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Row Gauge or Round Gauge: when does it matter?

March 17, 2016
Row vs Stitch Gauge in Knitting

This month we’re talking in depth about GAUGE, which is the size of your knitted stitches. If you don’t know what a ‘swatch’ is, or what gauge really means, start by reading our blog post about all the basics of gauge and how to measure it and why it matters.  Then come back to this post and we’ll learn more!

Knitters sometimes come up against an issue when they have made a few swatches but can’t find a needle that will result in both the correct stitch gauge, and the correct row (or round) gauge in a given yarn.

Barley Hat by Tin Can Knits Flax Pullover by Tin Can Knits

For example, our free Barley Hat and Flax Pullover patterns from The Simple Collection are designed for a gauge of 18 sts & 22 rounds / 4″ in stockinette stitch.  Some knitters, will make a swatch at 18 stitches in 4″, but when they measure the round gauge, they get a different number, like 24 or 26 rounds.  Changing needle sizes up or down from this will change the round gauge… but then the stitch gauge will be off.  The short answer to the question of what to do is that stitch gauge is nearly always the more important one, and you shouldn’t stress if your row gauge doesn’t match up.

Stitch gauge vs. row or round gauge

Which is which?  Stitch gauge is how many stitches in an inch, or more commonly measured over 4″ (or 10cm).  You’ll measure ACROSS the swatch, in the direction of knitting, along a single row.  Row or round gauge is measured UP AND DOWN (perpendicular to stitch gauge and the rows), counting stitches as they stack up one upon the other in columns.

Row vs Stitch Gauge in Knitting

I use a handy gauge checking tool, but you can also use a regular ruler!

Why is stitch gauge is usually more important?

Most knitted items (especially the ones in which fit matters), it is the stitch count that determines the more important dimension.  Hats are usually knit from brim to crown (or the other way around), and the finished dimension, the way it fits AROUND your head, is determined by the number of stitches and the gauge (size) of the stitches.  So for a hat to fit the way you like around your head, you must achieve the correct stitch gauge.  This is the same, and even more important, for a garment.  Most garments are constructed with rows horizontal around the body, thus it is the stitch gauge which determines if the sweater is the right size around at hip, waist, bust (the important bits!).

Stitch vs. Row Gauge in projects

Also, patterns are most often written with ‘knit to’ lengths rather than explicit numbers of rows or rounds.  This means that regardless of the knitters row or round gauge, a garment piece (sleeve, body) will come out to a given length; some knitters will knit a few more rounds to achieve this length, some will knit a few less.  In this way, patterns allow flexibility for differing row or round gauges.

When does row or round gauge matter?

Obviously there are cases when row or round gauge matters.  The detail-oriented knitters of the world sometimes make an unnecessary fuss about this, and will probably tell you it ALWAYS matters.  At Tin Can Knits we prefer to downplay the importance of row or round gauge because it generally REALLY doesn’t matter (knitting is stretchy, and has the lovely quality of just ‘working out’ so much of the time). Nonetheless, here are a few ways in which row or round gauge may matter in your project.

A different row gauge can impact the yardage required

Firstly, you should know that if your row gauge varies from that given in the pattern, you will require more or less yardage than stated in the pattern.  This is because in order to create the same amount of fabric, you’ll be working more (or less) stitches to achieve the same fabric area.  If the pattern gives a gauge of 18 sts & 22 rounds, and your swatch is 18 sts & 26 rounds, you can expect you’ll be using more yarn than the pattern calls for… possibly up to 20% more (26 / 22 = 1.18).  And if you’re getting 18 sts & 20 rounds, you’ll probably use less yarn than the pattern calls for … but buy an extra ball just in case!

A different row gauge can impact finished length (and thus fit)

Certain parts of patterns give instructions for a specified number of rows / rounds rather than ‘knit-to’ lengths.  In these cases there’s a small risk that a significantly different row or round gauge could negatively impact garment fit.  Yokes are one example.  In raglan or round yoke garments, the depth of the yoke is determined by the number of rounds or rows worked, so if your row gauge is way different than the design gauge, your yoke depth will be shorter or longer than that of the design.

Antler Cardigan by Tin Can Knits

The Antler Cardigan is worked bottom up, with a specific number of yoke rounds (resulting from a specific number of repeats of the 6-row cable pattern). It’s been successfully knit thousands of times, so it clearly works out despite differences in knitters’ row gauges!

In our experience, with thousands of knitters knitting proven patterns, this is seldom a real problem (knitting is stretchy! when it doubt, block it out!).

Flax Light is a great

The free Flax Light pattern is knit top-down, with raglan yoke shaping.  The yoke is shaped with a number of increases (thus a specific number of rounds), but the pattern also includes a knit-to length to check, in case your round gauge is slightly different than that given in the pattern.

