Three row counters, a ring, a clicker and a die

The ultimate guide to row counting for knitting

How do you keep track of your rows in knitting?

You will often have to keep track of how many rows you have knitted. The best approach depends on your temperament and of course, what type of project you are knitting. Are there simple repeats, such as the same 2 rows, or 4 rows repeating again and again? Are you knitting stripes of a certain width? Is it an intricate lace pattern where you need to know precisely which row you are on? I will go through the many different approaches to keeping track while knitting, as well as how to count the rows manually when you have lost track.

Content

Are you on an odd or even row?

One of the first things you will have to learn as a new knitter is to always be aware of which side of your knitwork is facing you. Most fabrics are non-reversible and will require you to know if you are working on an odd or an even row. We talk about the “right side” and the “wrong side” of the fabric because the right side is the one that on a garment will be facing outward. For example, if you are knitting stockinette, you are alternating between a row of knit stitches on the right side and a row of purl stitches on the wrong side. In a pattern, the right side will be designated with the letters RS, and the wrong side is shortened to WS. There are several little tricks to help you keep track of which side you are knitting on.

Two methods for knowing you have the “right side” of the work facing you: A locking stitch marker, and the cast-on tail and the working yarn are both on the same edge of the work, closest to the needle tip.

Attach a stitch marker to the right side of the work

A good little trick is to attach a locking stitch marker to the right side of the work. The right side is often the first row after casting on, but if you are following a pattern where it matters, it will tell you if the first row is a right side or wrong side row. An added bonus to using a stitch marker is that you can use it as a simple progress tracker. At the beginning of the knitting session (also known as happy me time), move the stitch marker to the last completed row on the right side, and then begin knitting. When you put your knitting away, you can see exactly how far you have progressed.

Locking stitch markers are sometimes called opening stitch markers. The important thing is that you can open and close the marker, so that it is securely attached to a stitch, yet it can easily be removed. You can buy them in bulk on Amazon (e.g. these ones), or from your local yarn shop, and Etsy is a great place to find unique ones. I really like the ones from Cocoknits that can either go on the needle or around a stitch. If you want to save the money, you can always use a scrap of yarn in a contrast color, and a darning needle to attach it.

Where is the cast-on tail?

Pay attention to the position of the cast-on tail, when you are about to start knitting your first row. If you have cast on using the long-tail cast on, and you’re ready to knit row 1, the cast-on tail and the working yarn (the yarn attached to the ball of yarn) are on the same end of the needle. That means every time you are about to start a new row, you can check the location of the cast-on tail to know if you are on an odd or even row. If the cast-on tail and working yarn are both on the edge close to the needle tip, then you are about to knit an odd-numbered row. If the cast-on tail is at the opposite corner, away from the needle tip, then you are on an even-numbered row.

Note, that the relative positions of the cast-on tail and the working yarn will depend on which cast-on technique you used. For example, the knitted cast on will result in the cast-on tail and working yarn being at opposite ends of the needle when you begin knitting the first row.

Read your knitting – stockinette

An essential skill is to be able to read your knitting. What that means is that you can recognize the stitches that you have already knitted, and this will help you keep track of where you are in your pattern. The first step is to know the difference between a knit stitch and a purl stitch. If you can tell them apart, then you can knit simple repeat patterns like stockinette (knit a row, purl a row, repeat), without counting your rows to know if you are supposed to knit or purl the next row. This video by VeryPink Knits uses a super bulky yarn to show the difference between the knit side and the purl side in stockinette:

Knitting in the round

If you are knitting in the round, i.e. knitting a tube on circular needles, then for a simple 2-row repeat pattern, such as stockinette, every round will be the same. That’s because you are only working on the right side, never on the wrong side. For stockinette, this means that every round, every stitch is knitted. You do not need to know if you are on an odd- or even-numbered row. It’s still a good idea to know how many rounds you have knitted, so mark the beginning of the round with a ring stitch marker. That will make it easier to count your rounds.

Ring stitch markers are useful for marking the beginning of rounds when knitting in the round. These ones are from ChiaoGoo and can be bought on e.g. the Woolery.

Counting simple repeats

Tally marks

Many knitters will keep a piece of paper and a pen next to their knitting and keep track of their knitted rows with tally marks. One mark per finished knitted row. It is simple, cheap, and it works. The challenge can be that once you settle into the repetitive motions of knitting, you might forget to mark the rows, and then you will have to manually count them. It is an excellent idea to combine tally marks with a locking stitch marker used as a progress tracker. That saves you counting from the beginning if you find you have lost track. I will not recommend using tally marks for more complicated patterns.

