What is a Short Row, and Why do I Need It?

Updated: Apr 17

Short rows seem to be a scary prospect for many new knitters, but you probably have already done a short row without even realizing it. Have you ever picked up your knitting in the middle of a row or round, started working, and then seen a hole? This could be because you turned your knitting and started working in the wrong direction. That is essentially what happens when you work a short row. If you look at the hole, you can see that the knitting is one row higher on one side of the hole than on the other side of the hole. That is the real purpose of a short row. The short row adds length to one section of your knitting.


Once you learn why Short Rows are a good thing, you will appreciate their usefulness.

Short rows add length to a project in specific areas rather than across and entire round or row. Adding length in specific areas changes the shape of the overall fabric. Here are some examples of times that short rows are used in patterns.

1. The heel of a sock. Many times sock patterns don’t use the word “short rows,” but rather call the entire process “turning the heel.” What ever it is called, just a portion of the stitches are worked in successive rows and it causes the fabric in the middle of the heel to be longer than the fabric on the edges of the heel. This creates a curve in the fabric that fits around the heel of a foot.

2. A shawl collar. A shawl collar is narrow at each end on the front of a cardigan and gets progressively wider around the back of the neck. This is accomplished with a series of short rows that are worked over less and less stitches. This results in more rows worked at the back of the collar and progressively less and less rows worked on the front of the collar.

3. Sweaters, cardigans and pullovers. If you look at ready to wear tops, you will see that the back of the neck is higher in the back than in the front. Constructing knitwear in this same way just helps pullovers and cardigans fit better. It keeps the sweater on the shoulders, and prevents the bottom of the back from riding up.

4. Accommodating the bust line. I personally don’t ever need to do this, but many knitters add short rows to the front of a sweater to accommodate a larger bust measurement. Who wants a sweater that is super tight across the bust, and fits everywhere else. Knitting is stretchy, but why not included a few short rows in the bust area to give a custom fit.

5. Adjust the hemline or add a curve. A common feature on sweater the past few years is a high/low hem. The back of the sweater gently curves downward then levels out. This is accomplished with short rows. This technique can also be used along the edging of a shawl for a pretty scalloped look.

6. Small items like toys. Anything that has a curve or a nonstandard shape can benefit from short rows.

There are several methods of working short rows. The most common method is the wrap and turn method. I have a video tutorial on Short Rows using the Wrap and Turn Method. Just click to watch the video tutorial. I have also written out the step for working Short Rows using the Wrap and Turn Method below.

Short Rows using the Wrap and Turn Method

To work a short row with a wrap and turn while knitting and purling. Knit until you get to the stitch that is to be wrapped:

  • Bring the yarn to the front, between the needles.

  • Slip the next stitch purlwise from the left needle to the right needle.

  • Wrap the yarn around the slipped stitch by bringing the yarn in front of the stitch, then taking the yarn to the back of the work.

  • Slip the wrapped stitch back to the left needle.

  • Next, turn the fabric in order to work in the opposite direction.

  • Pay attention to the wrap, leaving a little slack in the yarn. Not super loose, but not tight as that will distort the fabric.

Purl until you get to the stitch that is to be wrapped

  • Since you are purling, the yarn is in the front. Take the yarn to the back between the needles.

  • Slip the next stitch purlwise from the left needle to the right needle.

  • Wrap the yarn around the slipped stitch, by taking it behind the stitch and then to the front of the work.

  • Turn the fabric in order to work in the opposite direction.

  • Again, pay attention to the wrap so that it is loose enough that it won’t distort the fabric.

Once you are done with all the short rows with the wraps and turns, it is time to hide the wraps.

  • Knit to the wrapped stitch.

  • Insert the right needle into the front of the wrap from bottom to the top, then insert the right needle into the wrapped stitch.

  • Knit the wrap and the wrapped stitch together.

  • Repeat for the rest of the knit side wrapped stitches.

  • Work to the end of the row.

  • Purl to the wrapped stitch.

  • Insert the right needle into the back of the wrap from bottom to top, lift the wrap and place it on the needle alongside the wrapped stitch.

  • Purl the wrap and the wrapped stitch together.

  • Repeat for the rest of the purl side wrapped stitches.

  • Work to the end of the row.

  • Repeat for all knit wrapped stitches.

Come back and watch the video or read the written tutorial any time you need a refresher. Next up is another short row method, German Short Rows.


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