If your row gauge is really significantly smaller (more rows per inch than given), you may find your yoke comes out a little tight or pinchy at the underarms.  This can be avoided by working a few extra rounds at the bottom of the yoke where you either before you begin to decrease the yoke (in bottom-up construction) or before you separate sleeves and body (in top-down construction).  Some patterns, for example our free Flax pullover, address the issue of different round gauges by including a knit-to length for you to check:

If your round gauge is slightly different, knit more or less rounds so that your yoke measures approximately 5 (5, 5.5, 5.5, 6, 6.5, 6.5, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, 10.5, 10.5, 11, 11.5, 12.5)” deep, measured from cast on…

Some patterns give length in terms of a given number of pattern repeats (with cables, lace panels, etc. which have a longer repeat), rather than in ‘knit to’ lengths.  In these cases, if your row gauge is significantly different, then the finished length of your sock cuff, hat, or sweater body will be significantly different than the finished measurements given in the pattern schematic.  If you notice a significant difference, you may decide to work more (or less) full repeats of the pattern to compensate if the length measurement is crucial to you.

Stovetop Hat by Tin Can Knits

Because the Stovetop Hat has a long pattern repeat, differences in round gauge can affect the finished length. But it’s a slouchy hat… so it’ll just be a little more or less slouchy – no biggie!

What about patterns that list gauge over more than one pattern stitch?

Some patterns will list gauge over more than one pattern stitch (for example over stockinette and over a lace or cable pattern).  Usually designers will list the more important gauge first… because that would make sense, right?!  Well you can also decide for yourself which is more relevant by looking at the design.  If it’s a sweater that’s mostly knit in stockinette, then it’s the gauge over stockinette that matters most to fit.  But if the body of the sweater has an all-over lace or cabled pattern, perhaps with stockinette at the sleeves, then getting the stitch gauge correct over lace or cables is what will determine how the sweater fits where it’s most important (at bust, waist, hips).  You should use your judgement in these situations.

In the Flax pullover, it is clearly the gauge over stockinette stitch that is crucial, but in all-over lace patterns like Liesl by Ysolda Teague, it is the gauge over the stitch pattern which matters for fit.

In posts coming soon we’ll discuss how to measure gauge over stitch patterns, and how to swatch for gauge in the round, rather than gauge in rows.  We’ll also cover how to adjust and knit a pattern to a different gauge than that given in the pattern, which will open up a wider range of choices when you pairing patterns & yarns.

Join in and learn something new!

2016 is the Year to Learn Something New here at Tin Can Knits, and we’ve been adding some inspiring tutorials on the blog.  We’ve recently talked about choosing colour combos, how to wear shawls, getting started knitting socks or garments (and how much we love the Monkey Socks Pattern!).  There’s more excellent info to come, so get our excellent email updates, and stay connected on your favourite social spot:

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Ready to knit your first garment?  Cast on now!

Flax Light by Tin Can KnitsAntler CardiganLush Cardigan by Tin Can Knits

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy Eshnaur permalink
    February 24, 2021 11:41 am

    My row gauge is off when i do stranded yoke sweaters so they never fit. Eg if dk weight gauge is 22 stitches and 28 rows, in stranding my row gauge will be 22 rows. North shore sweater yoke was way too long.

    • February 25, 2021 12:19 pm

      Hi Kathy – Ah, I see, that’s quite a big difference. You might want to cut out some of the ‘plain’ rounds or inches near the bottom of the yoke, or knit the shorter yoke size.

  2. annie permalink
    March 21, 2016 8:42 pm

    Great info…thank you.

    As Katie Lynn said, there are times when row gauge or even both are important. I’m thinking of side-to-side patterns such as Japanese style patterns offered by Habu and Cocoknits. You can make row gauge most important and add stitches for length, but it must be done very carefully. It isn’t recommended by the designers.

  3. rainbowgoblin permalink
    March 17, 2016 9:44 pm

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is what causes row gauge to be significantly different… I often knit at an “inappropriately” tight gauge, because I live in New Zealand and it’s cold in our houses but not so cold out (so a nice bulletproof sweater is perfect for both in winter). I can easily enough match a pattern’s stitch gauge, but the row gauge tends to be wacky!

  4. beads2yarn permalink
    March 17, 2016 5:08 pm

    Fantastic info. Hurts my brain but totally great info. Thanks for sharing

  5. March 17, 2016 12:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Feathers And Wool and commented:
    I wish I had seen this when I started knitting!

  6. March 17, 2016 10:02 am

    excellent! Learning about gauge is not as exciting as choosing yarn, I know, but the most important info for successful knitting

  7. Katie Lynn permalink
    March 17, 2016 7:57 am

    One time that row gauge is important that wasn’t addressed: if your garment is knit on the bias. Two I can think of off the top of my head: Delancey Cardigan by Alexis Winslow and Hachure by Bristol Ivy. In these cases, row gauge is relatively more important, because it will change the shape of your finished garment. Specifically with Delancey I know if your row gauge is too small you’ll end up with peaks at the bottom side seams. I’m not familiar enough with the construction of Hachure to say what would happen there.

  8. genkazdin permalink
    March 17, 2016 6:58 am

    One impressive thing about what you do: You remove so much of the stress new (or even experienced knitters) experience. Life gives us all so much stress and knitting is known to be relaxing and calming — your efforts make it even more so! Thank you for this, among so many other things you do!

  9. Trudi permalink
    March 17, 2016 6:13 am

    This is the first blog that answers my questions in a way I understand! Thank you so much. I’m knitting your Rye Sock pattern now and it is so easy to read and follow.
    Love you site!!

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