Tally marks are ideal for keeping track of your knitted rows if you only knit a few rows at a time. I am using them in my San Jose Sharks season scarf where the color of the stripes is determined by the outcome of hockey games, and 5 rows correspond to a game.

Dice

Dice are really great counters if you have a pattern with simple repeats. You simply place the die in front of you and turn it, so the face value corresponds to the row number you are knitting. When I use this trick, I will choose a die that’s either really big or a bright color, so I’m more likely to notice it and remember to turn it at the end of each row. You use one die if you have repeats of 2-6 rows, and two dice if you have repeats up to 12 rows. The downside is that the row number is not automatically recorded for your next knitting session. Therefore, use a stitch marker as a progress keeper to indicate the first row of the last repeat. I really like this method for knitting stripes or making waffle patterns.

Count simple repeats by turning a die

Chain row counters

I am in love with chain row counters. They are pretty, simple to use, don’t get lost, and you never forget to count. So what are they? They are made from a chain of ring stitch markers, and you use them as a combination of a stitch marker and a row counter for simple pattern repeats. For example, if you have a pattern with a border, you would generally place a stitch marker between the last border stitch and the first of the regular stitches. This is to remind you to switch to a different stitch. Now, instead of a ring stitch marker, you can use a chain row counter. It is a chain of rings, and each one corresponds to a number so that the first ring designates you are knitting the first row, the second ring corresponds to the second row and so forth. Each time you get to the chain row counter, you don’t just slip it to the other needle, you change which ring is on the needle to match the row count.

This works really well for simple pattern repeats such as a pattern that repeats every 4 or 6 rows. The best part is that you always remember to count, because it is right there on the needle, and you have to slide the counter to the other needle anyway. The best place to buy chain row counters is on Etsy.

Screenshot of a search on etsy.com for chain row counter

I am currently using the KnitLinx row counter for my shawl with a cabled border. It marks the border stitches and helps me keep track of where in the 12-row pattern repeat I am at. I am decreasing on rows 6 and 12, and making the cable on row 9. I love that this row counter cannot get lost from the project, and it’s so simple to use, yet so pretty.

The KnitLinx row counter uses colored rings to keep you on track. The green ring is always the first ring. The shorter, second chain is telling me if I am counting from 1-6 or from 7-12. So, I am currently on the first of two repeats of 6 rows, meaning I’m on row 4 of the 12 row repeat.

Keeping track of hundreds of rows

Mechanical row counters

Mechanical tally counters have been used by knitters since the 1920s, and they remain one of the most straightforward solutions to keep track of which exact row you are knitting. I prefer them over mobile apps because it’s annoying to waste the battery on your phone for a simple task like row-tracking. There are many different types of mechanical counters out there, and digital ones as well, but here are a few of my favorites.

Clover’s mini kacha-kacha pendant

The Clover pendant is a classic row counter, sold in most local yarn shops, and everywhere online from Amazon to KnitPicks. I have one, and I use it all the time. It has a simple mechanism for locking it, so you can keep the counter in your project bag without worrying that the count will change. Every time you finish or begin a new row, you press the clicker. The key here is to count consistently, so there is no doubt if you are counting finished rows, or started rows. Simple. Just don’t forget to click it for every row. Oh, and you can feed a chain through it and wear it as a pendant.

This is my go to row counter. Simple, yet effective.

Knitter’s Pride row counter ring

Knitter’s Pride has made a stainless steel row counter ring that looks really cool. It’s on my wish list. It comes in 6 different sizes and is intended to be worn on either the index finger or the thumb. To change the tally, you press the number band towards the center and rotate. The ring is available in a rainbow color (depicted below) and in black. Available on Amazon.

This row counter ring has made it to my wish list of things I don’t really need, but absolutely want.

The Classic on-your-needle row counter

Every yarn store and hobby store will sell this classic: The on the needle row counter. It’s cheap, and it works. The ones shown here are intended for straight needles. Still, there’s also a variant with a loop attached to them for more comfortable use with circular needles. If you like to keep a row counter with every WIP (work in progress), these are an economical solution.

This is a cheap and convenient solution. It’s hard to forget to count the row, when you have the counter right on the needle.

Highlighting rows in the printed pattern

If you are knitting a project with a long, complicated pattern, it can be constructive to print a copy of the pattern to keep beside you. That will allow you to mark the rows in the pattern, as you complete them. I recommend using a highlighter. Some knitters will put a post-it under the row they are currently knitting, and while this works, you risk the post-it falling off. Colored, but see-through tape is a better solution. You might need additional means of counting your rows, such as a mechanical row counter or tally marks if the pattern has instructions to continue in the established pattern for a specific amount of rows. Sometimes the pattern will instead specify the inches or cm you should knit, and all you’ll need is a measuring tape.

