When row gauge matters

So, you know what’s really fun to talk about? Gauge. Gauge, gaugegauge. Super awesome, right? Well, okay, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it is the opposite of fun, let’s be honest, but it’s the reference point that defines so much of what we do in knitting. There are knitters who always get gauge, knitters who never get gauge, and knitters who never even bother to swatch. There are knitters who will swatch several times until they get gauge, and there are knitters who will swatch only once and proceed to modify the pattern completely around the gauge they have achieved with that swatch. It’s all good. The goal is to get a finished knitted item that pleases you and fits you, and if you’re doing that, then you’re doing gauge right.


We’ve talked about swatches before around here. Swatches can be really useful pieces of knitting, especially once you get into knitting larger or fitted garments. Work them up as large as you can stand, because the larger a piece of fabric is, the more likely it is to mimic the way a full garment will behave. When you lay out your gauge swatch with your ruler or measuring tape to count stitches per inch (often we count over 4 inches, and then divide), you’re searching for that all important stitch gauge measurement. We put a lot of stock into stitch gauge (horizontal gauge – stitches per inch) because it’s what has the most impact on a garment’s width or circumference, and this really affects the fit.

(For example, if we are aiming for a stitch gauge of 5 sts/inch in stockinette stitch, and the intended bust circumference of the sweater is 40 ins, then we would expect a stockinette pullover would have about 200 sts. If, however, we’re getting a stitch gauge of 4.5 sts/inch and we knit that 40 ins size, it is in fact going to turn out to be closer to 44.5 ins around at the bust. Oh what a difference half a stitch per inch makes.)


A lot of the time, once we’ve achieved a stitch gauge that works for the pattern, we can easily stop there and not bother as closely with row gauge (vertical gauge – number of knitted rows per inch). This is because a lot of patterns (though not all) will give length indications in inches/cm rather than in rows, and in that case you can often skip the business of needing to count rows. Examples: if you are knitting a scarf and just need to knit until it is as long a scarf as you want, or if you are knitting a sweater from the bottom up with no waist shaping and can knit until X inches before the armholes or until desired length from armholes. In these cases you can pay less attention to row gauge because the more important thing is to decide the real physical length you want in inches/cm. (Also, I’ve not taken an empirical study of this, but I’m pretty sure matching row gauge is about eleventy million times harder than matching stitch gauge. I would bet money on this.)

However, there are some instances when row gauge does matter. Here are a few of them, regarding sweater knitting.

Sweater 1

1. When you’re knitting a raglan yoke sweater.

Raglan yoke sweaters (or, similarly, circular yoke sweaters)  require you to shape the top of the body and the top of the sleeves to the same height, either in one piece seamlessly or in pieces which are later seamed. The raglan yoke pieces then determine the total height from neckline to under-arm when worn, and thus also determine how the sweater is going to fit you around the shoulders.

Let’s say, then, that the raglan yoke decreases (if working from the bottom up) happen over a total of 56 rows (something that you can usually figure out if you count up how many decrease rows are involved in the yoke shaping), and that the pattern assumes a row gauge of 8 rows/inch. This means the total vertical depth of the raglan yoke will end up being 7 ins (56 rows divided by 8 rows/inch). Let us say, however, that your personal row gauge (that you know from your swatch) is actually 7 rows/inch. This means that your actual raglan yoke will end up being 8 ins high – a full inch difference.

Whether or not this is a good or bad result is up to you to decide, relative to how well you think those raglan depths will fit you. If you want your yoke to end up with the intended depth, then you’ll have to adjust your shaping decreases (if working bottom-up) or increases (if working top down) to be a little more frequent to compensate.

2. When you’re knitting a sweater with waist shaping.

3. When you’re working increases (from the cuff up) or decreases (from the top down) to shape sleeves.

Similar to the concern with raglan yoke depth, above, if you’re working a sweater with waist shaping, the amount of vertical space taken up by the series of increases and decreases at the top of the hip and just below the bust will be different if your row gauge is different. You can compensate for this, again, if you know in advance if your row gauge is slightly looser or tighter than indicated in pattern, and either alter the frequency of shaping decreases and increases, or place them slightly differently.

The same goes for sleeves, when you want to make sure the sleeve shaping still leaves a comfortable few inches of even length at the wide part of your upper arm. If your row gauge were significantly looser, then your from-the-cuff-up sleeve increases would stop much higher than intended, and if you were working sleeves from the top down, your sleeves might end up too long by the time you get to the end of the shaping.


Sweater 2

4. When you’re knitting a sleeve cap intended for a set-in sleeve.

Sleeve caps shaping is calculated so that the height and curve of the sleeve cap will fit correctly inside the shaped curve of the armhole where the sleeve will be ‘set in’ when attached to the body of the sweater. If your row gauge is different, then the height of your sleeve cap will also be different, either slightly too tall or too loose. This isn’t quite the emergency that a difference in raglan yoke depth might create, but it’s still good to be aware of in case you are finding your finished sleeve caps just don’t quite sit right.

5. When the pattern gives you instructions in terms of’number of rows’ or number of pattern repeats, instead of in length indicators like inches or centimeters.

A lot of contemporary patterns will give you length indicators to help you out – i.e. they’ll tell you the length from hem to waist, from hem to armhole, from armhole to shoulder, and so on. This makes it really helpful if you need to modify for length (to make parts of the sweater shorter or longer), because you can make those adjustments on each part of the pattern, safely comparing your own desired lengths with the ones in the written pattern.

