Short Row Knitting – The Ultimate Guide
Short rows, also known as partial or turning rows, appear daunting to some knitters but are in reality very simple: work extra rows across a portion of the stitches on the needles, thereby lengthening the fabric in the area where the short rows are worked.
Short rows can be used to shape shoulders, custom fit the bust area, and impart design elements such as staggered stripes. In this detailed article, you’ll learn everything about short row knitting including:
- Learn the wrap-and-turn method.
- Explore method #2, the yarnover method.
- Explore method #3, the Japanese method.
- Explore method #4, the catch method.
- Learn about how to use short rows in knitting patterns.
- Pick one of our many free knitting patterns using short row shaping to try out.
Many knitters shy away from short row knitting—it isn’t that they have trouble working just some of the stitches on the needle, it’s the fact that doing so always seems to produce a hole in the knitting. Although in some cases the holes can be design elements, in most cases, they distract from the purpose of the short rows—invisibly adding length to a particular area of a piece. However, there are several ways to eliminate (or hide) the holes so that the short rows become nearly invisible. This free guide to short-row knitting focuses on a variety of ways for short row knitting in stockinette stitch (knit on right-side rows; purl on wrong-side rows).
Before beginning short row knitting, you should be familiar with a few short row knitting terms:
- The turning point is the place where the knitting changes direction between one row and the next (much like making a U-turn when driving). Unless you do something to prevent it, a hole will form at the turning point.
- The turning yarn is the section of working yarn that marks the turning point. The turning yarn is used to hide or mask the hole on a subsequent row.
- The stitch mount is the direction that the stitches lie on the needle. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that the “correct” stitch mount has the right (leading) leg of the stitch on the front of the needle.
Short Rows Method #1: Wrap-and-Turn Method
In this common method of short rows knitting, the turning yarn is wrapped around the first unworked stitch (the stitch that immediately follows the last worked stitch). The way that the stitch is wrapped depends on whether the knit or purl side is facing.
Knit side facing: Knit the required number of stitches to the turning point, slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle (Figure 1), bring the yarn to the front between the needles, return the slipped stitch to the left needle (Figure 2), bring the working yarn to the back between the needles, and turn the work so that the purl side is facing—one stitch has been wrapped and the yarn is correctly positioned to purl the next stitch. Eventually, you will knit across the wrapped stitch—maybe on the next row or maybe several short rows later. When you do, hide the wrap (the horizontal bar of yarn across the wrapped stitch) on a knit row as follows: knit to the wrapped stitch, insert the tip of the right needle into both wrap and the wrapped stitch (Figure 3), and knit them together. This forces the turning yarn (the “wrap”) to the back (wrong-side) of the fabric.
Purl side facing: Purl to the turning point, slip the next stitch purlwise to the right needle, bring the yarn to the back of the work (Figure 1), return the slipped stitch to the left needle, bring the yarn to the front between the needles (Figure 2), and turn the work so that the knit side is facing—one stitch has been wrapped and the yarn is correctly positioned to knit the next stitch.
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 (Figure 3), then purl it together with the wrapped stitch.
Short Rows Method #2: Yarnover Method
In the yarnover method for knit short rows, the turning yarn is positioned on the needle when the work is turned, and is in place to work together with the next stitch (and hide the hole) on the next row.
The turning yarn may be loose for some knitters, but the resulting hole is much easier to eliminate.
Work the required number of stitches to the turning point (knit if a right-side row; purl if a wrong-side row), turn the work, and make a yarnover. To account for the fact that the amount of yarn required to make a yarnover depends on the type of stitch that follows it, work a typical yarnover if the knit side is facing; work a yarn forward if the purl side is facing as follows:
- Knit side facing: Bring the yarn forward, over the top of the needle, then to the back of the work (Figure 1).
- Purl side facing: Hold the yarn in back, insert the tip of the right needle into the next stitch, bring the yarn over the top of the right needle (yarn forward), and purl the first stitch (Figure 2). The stitch mount of the yarn forward will be backward (leading leg in back of the needle) and will need to be corrected before it is worked on a subsequent row.When it comes time to close the gap on a subsequent row, work the yarnover together with the nearest unworked stitch, depending on whether the knit or purl side is facing as follows:
- Knit stitch follows: Correct the mount of the yarnover (leading leg on front of needle), then knit the yarnover together with the unworked stitch (k2tog).
Purl stitch follows: Slip the yarnover knitwise, slip the unworked stitch knitwise, return both stitches to the left needle (leading legs in back of the needle), and purl them together through their back loops (ssp).
Note that these instructions are for working stockinette stitch back and forth in rows. If you want to use the yarnover method of working short rows in texture patterns or in pieces worked in the round, see your pattern for details.
