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Tutorial: Wrapped Up in Short Rows

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Ah, short rows. They let us create sock heels that curve to fit our feet, work shoulder shaping minus the ugly stepped bind-offs, and put in darts or gussets so that garments better match bodies. They can also be used to balance differing row gauges of side-by-side stitch patterns (think garter stitch button band on stockinette stitch cardigan). So what are they?

Simply put, they are partial rows of knitting. Work out some number of stitches shy of the full number in a row, turn the piece and work back in the other direction. One section of the piece now has two more rows than another. Continue working across successively fewer (or more) stitches in a row and one side of the work will rise higher, creating a triangular shape. Since all the stitches remain live on the needle, once your triangle has been shaped, it is easy to continue working back and forth across all stitches of the row.

There is one drawback to the short row as thus described: There will be a small hole at the turning point where one stitch is a row or two taller than its neighbor. The most common solution is to wrap the working yarn around the short neighbor before turning the piece to work in the other direction. On the row that reunifies the stitches, the wraps are worked together with the stitch they encircle. In patterns you will see this referred to as a "wrap and turn," abbreviated w&t. On the two pink stockinette swatches below left, you can see the difference between short rows with wraps (left) and those without (right). When working in garter stitch, you may choose to skip knitting up the wraps as the tops of the purl stitches in every other row hide the horizontal wraps quite effectively.

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Wrap and Turn (W&T)

As with much of knitting, the best way to understand how something works is to do it. Let's make a swatch with wraps every three stitches in stockinette stitch, so it will be easy to see. Cast on 18 stitches and work six or so rows of garter stitch so the swatch will lie flat.

Row 1: K1, p1, k13, W&T.
Row 2 and all even-numbered rows: Purl to last 3 stitches, k1, p1, k1. For Row 1, work across the first 15 stitches. Slip the next stitch as if to purl, bring the working yarn between the needles to the front, then put the slipped stitch back on the left needle; turn the work.

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Bring the working yarn back between the needles to the front. At this point, some people simply continue across the work as directed for Row 2. Working the next stitch of the row, however, makes this stitch twice as tall as its wrapped neighbor. Slip this stitch instead and it will be only one row taller, creating a smoother diagonal line. Once the stitch is slipped, the yarn is on the correct side to continue purling. If the next stitch was to be knit, bring the working yarn between the needles one more time.

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Continue in stockinette stitch, working W&T three stitches less each time, four more times as follows:

Row 3: K1, p1, k10, W&T.
Row 5: K1, p1, k7, W&T.
Row 7: K1, p1, k4, W&T.
Row 9: K1, p1, k1, W&T.
Row 10: P1, k1.

The short-row triangle is complete. Now it is time to work back across all stitches and knit up the wraps.

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Knitting Up Wraps

Depending on how you knit, one of the following methods may be easier than the other. The end result is the same, so give both a try as you work across all five wrapped stitches.

Next row: Knit, working wrap and stitch together.

Using your left thumb and forefinger to pull the fabric down, insert the right-hand needle under the wrap and through the stitch. Wrap right-hand needle and pull through new stitch, sliding wrap and old stitch off left-hand needle. From the knit side, all you see is a stitch. On the purl side, the wrap appears like a backward "c" shape, disguised by the horizontal tops of purl stitches.

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Now let's try the other way of doing the same thing. Work to the next wrapped stitch. Slip the stitch to the right-hand needle as if to purl; insert the left-hand needle under the wrap so it is on the left needle. Place the slipped stitch back on the left-hand needle, next to the wrap. Knit the two together.

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And now you've worked your first set of short rows, creating a smooth little fabric wedge. Knit two rows, then work the 11 rows of the wedge again to keep practicing. Now your wedges are stacked, and you've got a rectangle of fabric. Geometry at its best!

To put your short-row skills into action, why not make Sandi Prosser's Simple Yet Stunning Cardi? Garter stitch makes the knitting easy while the self-striping yarn and short rows add style and interest!

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