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Short Row Shaping: Japanese Short Rows

Short Row Shaping

As I mentioned in my previous post, short-row shaping is a way of working partial rows in order to create extra fabric. It can be used to shape one or both edges of a piece, or a section in the middle of the piece – actually, you can work it anywhere within a piece that needs extra fabric. You can work short rows for the bust or belly, or, as in the case of the Boston Top-Down Hooded Coat, to shape the hood. In top-down, set-in-sleeve knitting, short rows are used to shape the cap of the sleeve, so that it fits nicely over the outside of your shoulder and partway down the top of your upper arm.

Many knitters run away screaming when they hear “short-row shaping”; for some reason, there’s a rumor circulating that you need an advanced degree in order to do it. Not so! If you can count, slip a stitch and work two stitches together, you can do this. There are three common ways to work short row shaping: Wrap and turn, yarnover, and Japanese. Of these three methods, my favorite, and the one I’ll describe here, is Japanese Short Rows. I believe this method is easier to work, especially for less advanced knitters, and the shaping is less noticeable than in wrap-and-turn and yarnover short rows.

I have seen a few different takes on Japanese short rows, but what I will show you here seems to me to be the most straightforward way to work them. I’m going to walk you through step by step, with photos at the appropriate times; then at the end, I’ll give you a video that will show you the entire process.

The only special tools you’ll need are two safety pins (coilless is best) or two locking stitch markers. You don’t want to use an open removable stitch marker as it may slip off the yarn as you work. I recommend that you practice this on a knitted swatch, so that you can relax and not worry about making any mistakes.

With the right (knit) side of the work facing you, knit the number of stitches that is indicated in the pattern, then turn your piece so that the wrong (purl) side of the work is facing you. Slip the first stitch to the right-hand needle purlwise, and attach a safety pin or locking stitch marker to the working yarn (the yarn that goes to the ball). This is abbreviated in my patterns as t&s (turn and slip).

Short Row Shaping photo 1


Next, keeping the marker snugged up against the work, purl the number of stitches indicated in the pattern. You’ll notice that when you purl the first stitch after attaching the marker, the marker will be clipped around the strand of yarn between the slipped stitch and the first stitch that you purl.

Short Row Shaping photo 2


Turn the work so that the right side is facing again, slip the first stitch purlwise, and attach another safety pin or stitch marker to the working yarn. You’ve just worked two short rows! Are you still breathing?

Short Row shaping photo 3

Now before you do anything else, look back at the two short rows that you just worked. You have a gap between the stitch that you just slipped on the last purl row, and the stitch to its right. And at the point where you turned and slipped the first stitch (on the previous knit row), you will see that you have a gap between the stitch that you slipped and the stitch to the left of it.

Short Row Shaping photo 4

The instructions will tell you to knit to the first gap that you made and close the gap. Here’s how: The safety pin/marker is in the back, attached to the yarn below the last stitch on the right-hand needle. To close the gap on a right-side row, gently pull on the marker, and place the loop of yarn on the left-hand needle, making sure that the loop isn’t twisted.

Short Row Shaping photo 5

Short Row Shaping photo 6

Short Row Shaping photo 7

Knit the loop together with the next stitch on the left-hand needle. Remove the marker. You have now closed the gap.

Short Row Shaping photo 8

To close the gap when you’re on a wrong-side row, work to the gap. The marker is in the front this time. Slip the first stitch on the left-hand needle purlwise to the right-hand needle. 

Short Row Shaping photo 9

Gently pull on the marker and place the loop of yarn on the left-hand needle.

Short Row Shaping photo 10

Return the slipped stitch from the right-hand back to the left-hand needle, then purl the two stitches together. Remove the marker. You’ve now closed the gap.

Short Row Shaping photo 11

Here is a video that I made that shows you the above steps in motion. If you find the video helpful, please click on the YouTube link in the bottom right-hand corner of the video and “Like” the video and/or post comments.


The Practical Application of Short Row Shaping

So now that you’ve survived working short rows, here’s what you can expect to see in a pattern that uses short rows. Most short-row instructions are written in pairs – you go out and come back (sometimes all the way back to the edge, sometimes only partway back if you’re doing shaping on both sides). Some designers and knitting publications number short rows singly (for example: Short Row 1: K25, t&s, purl to end). They consider that the shaping isn’t complete until you get back to where you started, and so in their mind, you’ve only worked one short row. My preference is to write it as two rows (see below), since you’re working one row on the right side, and one row on the wrong side. Sometimes you will start short-row shaping on a right-side row, and sometimes on a wrong-side row; either way, you will work in pairs of rows to work the shaping.

If you are working a piece like a scarf that has a curve along one edge, you will only short a stitch on one row, as follows:

Short Rows 1 and 2: K25, t&s, purl to end.

Here you short a stitch on Short Row 1, but then you just purl to the end of the row on Short Row 2 without shorting a stitch on the purl side.

If you’re working a piece like a sleeve cap that has shaping on either side of the shoulder marker, you will short a stitch on each of two rows, as follows:

Short Rows 1 and 2: K25, t&s, p10, t&s.

Here you’ve shorted a stitch on both rows, and you’re back on the right side again.

When working sleeve cap shaping in one of my top-down patterns, you will begin on a right-side row, and knit to a specified number of stitches past the shoulder marker, t&s, then purl to the same number of stitches past the marker on the other side, t&s. This will be called Short Rows 1 and 2. Then you go on to work Short Rows 3 and 4, which will be as follows:

Short Rows 3 and 4: Work to gap from last row, close gap, work 1 stitch, t&s.

So for Short Row 3, you work to the gap that you created when you worked t&s on the last right-side row (Short Row 1), close the gap, then work one more stitch, before you work t&s. This adds two stitches to the end of the row. Then you will work the exact same thing for Short Row 4, except that you’ll be working it on the wrong side. The text will tell you to repeat these two rows a specified number of times. Then in some cases, you will move on to Short Rows 5 and 6:

Short Rows 5 and 6: Work to gap from last row, close gap, t&s.

These two rows are similar to Short Rows 3 and 4, except that you don’t work an extra stitch after closing the gap; you just t&s right after closing the gap. These rows add one stitch to each end of the row.

Once you have completed all the short-row shaping, you’ll be back on the right side again. You knit across all of the stitches, closing the two remaining gaps as you come to them. If you’re working sleeve cap shaping, you can close the first gap that you come to as you have been doing. However, because the second gap was created when you were working on a wrong-side row (and it would normally be closed on the NEXT wrong-side row), it will have to be worked slightly differently when you close it on a right-side row. If you look at the gap with the right side facing, you will see that the marker, instead of being to the right of the gap, is to the left of the gap. To close this gap, work to one stitch before the gap, then slip the last stitch before the gap knitwise to the right-hand needle. Gently pull on the marker and place the loop of yarn knitwise on the left-hand needle, slip the stitch from the right-hand needle to the left-hand needle purlwise, and knit these two stitches together through the back loops. The final gap is now closed.

That’s all there is to it! It’s much more intimidating to read it through than it is to actually DO it. Don’t overthink it – grab yarn and needles and work up a swatch, then practice until it becomes second nature. Short rows can add so much to a project, so it’s well worth learning how!