Tools for Keeping Count:
Even the most seasoned knitter has experienced a counting meltdown at some point. For me, it's always triggered by a pattern that reads something like, "Inc 1 st at each side of next RS row, then each end on every following alt row 6 times, then 1 st each end of RS rows 10 times...." Did I lose you yet?
Unless you have miraculous concentration powers, you'll need to develop a technique to keep track of those rows. Everybody has their favorite, and I'd love to know what works best for you.
Pen and paper can suffice as long as you always keep the pen and paper with you. I've also used paper clips (clipping one onto the pattern after I worked each repeat) and, on one particularly long and desperate car ride, I even poked holes in the pattern (poking one hole after each repeat). Of course not everybody wants their patterns to look like they've been used for target practice.
For those who like to use gadgets, let's talk about handy little devices that will count the rows for you.What Are They?
Row counters come in many shapes and forms. Some have holes with plastic pegs that you place into varying holes depending on where you are in the pattern. Others operate like old-fashioned crowd-counting devices, resting in the palm of your hand and changing their displayed count each time you press a button with your thumb (the knitting-specific gadgets are often called "Kacha-Kacha" counters, and Clover makes a nice one).
And then you have counters that are intended to sit smack dab on your needle. Even these come in a couple of varieties.
The first on-the-needle row counter is called a "universal knit count" because it can be used on any kind of knitting—flat or circular alike. The row counter dangles from a slender loop of plastic that fits over almost every needle except the bulkiest of the bulky.
The loop takes up so little space on the needle that you can use it on circular or flat projects without any distortion of gauge. The counter simply dangles below the loop and out of your way.
The counter shown here, from Susan Bates, is made in Mexico and retails for a little under $3. It has two numbers that can be used either together (if you're counting to 10 or above) or separately (if you're counting below 10 and need to keep track of rows and multiples of rows worked). A plus-side of the rather flimsy plastic construction (hey, we're talking $3 here) is that the counter weighs next to nothing. It swings only slightly from your needles.
Not all universal counters are of the $3 plastic variety. Debra's Garden (the same folks who make the colorful Needle Gauge Pendant) also makes a row counter/cutter that features two separate numeric dials.
The center dial slides from one to nine, while the larger outer dial clicks its way in 10s from 10 to 90. As an added bonus, when you rotate the outer dial to the bottom position (where you think 60 would be), a slender steel cutting blade is revealed.
The combination counter/cutter is made of metal in the U.S., comes in 12 colors (each of which has a coordinating Swarovski crystal in the center), and retails for $40. At 0.4oz, it's much heavier than the plastic counter (which weighs 0.05oz according to my handy dandy kitchen scale). The pendant hangs from a small keychain-style loop that seems most comfortable on a needle smaller than a US 9 (5.5mm).
Other row counters slide right onto the needle itself, no loop, no dangling. The whole counting mechanism sits right there on the needle with your stitches. The sample shown here is from Susan Bates and retails for $2. It should fit over any needle up to a US 10 (6mm).
Both counters take up just under an inch of real estate on your needle—far too much to be unintrusive in circular knitting. As such, these on-the-needle counters are only used for flat back-and-forth knitting.
By taking up so little real estate, counters that dangle from your needle integrate much more seamlessly into any type of knitting, circular or flat. But don't discount the dangle factor. Depending on the weight and the material (and your tolerance), the counter may swing in a way that may be distracting to you (and tempting to any nearby felines). Meanwhile, on-the-needle row counters have no swing, and most models are made of such lightweight plastic that you barely know they're there. Which could pose its own problems if you forget to keep updating your counts.Do You Need One?
The answer to this question depends on your attitude about accessories in general. If you enjoy the prospect of accessorizing and have $2 to spare, or $3, or $40, you may consider adding one of these nifty counters to your knitting bag. You may not use it right away, but when meltdown hits, you'll feel mighty clever. On the other hand, if you believe in minimal clutter, or if you already have a tried-and-true technique, then you probably don't need one of these.
If thrift is the issue, may I offer another alternative: the trusty #2 pencil. If you play your cards right, it won't cost you a penny. But if you need a silver-plated Caran D'Ache fountain pen, you're on your own.