Short Row Shaping

Shaping knitted fabric can occur in different ways, and in the past we’ve discussed shaping fabric by increasing or decreasing stitches in our Foundations series on reading your knitting. Changing the stitch count alters the width of the piece, but what about adding height? There are many scenarios in which you can achieve a more anatomical fit or build curves and wedges into your fabric by adding more rows to a particular group of stitches and not to others. These partial rows are called short rows, and this post will guide you through one of the most popular methods to create them: the wrap and turn method. We invite you to grab an old swatch, tink back a few rows, and give it a try as you read along — short row shaping is a technique that may look baffling when you read the directions, but they are straightforward when you take it one step at a time.

Wrap-and-Turn Short Rows in Stockinette Stitch

Work to the stitch that will be wrapped, and then complete the following steps:

On a knit row, 

Step 1: Slip next stitch to Right needle.

Step 2: Pass working yarn from back to front.

Step 3: Slip stitch back to left needle.

Step 4: Turn to work purl row, passing yarn to front of work. When you work the next stitch, take care to pull yarn snugly.

On a purl row,

Step 1: Slip next stitch to R needle.

Step 2: Pass working yarn from front to back.

Step 3: Slip stitch back to L needle.

Step 4: Turn to work knit row, passing yarn to back of work.

When you come to a wrapped stitch in subsequent rows, pick up and knit the wrap as follows:

For knit stitches,

Step 1: Identify the wrap.

Step 2: Insert the R needle into the wrap and then into the wrapped stitch and knit them together.

For purl stitches,

Step 1: Identify the wrap.

Step 2: Insert the R needle from behind, under the wrap, and then into the wrapped stitch, then purl them together.

Where to Use Short Rows in Knitting

One place you’ll often encounter short rows in a traditional garment pattern is across the back of a sweater. A sweater with a curved hem certainly uses short row shaping, but you may be surprised to find short rows hiding in a garment that looks perfectly straight. Because most humans don’t have perfect posture and our shoulders tend to curve forward slightly, adding short rows to the back can keep the hem from riding up as we move about in the many actions that require us to bend forward or reach for something in front of us. You’ll never notice the short rows are there when you look at the sweater, but they’ll be quietly working to give you a comfortable fit so you’re not always pulling your hem back into place. Most of us also prefer the back neckline of a sweater to be higher than the front, so that the fabric doesn’t rub across our throats. This is why a garment worked in the round, particularly one with a circular yoke such as Gudrun Johnston’s Voe sweater, will often include short rows across the back just at the level of the armholes and perhaps again just before the neck edge.

You’ll often find short rows in collars, too. In Jared Flood’s Watermark cardigan, the collar is crafted by knitting extensions from the front pieces and then seaming them together at the back of the neck. Because the lower edge of each extension needs to travel farther than the top edge to curve around the neckline, a few discreet short rows are the solution. Without them the collar would have excess fabric along its upper edge and would stand away from the wearer’s neck, resulting in a less tailored appearance and in decreased stability for the cardigan as it hangs on the shoulders. The short rows allocate the extra fabric exactly where it’s needed to keep the fit correct.

Short rows can also be purely playful, allowing designers to create geometric shapes without binding off groups of stitches. Scott Rohr’s Ellsworth scarf is a perfect example. Short rows build up one side of the knitting at a time to create a tipsy stack of organic wedges. When you’re working short rows in a garter stitch fabric like Ellsworth’s, you can skip the step of hiding the wrap by working it together with the wrapped stitch on a subsequent row—the wrap will blend in perfectly with the garter ridge bumps. 

Perhaps the most ubiquitous use of short rows are to knit the heel of a sock. Adding the short row heel allows you to create the directional and fitted construction of a heel with relative ease. Jared Flood’s Hazelfern socks use this technique with slipped stitches to create a sturdy and ornate heel.

The wrap and turn method is one of many techniques used to create short rows, and the application of these short rows can be widely used in knitting to create a variety of fabrics. We hope you’ll feel inspired to investigate the different techniques and discover your favorite to incorporate into your knitting.