go Further

  • More about blocking - using pins, dealing with slippery yarns - here!

  • Aimee Sher has a fun post about scary blocking questions, and in it she links to some IG posts she put together.

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