The Complete Guide to Knitting Short Rows

Short rows are a wonderful technique that no knitter should be without. Many knitters think they might have a major learning disability with short rows. Ever tried them in the past and just couldn’t wrap your mind around them? Well, let’s demystify short rows then!

What Are Short Rows?

Short rows create curves or soft angles in the mostly straight-edged, flat-paneled knitting landscape. They accomplish this by partially knitting an existing row to a predetermined stitch count, then turning the work and working back to the same (or another) count, and turning again.

So basically, a short row is just that: a row that you don’t knit to the end of the needle. Instead, you work part of the way across the row, make one special short rows stitch (often called a “wrap and turn”, but there are other techniques, too – more on that later), and then work back the other way, sometimes to the end – and sometimes just to another wrap and turn.

So by using short rows, you are adding shaped rows within the body of the garment without increasing stitches, or casting on more of them.

Short rows are a very handy technique when it comes to knitting sock heels, help to achieve certain shawl shapes (especially Crescent shawls) and adjusting the fit of knitted garments.

A little shaping created right into your garment might just be the difference between gaping armholes, an unintended feature of your belly button, or having to make a size larger that fits your chest (but sags on your hips and shoulders, because the garment is just too big).

Short rows are an easy, sophisticated, and non-obtrusive knitting technique.

Short Row Techniques

Wrap and Turn

The wrap and turn method is the most common technique to work short rows out there – except for Germany and Austria, we have our own version but more on that later – and is quite easy to knit. It has one drawback though: the wraps are clearly visible in your knitting. That’s the main reason why I don’t use this method when working short rows.

If you need a tutorial on how to work short rows using the wrap and turn method, Purl Soho has an excellent article about working short rows with wrap and turn.

Japanese Short Rows

Japanese short rows don’t have the disadvantage of visible wraps but they need additional tools: safety pins, or locking stitch markers, alternatively.

There’s a nice tutorial on how to work Japanese short rows on Craftsy, if you want to learn how to work Japanese short rows.

German Short Rows

Asa Tricosa published a lovely tutorial about German short rows.

German short rows are my favorite way of working short rows. It is simple to execute, and is nearly imperceptible in your fabric. When using this method, you don’t need to wrap your stitches, nor do you need to hang markers off your yarn at each turn.

That’s how German short rows look in progress: each little double loop on the needles is actually one double stitch.

The Double Stitch in German Short Rows

The German method for working short rows uses a special stitch referred to as “double stitch”. To make a double stitch, insert needle as if to purl with yarn in front. Slip stitch off the needle, pull working yarn to back so the slipped st falls to the back and the stitch in the row below is pulled up over the right hand needle.

I’ve written a little tutorial on how to work German short row sock heels, in case you need one.

How to Knit Short Rows

Short Rows: The Extra Mile

So far, you’ve read nothing new – I guess there’s a ton of blog posts compiling information and links to these three short row methods. What I want to share with you today is the nuts and bolts of short row shaping:

How To Determine Short Row Shapes Before Knitting a Single Stitch

The extra mile in this article about short rows is that I’m actually telling you which shape your short row section is going to have before you even start knitting.

I told you that short rows are worked by partially knitting an existing row to a predetermined stitch count, then turning the work and working back to the same (or another) count, and turning again. The result looks similar to the illustration below.

How to Knit Short Rows
How does working short rows look like? The black arrow indicates knitting direction, the green dots represent your live stitches.

You are creating a triangle, basically! The only difference between knitting a triangle using deceases on both sides is that your stitch count doesn’t change.

So when it comes to determine the resulting shape of a short row section, the same principles as for increases in triangle shawls apply: if you know your gauge, you can calculate the resulting shape.

An example:

If your gauge is 4 stitches to an inch in both rows and stitches, working each stitch on each side as a double stitch (or wrap and turn), the resulting angle would be approximately 45°.

Now go and give short rows a try! Let me know by leaving a comment below if this article was helpful for you.


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