How to count rows

Tuesday Tip – How to Count Rows

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For a while now I’ve been writing a column for Creative Knitting called Patty’s Purls of Wisdom. Knitter’s send in their questions, ala Dear Abbey, and I answer them. It’s full of all kinds of knitting advice, this knitter asked a brilliant question that is more complex than you think.

How to Count Rows in Knitting

Here’s the letter I received:

Here’s one of the “keep an obsessive knitter up a night” questions. Does the cast on count as a row? I’ve always been confused when it comes to counting rows whether I should count the loops on my needle

I asked at my knitting group and was told 10 different things (the eleventh was “stop over-thinking it”). 

Over-thinking it in Georgia

and I answered:

Dear Over-thinking it,

I always say, get 10 knitters in a room and you’ll get 11 opinions. In this case they are all right—except the person who told you that you were over thinking—our knitting is worth a little thought! So, a truly (wonderfully) nerdy knitting question deserves a nerdy knitting answer.

When counting rows, you do count the loops on the needle, but let’s start by talking about the cast on. If you are talking about following a pattern, then row 1 is always your first row of knitting, since the designer has no idea what type of cast on you will use. However, that being said, long tail does create a complete row of knitting. So, you could cast on, using long tail in pattern for row 1 (did you know you can create either knits or purls in long tail?), and then begin your pattern on row 2. This is particularly important when working stripes of color or patterns when you want each stripe to be the same width.

However, that does not hold true for all cast ons. Contrary to popular belief (and contrary to how the name sounds), a knitted cast on does not create a full row of knitting–then don’t even get me started about the eloop (or backwards loop) cast on.

Here is a picture of long tail cast on, knitted cast on, and the backwards loop cast on. You can see the difference in height between them

How to Count Rows

Eloop cast on,           Knitted Cast on,            Long Tail cast on (creates an actual row of knitting)

Here I’ve purled one row. The yellow is the cast on, and the loop on the needle is the row I just purled, and as you can see in the long tail cast on, there is also one additional row complete (the blue V)

2) Purl one row

Eloop cast on,             Knitted Cast On,               Long Tail Cast On (2 rows)

So now you can go back to your knitting group and dazzle them with just how much you can “overthink” about your knitting!

originally published in Creative Knitting Magazine

The other way to think about it is, if you only count the Vs under the needle, that is all well and good if you’ve done long tail, because the number of Vs (not counting the loop in the needle) will match the number of rows  . . . BUT, if you are trying to read you knitting and you want to look to see what row you are on, then the loops on the needle are vital. I use the example in class of three rows of stockinette and the forth row is knit on the WS. That leaves a purl bump right under the loop that’s on your needle.

Here there are 4 Vs in the long tail cast on, but one of those was created by casting on. The actual 4th row is the one on the needle with the purl bump at it’s base.

How to Count Rows

Long Tail Cast on                  Knitted Cast on                     Eloop cast on

I always tell knitters “it’s a purl collar, not a purl hat”. My theory is counting the Vs under the needle + long tail cast on = confusion of what row that purl bump belongs to.

Then of course there’s the confused beginner knitter who came into a shop I used to run. She was taught that you count the Vs under the needle. Then she was working a stripe scarf and the instructions told her to work 8 rows of red, then switch to color B. She kept working until she could count 8 red Vs . . . then she switched colors and of course the loop on the needle then became the 9th red row. She was baffled.

If you have a burning knitting question, send it in.

Questions like:

– What’s the best short row method for a scarf?
– What are the tricks to keeping your sanity when knitting lace?
– How do you avoid killing your spouse when he moves your shawl off the couch making your delicate stitches slip off the needle and your stitch markers tumble to the floor?

Please write them in letter form, just like the old letter’s to Dear Abby. We’d love to feature the full letter in the column, not just the questions, so have fun with it! Let’s all learn from each other and let’s start talking knitting! So e-mail your questions to:

E-mail Patty’s Ask Patty at Modern Daily Knitting (

For other “what about . . .” knitting questions, check out ”

How to Read Your Knit Stitches

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  • Christine May 11, 2016   Reply →

    I think this might be the first place I’ve seen someone point out that you can purl the long tail cast on. I remember feeling vaguely guilty when I figured that one out, and worried that I was doing things “wrong”. (I quickly got over that.)

    Also back in the days when I was a beginner knitter, I made pretty much the same mistake with a scarf. In my case, however, I had 11 rows of the first colour & 10 of subsequent ones (because I finished each block of 10 rows on a purl row).

  • Paula Riley March 26, 2017   Reply →

    Thank you.

    • Jackie January 9, 2023   Reply →

      Thank you for explaining how to count rows… I haven’t been knitting in some time. I’m adding another color and wanted to be sure which side to add it. I will be back‼️‼️

  • Nancy Clark March 27, 2017   Reply →

    I like you article. Thank you

  • S H March 27, 2017   Reply →

    Best explanation I’ve seen of Row counting! Thank you very much!

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