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You'll get a more accurate gauge measurement if you make the swatch roughly six inches square. The swatch needs to be larger than the area you want to measure.
Are you washing/drying/blocking the swatch in the same fashion you will the finished product?
In general though, the row gauge is less important than the stitch gauge because
90+% of the time you can just add rows to get the right length.
What pattern? There are patterns where row gauge is critical, but they're few and far between.
You could try using wood instead of metal needles, that always helps slacken off my row gauge.
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