On the importance of row gauge

So today, fellow knitters, I want to talk about gauge.I’ve been knitting long enough — and have had enough fit disasters — that I know, intellectually, at least, that gauge is important.  But I’m what you might call a lazy gauge taker.  I don’t do gauge swatches for items where fit won’t matter (i.e. shawls) or for small items (hats, mitts).  Sometimes, in my eagerness to start a project, I’ll take a guess about the needle, cast on, and block it and take gauge once I’ve knit enough (this has resulted in lots of ripped back yokes when it comes to top down sweaters!)  If I’m knitting the sweater from the bottom up, I’ll start a sleeve to take gauge (which I think is actually pretty practical if you’re knitting a sweater in the round, because then your gauge is in the round too).

So for garments, I’d say I pretty much always take a gauge.  Well, let me correct that statement.  I always take a stitch gauge (the horizontal one).

Until recently, I never took row gauge.  Not only that, I told other people they didn’t need to worry about row gauge (if you’re one of the people I told that and you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)  Over the past few months though, I’ve had a series of situations where my disregard of row gauge has come back to bite me.  So, in the hopes of righting past wrongs, I thought today I’d talk about row gauge, when it matters and, using my current project, the Arctic Cardigan, as an example, talk about how you can correct for row gauge when it’s off.  Because I think the root of my personal inattention to row gauge has two fold.  First, in some projects, row gauge is actually not that important–more on that in a second.  And second, when your row gauge is off, it can be hard to know how to fix it: if your stitch gauge is right but your row gauge is off, what do you do?

So first: when does row gauge matter?  Like stitch gauge, when it comes to items where fit isn’t crucial, it matters less — with the caveat that if you’re gauge is off, it’ll change the amount of yarn you use (tighter gauge=more yardage used).

If, on the other hand, you’re knitting something where fit might matter — a garment, maybe even a hat, your row gauge will matter much more if the pattern instructions are primarily given in number of rows worked, rather than in inches or centimeters worked.  It’ll also matter much more if you’re knitting something sideways (as in this month’s A Year of Technique patterns, the Ruschia hat).

So say you are working a top down raglan sweater that tells you to increase every other row til you’ve reached X number of stitches, then separate for the sleeves. If your row gauge is too loose/too tight, you’re going to end up with a yoke that is longer/shorter than the pattern measurements.

If, by contrast, you’re instructed to begin waist shaping after knitting six inches, and continue working the shaping every two inches, the fact that your row gauge is off won’t be such an issue, as long as you’re happy with the way your fabric is knitting up.

So — what to do if your row gauge is off, but your stitch gauge is on?

First, you might try making a few changes.  I haven’t tried this myself, but I read somewhere (that of course now I can’t find!) that you might try changing the material of your needles — so if you’ve done your gauge on metal needles, switch to bamboo, or vice versa.  If you’re someone who moves back and forth between knitting styles, you can try to switch your style.  Since I haven’t tried these methods myself, I don’t know how much difference they make, but I’m going to be honest, that sounds like an awful lot of swatching — more than I usually want to do!

So the other option is to compensate in the knitting itself.  If you’re row gauge is too tight (which has been my problem these last few projects), then you need to create some extra length!

I’ll use my Arctic Cardigan as an example:

2017-10-10 13.33.09.jpg

As I approached the end of my raglan shaping for this, I had a niggling feeling that the yoke was going to be too shallow. I, surprise, surprise, hadn’t checked my row gauge before I started, so I gave it a quick check and realized I was a little bit off.  I hoped that blocking would sort it out, but after I actually got the sleeves separated and tried it on, I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with the fit.  Time to to get some extra length into that yoke!

This particular sweater calls for raglan increases every other row.  If I had wanted to start the whole sweater again–or if I had, ahem, checked my row gauge from the start and realized it was an issue–I could have changed the rate of increase on the raglan, increasing every third row, instead of every second.  This is actually the increase rate that Elizabeth Zimmerman, I believe, suggested for raglans, observing that the slightly more gradual increase rate is more flattering for more people.  It’s not super convenient for a cardigan though, as it means you’re doing some of your increases on the right side of the sweater and some on the wrong side.  It works really well for yokes that you’re knitting in the round.

