There are so many methods for shaping knit fabrics, and designers seem to use them all! Short rows, perhaps one of the most common ways to create three-dimensional shape in a knitted fabric, are found in patterns for everything from hats to shawls to sweaters. While there are many methods for making short rows, perhaps the most frequently used is a method involving wrapped stitches that are then picked up later in the work.
“Wrap & turn” is a phrase that strikes fear into many a knitterly heart, but it doesn’t have to be! Understanding how short rows work and how to make them easily and effectively can help this multi-step process go more pleasantly, and we’re here to help with a quick tutorial. I cast on with some Shibui Staccato as the base color, and will be using some Shibui Pebble to illustrate how short rows create curves in fabric. First, I knit a few inches in simple stockinette stitch.
Most short rows use a numbered spacing method—with the same or a similar number of stitches between each “gap” or pair of turned stitches. For my short rows, I will be grouping the stitches in pairs and working the short rows on only the wrong side of the fabric. First, I start by purling all of the stitches across until I only have three left on the left-hand needle. One will be my “wrapped” stitch, and the other two will not be worked.
When purling, the yarn is in the front of the work. To wrap the stitch, I move the yarn to the back of the work, as if I was going to knit the next stitch:
But instead of knitting, I slip the next stitch (I slip purlwise, generally), and then turn the work completely around. This is the “turn” part of the wrap & turn—the wrap part occurs when you bring the yarn back to the back of the work to begin knitting the stitches. You’ll see the green strand of Pebble “wrapping” the Ivory Staccato, and you can see an example of the Staccato wrapping the Pebble below it.
The next part is easy. You see how in the image above, gaps and pairs start to form? These will help you figure out which stitches you’ve worked, even when using all one color (and not stripes, like in these pictures.) Keep mind of your gaps and pairs, and you’ll never get lost in short rows. You can even count them to determine how many wraps & turns you’ve performed:
After you’ve worked all your short rows, it’s time to go back and pick up the wraps. You always pick up a wrap on the same side of the fabric that you were on when you made it. That means we’ll be picking up our wraps on the purl side.
Work the stitches until you come to your first wrapped stitch. You’ll see where it is because the “bump” surrounding the purl stitch will be slightly large, and if you lift that bump you’ll see that the stitch looks like it has two bumps stacked, like in the left stitch in this green wrap & turn pair (see how it is wrapped with Staccato?)
Next, you’re going to pick up the wrap and work it! You do this by inserting the right-hand needle into the wrap:
And then lifting it onto the left-hand needle, where you’ll purl it together with the original stitch!
Do this all the way to the end of your row, and watch how the fabric forms a curved shape caused by the short rows.
Sometimes wrap & turn short rows aren’t the prettiest choice for colorwork because they show the lifted stitches on the front; but in a solid fabric they’re quite invisible, especially after a few rows of fabric or an edging are added on.