The wonderful thing about knitting your own fabric is the ability to shape and manipulate it as you go. One of the methods to do this is called Short Row Shaping. Simply put, short rows are areas of the knitting where incomplete rows are worked to create more volume than elsewhere in the fabric. This results in a curved or shaped section, with perhaps the most obvious example being the heel of a sock when knitted in the round.
Why Short Rows?
As well as creating a heel, short rows have many other uses:
- Shoulder shaping without the stepped effect of the more usual cast off method.
- A colour work technique creating non linear areas of colour.
- Adding three dimensional texture effects.
- Knitting Circles and other curvy 2 dimensional shapes
Working a short row shoulder
A common way to create the slope of a shoulder seam in a sweater is to cast off a certain number of stitches every other row in a stepped fashion as shown in the top diagram. So for example, over 20 stitches, for a right slant, 5sts are cast off at the beginning of each wrong side row four times.
Using short rows, the same slant could be achieved by working 15sts on the first right side row (leaving 5 sts unworked), turning and working back on those 15 sts. On the next right side row, only 10sts would be worked (leaving 10sts unworked), turning and working back on those 10sts. On the next RS row, 5 sts are worked (leaving 15sts unworked), turned and 5sts worked back. On the final RS row all of the 20sts are once again worked, and then all 20sts are cast off on the next row. This achieves a smooth slant versus the stepped one in the first example.
Read on for more clarification on how to do this.
Creating non linear areas of colour
The photo above shows a short row panel on the front of one of my sweater designs. Here I have used short rows to create non linear areas of different colour and texture. “Stripes” can take on a whole new meaning!
Three dimensional texture stitches
The blue section in the photo above shows a lovely textured bobble stitch which is created using short rows to add volume to parts of the fabric. It can be seen from this example that a hole/gaping stitch is visible at the start and finish of the bobbles. In this particular design, this is desirable and forms part of the overall texture. However, as you can imagine, a holey stitch in a shaped area of stocking stitch e.g. on the shoulder shaping or the colour work examples above, would not be desirable. Thankfully there is a method to prevent those elongated, gaping stitches from occurring. This is called “wrap and turn“.
How to Wrap and turn
On a Knit side:
- Knit the required number of stitches to the turning point (so using the e.g. of the shoulder shaping above it would be knit 15sts).
- Slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle. Bring the yarn to the front between the needles (diagram 1). Return the slipped stitch to the left needle over the top of the working yarn. Bring the working yarn to the back between the needles, ready to purl. Turn the work and purl back. One stitch has been wrapped (W1) (diagram 2).
- When it is time to work across the wrapped stitch in a later row, the horizontal bar which is visible across it will be hidden by working it together with the wrapped stitch (diagram 3).
On a Purl side:
- Purl to the turning point.
- Slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle. Bring the yarn to the back of the work. Return the slipped stitch to the left needle. Bring the yarn to the front between the needles. Turn the work to knit back. One stitch has been wrapped.
- When it is time to hide the wrap on a subsequent purl row, work to the wrapped stitch. Use the tip of the right needle to pick up the turning yarn from the back. Place it on the left needle (diagram 4) and purl it together with the wrapped stitch.
This is the basis for the wrap and turn method of short row shaping. I hope this post has given you the confidence to give it a try. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never have a bulky shoulder seam ever again!
I am teaching a workshop on this technique at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham (Hampshire) on Saturday 7th October where we shall be using short rows to knit a circle (diagram 5). If you are in the area and you would like to come along, booking is available on their website here. It would be lovely to see you!
If you have anything you would like to share about short rows or this post generally, please do leave a comment.