Row counting on mobile apps

In these modern times, it is no surprise that many knitters keep track of their knitting with dedicated mobile apps. When it comes to simple row counting, I personally prefer using an offline and off-screen approach. I love that knitting is something I can do without a screen (once I have found my pattern online and looked up new techniques on YouTube, lol). If my trusted Clover row counter is enough, I see no reason to waste battery using my phone. However, there are times when the row counters in the mobile apps are absolute gold! If you are working a complicated pattern with the need to track not only which row you are on, but you have multiple repeats, and repeats within the repeats… you need a good app. The apps are, of course, great for much more than just counting. Use them for keeping track of your patterns, your stash, your needles… That’s a topic for another day. For now, let me guide you to a few of my favorite apps for counting rows.

knitCompanion (iOS and Android)

This highly rated knitting app is available for both iPhones and Android phones, and it’s pretty brilliant. You can connect it to your Ravelry account and download the patterns to the app. You will always know exactly which row in the pattern you are currently on. Check out this short video guide:

BeeCount Knitting Counter (Android)

BeeCount is a simple and intuitive counter. You can add multiple projects, attach notes to them, and have numerous counters for a single project. No fuss, just counters.

My Row Counter, Knit and Crochet (iOS and Android)

Another example of a brilliant and straightforward row counter app. This one offers Ravelry access to your pdf patterns, although it’s not as advanced as knitCompanion.

How to count rows in knitting when you have lost track

No matter how many gadgets and gizmos you use for keeping track of your knitted rows, you will still need to be able to manually count your knitted rows. You might forget to use your row counter consistently, or you forget that the row counter was in use, and start using it for another project. So many things can happen, and we all lose track of our knitting sometimes. Not to worry, I have collected some YouTube videos to help you out.

Before we get to the videos, here’s the general rule:

You don’t count the cast-on row, but you do count the row currently on the needle!

There may be pattern designers out there that do count the cast-on row, but I’ve never seen it.

How to count rows for garter stitch

Counting your rows in garter stitch can be a little tricky. This video by Cheryl Brunette shows you two different ways to count.

How to count rows for stockinette

Stockinette is much simpler to count than garter stitch. It is particularly easy to count on the right side of the work. LionBrandYarn has a good istructional video.

How to count rows for cabled knitting

The first time I did a cabled project, I was at a loss for how to count my rows. How do you count along of column of stitches, when the columns are all twisted? Well, the good news is that for cabled patterns, it is fast and easy to count your repeats, but it can seem a bit tricky to see where you are within a single repeat. It turns out, there’s a trick! First, locate the hole in the knitting next to the twist in the current cable. Second, insert your needle under the horizontal bar and up along the side of the cable. Nancy Wynn demonstrates how it’s done:

Counting rows for circular knitting

When you knit in the round, you are counting rounds rather than rows. In reality, you are knitting a spiral. Counting your rounds is really the same as counting your rows, but all the same, here’s a video from Bluprint.

I welcome your comments

How do you keep track of your place in a pattern? Do you have any good tips? Or do you perhaps have a question about how to count your rows for a particular type of knitting? I will be happy to update this blog post if I have left out something important. Don’t be shy.

Sign up for the Knit with Henni newsletter

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

6 thoughts on “The ultimate guide to row counting for knitting”

  1. I don’t remember where I read about this technique but it was fairly recently. I usually use a hash mark on paper, but this technique gives you a visual aid as well…especially if you are knitting a long piece with many rows.
    Using a long contrasting piece of yarn, you place the contrasting yarn over the cast-on row. Every ten rows place the contrasting yarn over the needle again. You can easily see how many rows of ten you have.
    Thank you for these tips. Even if you have been knitting for many years or you are just starting out, it’s fun to learn new stitches &/or techniques!

  2. Great blog post! I love the KnitLinx row counters and have them in all sizes. They are so easy to use, so well made, and so pretty. Such a clever idea! I also love the stitch markers from the same company, they are my new favorites. I’m a longtime knitter, always have many projects on the go, and I also use knitCompanion as well as pencil and paper. As you said, with KnitLinx you always remember to count!

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The KnitLinx row counter is probably my favorite knitting notion. I don’t have any of their stitch markers yet, but one could always use more stitch markers…

Leave a Reply