Short Rows Method #3: Japanese Method—Mark the Turning Yarn
Executed in a way similar to the yarnover, this short row knitting method marks the turning yarn with a removable marker such as a split-ring marker, safety pin, or waste yarn. As it uses less yarn than the preceding methods, it is ideal for working short-row heels and toes on socks. Work the required number of stitches to the turning point, then turn the work. Place a removable marker on the turning yarn (Figure 1). When it’s time to close the gap on a subsequent row, slip the stitch immediately before the turning yarn, pull up on the marker and place the turning yarn on the needle, then transfer the slipped stitch back onto the left needle (Figure 2), and work the turning yarn together with the next stitch as described for the yarnover method.
Short Rows Method #4: Catch Method
There are two ways for knitting short rows using this method. While it is easier to close the gap with the second method (because the yarn is already in position to work together with the slipped stitch), it does use more yarn. For both methods, work the required number of stitches to the turning point, then turn the work.
Method 1: If the purl side is facing, slip the first stitch purlwise with the yarn in front (Figure 1); if the knit side is facing, slip the stitch with the yarn in back. When it’s time to close the gap, pick up the stand of yarn below the slipped stitch (Figure 2), and work it together with the slipped stitch as for the yarnover method.
Method 2: Slip the first stitch purlwise while holding the working yarn over the needle (instead of in front or back of the needle), effectively executing a yarnover (Figure 3). Close the gap as for the yarnover method.
Using Short Rows in Your Knitting
A useful way to incorporate short rows into your knitting is to add bust ease. In sewing patterns, extra fabric is allotted to the bust area by sewing darts, which in effect take away fabric below (or above) the bust. Knitting works the opposite way by adding extra fabric in the bust area, but the result is the same: more fabric (a “pouch”) at the bust where it is needed, and less fabric above or below the bust where it isn’t.
The number and length of short rows to work will depend on your gauge and the amount of bust shaping you want to add. In general, work until the sweater front measures about 1″ or 2″ (2.5 or 5 cm) below the beginning of the armhole shaping.
Starting with a right-side row, work short rows across the center front as follows: Knit about three-quarters of the way across the row (in line with where the center of your right breast would be), wrap the next stitch, turn the work, and work to about one-quarter of the way from the end of the row (in line with where the center of your left breast would be), wrap the next stitch, and turn the work. Work a few more short rows back and forth, working about 1″ (2.5 cm) of stitches beyond the previous wrapped stitch (hide the wrap when you come to it), wrapping the next stitch, and turning the work to work in the opposite direction. Then reverse the shaping by wrapping and turning when you are about 1″ (2.5 cm) of stitches before the previous wrapped stitch, for the same number of short rows as worked previously. (For a less exaggerated pouch, work a couple of regular rows—working from selvedge to selvedge—between the short rows.) The result will be additional rows (length) in the center of the piece (Figure 1).
Did you love this article and want a copy on hand? Get this knitting short row guide instantly in this must-have printer-friendly version.
Now that you know how to knit short rows, explore these short row knitting patterns plus additional tutorials.
A Continuation of How to Knit Short Rows
By Véronik Avery, this article originally appeared in Interweave Knits, Winter 2005.
In this continuation of the short row knitting tutorials, we go into ways short rows are incorporated into knitting. Knitwear designers rely often on this technique to maximize shaping options, now you can learn how to do the same. Grab your free guide to a continuation of knitting short rows now!
Fingerless Knitted Gloves Pattern: Motley Mitts
By Lisa Shroyer
This knitted glove pattern is perfect for every level of knitter, from more advanced to the most beginner. The simple knit pattern is easy to follow, knits up quickly and includes short row shaping that is easy to follow. These short rows help to make the subtle hourglass shape for a pair of fingerless gloves that fit like a dream. When you download this short row knitting pattern today, you also get six others to enjoy. Grab your free glove knitting patterns now!
Sock Knitting Pattern: On-Your-Toes Socks
By Ann Budd
One of our most popular sock patterns, this toe-up pattern has become our go-to design for sock knitters with all levels of experience. You’ll practice knitting short rows in the heel, which is common to see in sock patterns. Plus, along with this pattern you’ll get six other wonderful socks to explore and enjoy. Grab your free sock knitting patterns now!
Knitted Scarf Pattern: The Spiral Scarf
By Laura Bryant
If you’ve not found a scarf pattern that holds your attention, or is actually fun to knit, then you haven’t checked out this design. Using super soft merino and short rows, this wedge shape scarf curls and spirals as you knit. When you download this short row knitting scarf pattern today you also get six others to enjoy. Grab your free scarf knitting patterns now!
Sweater Pattern: Farrington Sweater
By Lisa Shroyer
This might just become your go-to sweater pattern. Equally at home at a barbecue or an event, this design adds a little drama without all the extra effort. This pattern will help you understand short row shaping in garments. Along with this wonderful short row knitting design, you’ll also get six more sweater patterns to enjoy. Grab your free sweater knitting patterns now!
By Véronik Avery, Interweave Knits Winter 2004