What's the Deal with Row Gauge?

What’s the Deal with Row Gauge in Knitting?

Today I wanted to share a little bit of knowledge with you about row gauge. It's something that often gets left out of conversation when knitters talk about their gauges, and whether they're a tight knitter or a loose knitter. 

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MY question is always: "Yeah, but are you a "tall" knitter or a "short" knitter"?

That has nothing to do with your physical stature, for the record (though if you're curious, I'm only 5'-3" so I suppose I'd be a short knitter *snicker*). My definition of "tall" and "short" when talking about your knitting gauge, is whether, when you create a stitch, is it taller or shorter than the "average" knitting gauge. 

Average Gauge vs Your Gauge

I'm going to pull an "average" knitting gauge from a ball band I have in front of me. If you'd like to take a look - this is Ewe Ewe Yarns Wooly Worsted, a yarn that I am quite familiar with. 

Recommended yarn gauge is found on the yarn label

Looking at the graphic on this ball band, we can see that on a US 8 (5mm) needle, you can expect a finished gauge in the range of 20 sts and 24 rows in a 4" x 4" / 10 cm x 10 cm square of knitted fabric (the assumption being that you work this square in stockinette stitch, flat). 

Now, say you purchase this yarn to make the Zoey Cardigan, a pattern designed using Ewe Ewe Yarns Wooly Worsted, and the pattern gauge is different from that noted on the ball band - how do you adjust? 

Most knitters know (and if you didn't already know, that's ok - that's why we share this information) that you can adjust your needle size to match gauge. For example, if you are working your swatch and you get a stitch gauge of 20 sts and 24 rows over 4" / 10 cm, then you know you'll need to go UP a needle size to make your gauge go DOWN to the 17 sts / 4" (10 cm) that the pattern calls for. You may have to go down more than 1 size, but you understand the principle. 

But what about ROW gauge? 

If you change your needle size to match stitch gauge, odds are pretty good that your row gauge will change too. If it doesn't, you are a knitting unicorn and I'd like to shake your hand!

If you look at the "average" gauge for this yarn, you'll see that the Row gauge is 24 rows over 4" / 10 cm. But the design gauge for the Zoey Cardigan is 25 rows over 4" / 10 cm. That seems crazy right? The stitch gauge goes down (so you'll need a larger needle) but the ROW gauge goes up so in theory you need a smaller needler?!? WHAT???

The good news is that there's a solution for that. And as someone who does have a very short row gauge, I'm pretty used to compensating for it. And friends... it involves math. And while not everyone loves the math of knitting as much as I do, I promise, you'll get excited about this! 

Most patterns (admittedly, not all, but MOST) will say something like:

Work in pattern until the project measures 10" from the cast on edge

That 10" / 25 cm will be a different number of rows for each knitter. To adjust your patterns in the case that your row gauge doesn't match the design row gauge, you can do some simple math. 

Here's a simple example!

If your row gauge doesn't match the design gauge (but your stitch gauge does), don't fret! I'll break it down simply so you can apply your numbers in the future. But for the sake of simplicity, I'm going to use the numbers from above. 

Your target "knit to" length is 10" (I'm going to use inches in this example). 

  • Your row gauge (when reaching stitch gauge of 17 sts / 4") is 22 rows / 4".

  • Divide the target length by 4" (since we measure our gauge over 4"):
    10" / 4" = 2.5

  • Multiply YOUR row gauge by 2.5: 22 x 2.5 = 55 rows

    • If you're curious, if you'd met the designers gauge of 25 rows / 4", you'd have had to knit 63 rows!

So what if you're not given a length to knit to, but rather only a set of repeats?

I recently knit a pattern that called for a row gauge of 24 rows over 4" / 10 cm. MY row gauge, when my stitch gauge matched the patterns, was 32 rows / 4" / 10 cm. The pattern was stripes - and we were told to work 14 repeats of the 4-row stripes. To sort out how many stripes I needed to work, my math was two-fold!

At the designers gauge the math would look like this:

  • 14 repeats x 4 rows in a 2-row alternating stripe pattern = 56 rows of stripes

  • 56 rows divided by 24 rows (the designers row gauge) = 2.33

  • 2.33 x 4 (because our gauge is measured over 4") = 9.333" / 23.5 cm

At MY gauge the math would look like this:

  • 14 repeats x 4 rows in a 2-row alternating stripe pattern = 56 rows of stripes

  • 56 rows divided by 32 rows (MY gauge) = 1.75

  • 1.75 x 4 = 7" <-- that's 2.33" / 6 cm different! Yikes! 

What the designer didn't say in this particular pattern that I was knitting, was how long to knit that 4-row repeat; she just gave a number of rows to knit (56). But I was able to deduce her intended length based on the above math. 

Once I knew that my target length was 9.33" / 23.5 cm, I could figure out how many rows I needed to work as follows:

  • 9.33" (target length) / 4" (because we measure gauge over 4") = 2.33

  • 2.33 x 32 (MY row gauge) = 74.5 rows (rounded down to 74). 

Applying This Every Day!

I now make it a habit to adjust all of my knitting using this fashion. I rarely take out a tape measure when I'm knitting something to a length. I do the math based on my row gauge and I'm off to the races. I know this isn't how everyone knits and that's a-ok - there's nothing wrong with knitting to a measured length by ruler. 

I would, however, challenge you, to use the math when knitting things that need to match, such as sleeves, or socks, so they're both exactly the same! Our measuring practices can change from day to day and it's no good having one sleeve longer than the other! 

What about you?

Do you know if you're a "tall" or a "short" knitter? And are you a "math" knitter like me, or do you prefer to just pull out a ruler and measure the length?