The Art of Short Rows
Do you ever look at a pattern that incorporates short rows and cringe? Do you wish your short rows looked better or less visible? Are you a new knitter wondering what short rows are? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then read on and join me on this little journey into short rows. The simple act of working partway across a row and then turning and working back without completing the remainder of the row has many uses.
Uses for Short Rows
The most familiar use of short rows is for bust shaping. Short rows create extra fabric that allows the garment to fit smoothly over the bustline, but that's not the only use for short rows. Sock knitters use short rows to turn the heel of a sock, or used to make alterations to a garment. As knitters, the uses for short rows are only limited by our imaginations. Short rows may be worked in many ways, and different methods are developed all the time.
How to Wrap & Turn
As mentioned, working partway across a row and then turning and working back to the start without completing the row creates short rows. Most of the time, we want to hide our turning point so the short rows are not readily visible and no holes are created. This is where the "wrap" comes in. At this turning point, the stitch is wrapped, and when we are ready to work a full row, the wrap will be picked up and worked with the wrapped stitch.
Let's Take it Step-by-Step
Using worsted weight yarn, knit a swatch in stockinette stitch about 20 stitches wide and two inches long. We'll work our first short row from the front or knit side. Knit the first 10 stitches, and then bring the yarn between the needles to the front of the work. Now slip the next stitch purlwise to the right-hand needle, and then move the yarn between the needles to the back of the work. This maneuver is what wraps the stitch as shown in photo 1.
The next step is to turn the work, return the first stitch (the stitch you slipped previously) back to the now right-hand needle -- do not work it -- then purl the rest of the stitches. When you turn your work to purl back, be sure to not pull the wrap too tightly or leave it too loose; you want to match your tension as much as possible. With the front (knit side) of your swatch facing you, you will see that the first 10 stitches have been worked two rows more than the last 10 stitches and stitch 11 has a "wrap" of yarn around its base. You've just worked one set of short rows.
Now we're going to work a full row across our swatch, hiding the wrap so the short row is less visible and preventing a hole at the turning point. Knit the first 10 stitches of your swatch. Slip the next stitch onto your right needle, and then insert your left needle tip under the wrap, lifting the wrap onto the left needle as shown in photo 2; then return the slipped stitch back on the left needle. Now knit the wrap together with the stitch it was wrapping, just like a k2tog decrease, and continue knitting to the end of the row. With practice, you will be able to use your right needle to pick up the wrap and knit it together with the wrapped stitch without slipping the wrapped stitch first to the right needle and then back again.
The procedure to work a "wrap and turn" short row from the purl side of your work is nearly the same as working it from the knit side. As shown in photo 3, work a few more rows in your swatch and then work a purl row to your turning point, move the yarn to the knit side of the work, slip the next stitch purlwise and bring the yarn to the purl side of the work. Turn your work, return the slipped stitch to the needle now in your right hand and complete the short row. As you come to the wrapped stitch on the next full row, you will work the wrap and wrapped stitch together, just as you did before. Purl the first 10 stitches; then from the knit side -- which is the side facing away from you -- insert your right-hand needle under the wrap, lift it to your left needle and purl it together with the stitch it wrapped.
Picking up the wrap from the knit side is the easiest and neatest way to work a purl-side wrap with its wrapped stitch, as shown in photo 4. There are times when you can work "wrap and turn" short rows and not hide the wraps -- one time is when working in garter stitch. Because the wrap matches the garter stitch very closely, it is not usually necessary, or preferable, to hide the wraps. Another time is when you want the decorative effect created in stockinette stitch and don't hide the wraps; the wrapped stitches will have a bar across the front of them. You can also create an eyelet effect, which is also a result of not picking up the wraps.
Once you get the hang of working short rows, you can use your skills on our free Mary Jane Slipper pattern from Knit a Dozen Plus Slippers by Amy Polcyn.