Row gauge is bound to come up whenever knitting professionals are in a conversation. I can almost predict how it will come up, and of course I know what my response will be. But unlike stitch gauge, row gauge is a little less clear-cut. It is difficult to match row gauge, so having some tools is good. I have decided that this is something that needs to be addressed as a separate matter. I am doing it here so I can then link to it in my patterns.
Row Gauge, Unblocked and Blocked
Row gauge is how many rows per inch you get. It can be measured before you block your swatch/knitting to see what it is in its “natural state”.
The first question I am always asked is, “Do you measure the stitch on the needle or not?”
Not. You shouldn’t be measuring gauge when something is on the needles (technically, but let’s say you are “just checking”). If you are measuring a piece on the needles, you should be measuring it below the needle. Additionally, it should be far enough below the needle that the needle isn’t distorting any of the stitches and rows being counted.
Next question: “Shouldn’t I measure the the unblocked gauge (supposing you know what that is supposed to be) to see if I’m getting the correct length?”
Well that’s an option. But you have to have calculated the relationship between the unblocked row gauge and the blocked row gauge (which is entirely possible to do–if you have taken row gauge both unblocked and blocked). My feeling on this is if you have your blocked row gauge you will be able to calculate how many rows to knit to get the proper length, so no need to worry. Knit the number of rows needed!
Row Gauge, Unblocked
Let’s pretend that you always do a swatch, over a sufficient number of stitches and rows to get a minimum of 4″ square. I recommend that you do at least an extra inch. Then you bind off your stitches.
At this point I usually get this question: “What if I need to use that yarn?”
You have a couple of choices, I think. (1) I save my swatches and if needed I will undo a swatch, block the yarn*, and reuse it. I am not above doing that, but it is usually my last resort. (2) You can decide not to cut the yarn (I can see reasons for that). When you get to that last stitch, put a pin in it, or pull the yarn up and tie a secure, temporary knot, then block the swatch (but not the yarn). You will still have to take out your blocked swatch and block the kinks out of the yarn.
*Blocking the yarn will remove enough of the kinks that it won’t interfere with the new stitches you are going to make with this yarn. If you don’t block it, those kinks may create a different size stitch.
Doing this gauge swatch can save you a tremendous amount of pain in the future. You now know that you can reuse the yarn, so there is no reason not to do the swatch to get stitch and row gauge.
“But I’m excited to get started”, you might say.
And I respond that you are getting started–with a swatch, that is going to tell you what you need to know to make sure your project succeeds.
Or, I hear: “It is just a shawl so gauge isn’t important.”
Really? Why is gauge not important? If you want the deep answer to that, you may like to take my Swatch Workshop! In the meantime, take your unblocked stitch and row gauge over 4″. Write it down.
For the best results always treat your swatch as you intend to treat your final piece. If you are going to wash and dry your finished piece, then wet block. If you are never going to wash your final piece, only sending it to the dry cleaner, then you may steam block your swatch. I both wet block, then steam block my swatches. Again, the Swatch Workshop will tell you all my secrets.
Blocked vs Unblocked Gauge
Once you have completely blocked your swatch, then take your stitch and row gauge again. Now you know what your goal is. You can, of course, compare it to your unblocked stitch and row gauge. If you know that your unblocked stitch gauge is 4.5 and your blocked stitch gauge is 4.25 or 4.75, you can see that you are going to have to knit fewer stitches to get 4.25 and more stitches to get 4.75. Wonder how to figure that out? If 4.25 is your blocked gauge, we’ll set that over 4″. 4.25/4″ so what is the measurement for our unblocked gauge? 4.5/X”
Remember cross multiply and divide? The equation is 4.25/4″=4.5/X. Cross multiply 4.5×4 = 18, then divide 18 by 4.25 to get 4.235 or about 4.25″. Now if you are thinking your piece looks too wide, or too narrow, or just to check that it is just right, you may measure your unblocked knitting. Because you have data! What number would you get if you replaced 4.25 with 4.75? That measurement is only 3.75″!
This process could work for row gauge as well, but I have a better way. Almost always, length measurements are given. My pattern might say, “Work Rows 1 through 18 until piece measures 14″ or desired length, ending with a WS row.”
Let’s say your row gauge is 6 rows blocked and 6.5 rows unblocked. So using the math above you can work out how many inches the 6.5 rows unblocked are, so I won’t go through it again (6/4=6.5/X. Cross multiply and divide). But remember I said that you should knit the number of rows needed? How will you figure that out?
14″ is the number of inches you need. 6 rows are in each inch. Multiply 14×6 = 84. Knit 84 rows.
What if you need to work to a certain row in the pattern? What if you get an odd number of rows or an uneven number? What if your pattern says to work the pattern rows X times and your row gauge doesn’t work for that? What about if you need to do shaping and your row gauge is different? These are the questions knitting brains want the answer to! Please come back for the answers on July 25.
I’ve been having a bit of an uploading issue today, and my faithful Webmistress is having a family crisis, so no links to my October workshop. Email me if you are interested.