But I didn’t check my row gauge before I started, and I wasn’t about to rip that whole yoke out.  So instead, I frogged back a few inches and for the last two decreases, worked them every fourth, instead of every second row, in addition to putting a couple of extra rows in before I divided for the sleeves.  Sure, it means the angle of my raglan like changes slightly, but that’s fine by me — I don’t think it’s all that noticeable.  And I’ve ended up with a yoke that’s actually a bit longer than the pattern schematic, but that’s what I wanted.  I’m quite broad shouldered, and even if my row gauge hadn’t been off, I think the underarms would have been too tight on me as written.  (I also did something very similar for my Vatsland Jumper, a project that I also had row gauge issues with.)

But it’s not just in yokes that you might have to make adjustments. While some of the instructions for my Arctic cardigan are given in terms of length (“when you’ve worked two inches …”), others are given in terms of rows worked (repeat increase every twelfth row).  So if that’s the case, you just need to do a quick bit of easy math to convert those rows to inches and then you can go merrily on your way!

So as an example: the pattern row gauge for the Arctic Cardigan is 21 rows over four inches.  The pattern calls for doing increases every 12th row, so for the shaping to end up in the place it should be, I need to make some changes.  A quick trip down memory lane to middle school math let me figure out that 12 rows at the pattern’s given gauge is equivalent to about two and a quarter inches — so now I know I just need to work 2.25 inches and then work my increases — easy peasy!

So the moral of the story is, if you’re taking the trouble to take a gauge swatch (which I did for this project!), you should check your row gauge while you’re at it.  It might matter quite a bit for your pattern, or it might not matter at all.  But if you know starting out, it’s much easier to flag the places in the pattern you might need to make changes — any place where what you’re doing is measured in terms of rows worked rather than in length knit.  I’m really guilty of charging, in blind excitement, into a pattern — but taking that time at the beginning  will save time later.  If I’d known from the start my row gauge was off, for instance, I could have made some adjustments in my cardi’s buttonhole placement. You work the button holes every 12 rows, so I’m going to end up with a few more buttons, spaced a bit closer together, than the pattern suggested, because of my compressed gauge.  It’s not a travesty, by any means, but it would have been something easy enough to fix if I had taken that one extra step before casting on!

2017-10-16 10.48.47-1.jpg

So that’s all I have to say about that .. and I’m going to feel a little less bad about telling people not to worry about row gauge after seeing this article by Tin Can Knits — it turns out I’ve been in alright company!  For whatever reason though, it seems that the way I knit, I often end up with a compressed row gauge, so if you’ve had these problems too, hopefully this was a little helpful!  Perhaps it’s all terribly obvious, but I’ve been knitting for years, and I’ve never paid much attention to row gauge.  From what I see in the knitosphere, it seems like many of us end up with garments that don’t fit like we think they will, often without knowing why — and as I try to gain more confidence in altering patterns to suit my knitting style and my body, it’s helpful for me to record my thoughts here, to come back to the next time I have a problem with row gauge!

And if you have any other tips for fixing row gauge — or if there’s another knitting fundamental you’ve struggled with — I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Til next time, happy knitting!

xo K


15 thoughts on “On the importance of row gauge”

      1. Thanks for asking, Katherine! We’ve been having to keep the windows closed and not be outside as much because of the smoke from the fires. The wind was pushing it down here; although it is a little better than it was. At one point, we couldn’t see the mountains around us.


  1. You’re so lucky you don’t usually have row gauge issues–mine is chronically short!
    I address it in different ways depending on the project: hats and socks I just knit more rounds, sweater armholes I usually have to tackle the Dreaded Math to redo the rate of increases/decreases. Ysolda Teague’s blog has a post discussing how needle material affects row gauge (http://blog.ysolda.com/ysolda-blog/2014/3/17/needle-material-and-gauge). I have noticed that my row gauge is slightly longer on metal needles but I don’t have complete sets of needles in every material so this is not always a viable solution!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah the idea of switching needles isn’t great (but thank you so much for linking to that — I’m glad I didn’t hallucinate that needle material can affect it!) I think I’ve probably been having problems with row gauge for awhile but just not realized it since I wasn’t measuring the row gauge. I’m thinking of a sweater that I knit recently — when I went to pick up stitches to knit the sleeves, there was absolutely no way I could make it around the sleeve hole in the number of stitches they suggested unless I did something like knit into 1 of every 4 sttiches — I couldn’t figure out why at the time, but now I’d be willing to bet my row gauge was compressed so I had way more rows … Anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has the issue and I’m glad I now know it IS an issue!


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