However, you might encounter patterns that give these indications more obliquely by telling you to work a specific number of pattern repeats, or a specific number of actual rows. When they do this, they are assuming that you are working with pattern gauge, and that you will end up with the same finished size as intended in the written pattern. If your row gauge is different, it’s up to you to decide whether that difference will result in a better or worse sweater fit. For example, I tend to modify to add more length since I’m a bit taller size than most patterns are written for. So, if I have looser row gauge then I might be able to work the pattern as written and end up with the final size that I want anyway – it’s all a matter of knowing what you want and whether this is different than the result you will get by knitting the pattern exactly as written.

In other words, gauge is pretty great to pay attention to – you might be getting along just fine with gauge so far, but in case you haven’t been the best of friends, paying row gauge could help you out!

And in other news, this week I’m off to sunny (or perhaps foggy?) San Francisco for some getaway time, and I’m bringing knitting with me and look forward to some chilling out time, knitting time, drinking wine time. I’ll be sure to report back with some San Francisco photos next post!

Have a great Wednesday!








  1. Mary Lou · ·

    I just curious, what do you and other do with the swatches? Do patterns generally contain enough yarn to include the swatch?

  2. I have learned that lesson about row gauge and top-down raglan sweaters the hard way, more than once I’m afraid! Fortunately, with some patterns you can kind of check as you go and modify if needed.

  3. I’m a bad knitter – I don’t gauge or swatch 😦 It hasn’t caught me out yet, but I think my next project will be done properly – I will do both to avoid a knitting disaster!


  4. Connie Gyer · ·

    Has anyone mentioned lately that yours is one of the best blogs around? Thanks for this gauge lesson. I’ve been trying to understand horizontal gauge vs. vertical gauge for a long time. You have made this crystal clear. I’m printing today’s blog to keep for future reference.

  5. Louise · ·

    It’s cold in the Bay area now. Thanks for all the tips, in the right direction.

  6. I always have more rows to the inch than the listed gauge on patterns, so I know all too well how this messes with shoulder shaping!

  7. This is why I fear sweaters >.<

  8. Donna Southern · ·

    Hi Glenna

    Just finished ypur post about gauge…SO IMPOTANT! However, my question is about your trip. I would like to know your experiences relayed to taking your knitting on the plsne. I, too, am travelling soon, and wouldn’t mind working on a pair of socks. Am I at ridk of having my needled confiscated? If not, what would you advise about the best way to board a plane with a knitting project?

    Thsnks for any helpful tips.


  9. Don’t worry, it’s been gorgeous here lately and it’s supposed to be warm this weekend! 🙂

  10. I remember back in the early 90’s a number of friends pulling their hair out trying to make row gauge on a Dale pattern. Turns out it really was impossible because the samples were all machine knit then translated into handknit instructions.

    I agree with you that matching row gauge is close to impossible even if you match stitch gauge exactly (and even if the sample was handknit).

    I live about an hour south of San Francisco. The weather has been all over the map lately, but this weekend you can expect warm to hot weather in the daytime. I’d bring a lightweight sweater or two, because it is often a bit cool in the evening and early morning.

  11. kfklever · ·

    I usually fall into the category of never swatching…but you’re making me reconsider 🙂

  12. Thanks for the very useful information… I’ve been lucky enough so far that when my stitch gauge fits, my row gauge does, too. However, there is one yarn (cotton) where it never does, so I know that when I knit with the yarn, I need to adjust my number of rows!

    @Donna – I’m always knitting on planes. I take bamboo needles (dpns or circulars), and never had problems. The air hostesses also had no problems – most of them were actually impressed with what I was producing!

  13. NottinghamKnitter · ·

    I always knit a gauge swatch and will re-knit with different needles until I get the right stitch count, but I never block the swatches. This is usually sufficient, but I regretted not blocking once when a cardigan came out unbelievably long post-blocking and I was unable to rescue it 😦 Knowing the dimensions post-blocking would have helped me avoid this I suppose, but I’m not quite sure about how you should adjust a pattern based on gauge post-blocking, especially if (as in your examples) length is instructed given in rows/repeats rather than dimensions.

    I’d never given much thought to row gauge, other than to wonder how on earth anyone could ever match both to the pattern recommendations as I’ve never been able to! I instinctively felt that stitch gauge was more vital, I guess because you can more easily adjust length as you go along, but I never put much detailed thought into it. This post was really informative and thought-provoking, thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  14. I have a love/hate relationship with gauge… good info!!

  15. No one has ever been able to help me with this gauge issue. I am always spot-on with my stitch count, but say I’m going for 16-1/2s x 26r for 4″ I cannot get more than 22 rows. My row count is ALWAYS too short. I have to resort to spectacular mathematical contortions to readjust my garment patterns (plus I’m 5’11”). How could I always come up so short on row gauge? Even my most experienced knitting friends and designers have no suggestions/solutions. Julie

  16. Thanks, this is really interesting. I don’t gauge as often as I should, but am getting better at it!

  17. Thanks for the great write-up. I have to admit I am a stitch count knitter, although not very good about swatching before starting every project, I usually coast along just fine thanks to the fabric’s elasticity and the adjustments I make along the way to compensate for not measuring my row gauge. Now that I am focusing more on wearable knits, I think I cannot ignore row gauge any longer.

    Hope you enjoyed your time in San Francisco!

  18. Julie at Eleventhhourproductions: If you get too few rows per inch, then each row is taller than it needs to be. I suggest that you try using a smaller needle. In my experience the thickness of the yarn determines the maximum stitches per inch (and also the minimum size hole in each stitch), but the size of the needle strongly affects the row gauge.

  19. Julie Hamlin · ·

    Tamar – won’t that leave me with too many stitches per inch?

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