Knitted swatches with short rows, with and without wrap and turn

Perfect knitted short rows with wrap and turn

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Short row knitting is a technique for shaping your knitwork

Short rows are a simple technique for shaping the knitwork that allows you to knit a gentle curve or slope by adding extra length of fabric to parts of your knitting. This can be used for shaping the shoulders of sweaters, the heels of socks, custom-fitting the bust area, or perhaps ad a gentle curve to the bottom of a cape or a shawl. It is also an essential skill if you are interested in amigurumi patterns (cute Japanese style knitted animals).

Example of knitted triangular shapes made with short rows
Short rows can be used to create a gentle slope – here I have knitted (near) triangles by gradually shortening the short rows. If you continue adding pizza slices you will end up with a circle.

What are short rows?

Short rows are well-named: A short row is a row that is shorter than the row before it. In its simplest form, you create a short row by turning the work over, before you reach the end of the row.

Say you have 20 stitches on your needles. Try knitting 16 stitches …

stockinette fabric about to turn for a short row

… then turn your work over …

the knitwork has been turned before the end of the row
You can tell that you are about to knit “the wrong way” because the working yarn is attached to the stitch on the left-hand needle instead of the right-hand needle.

… and work back across the row. That’s a short row! In my example, I am working in stockinette stitch and I turned on a knit row, so I am purling back. When you do a simple turn like this, then your knitting will end up with a gap at the turning point …

a short row without a wrap

… which is not very pretty, and this is why you will want to learn a trick or two for how to make super neat short rows. This tutorial introduces you to the wrap and turn short row, which is one of several methods for closing or hiding the gap when you make the turn. The wrap and turn is probably the easiest short row to memorize so it is a good place to start. Just keep in mind for later that there are other types of short rows, and at some point, you will want to experiment.

illustration of why we need to wrap when we turn for a short row
The simplest version of a short row is simply to turn the work before the end of a row and knit the other way. While this works, it will create unfortunate holes in your fabric at every turning point. The wrap & turn technique is one of several clever solutions to close the gaps and hide the turning points.

How to wrap and turn

In this common method for knitting short rows you wrap the working yarn around the neighboring stitch when you do the turn, in order to draw that stitch closer and close the gap. There are countless descriptions on the internet for how exactly to do this, but if you memorize these instructions, you don’t have to worry about whether you are working a knit stitch or a purl stitch. This always works:

Here’s how you remember to do the wrap and turn correctly – in all situations

  • Work till you reach the turning point
  • Wrap the next stitch:
    • Slip the next stitch purlwise
    • Move the working yarn between the needles to the opposite position
    • Return the slipped stitch to the left needle
  • Turn the work
  • Reposition the yarn for whatever you are knitting:
    • knit stitch = yarn to the back
    • purl stitch = yarn to the front
  • Complete the row

Wrap and turn in garter stitch

Although the wrap and turn is essentially the same no matter what stitch you are doing, it can be helpful to see what it looks like for both garter stitch and stockinette stitch. Here’s a video from Kino Knits showing wrap and turn short rows for garter stitch. She also highlights how to recognize where the wrap and turn is when you approach it on the next row, which is very useful for following a knitting pattern with short rows.

Wrap and turn in stockinette

I have made this little step-by-step photo tutorial for a wrap and turn in stockinette stitch:

Illustration of the wrap and turn method
Illustration of the wrap and turn method for making a short row on the knit side of stockinette. You wrap the working yarn around the first unworked stitch like this: 1) Slip the next stitch purlwise, 2) bring the working yarn forward, 3) return the slipped stitch, now 4) turn the work and reposition the yarn for purling, i.e. bring it to the front. Purl away.

And here is a video from Knit Purl Hunter demonstrating wrap and turn short rows in stockinette, both from the knit side and the purl side. Pay attention to how the instructions are actually the same as long as you remember to wrap the next stitch by moving the working yarn to the opposite position.

So far so good. You have now learned how to wrap and turn, but there are some cases where you will need one more step if you are going for a smooth near-invisible look. That brings us to how to pick up the wrapped stitches.

How to pick up the wrapped stitches

When you join a short row to a previous, longer row, you are knitting across a stitch that was previously wrapped and therefore looks a little different from the rest of the stitches. The wrap will show up on the work as a horizontal bar. If you are knitting in garter stitch there are horizontal bars crossing every stitch and the wrap is not noticeable. In stockinette, on the other hand, a bar across the neck of a single stitch is likely to draw the attention of the eye.

In the photo below are three turning points, all made with a wrap and turn. Turning point B shows what it looks like if you neglect to pick up the wrap. It is by no means ugly, but it looks a little like you purled when you were supposed to knit. For turning points A and C, the wraps were both picked up, but they were then dealt with in slightly different ways.

how it looks when you pick up or don't pick up the wrap from a wrap and turn
A) The wrap was picked up and knitted together through the back of the loop (k2tog tbl). B) The wrap was not picked up. C) the wrap was picked up and knitted together (k2tog)

My preference is the look of turning point A, where the excess yarn from the wrap is mostly hidden on the wrong side of the work. Here is how I like to pick up the wrap:

How to pick up the wrap when you knit across a wrap and turn
1) Recognize the wrapped stitch. 2) Pick up the wrap with the tip of the right-hand needle. 3) Place the wrap on the left-hand needle, creating an extra stitch. 4) Knit the 2 stitches together through the back of the loop.

You recognize the wrap, pick it up, and place it on the left needle, and then you knit the wrap and the stitch together through the back of the loop k2tog tbl. If you are unfamiliar with knitting through the back of the loop, take a look at my tutorial about knitting twisted stitches which covers both knitting through the back of the loop and purling through the back of the loop.

The alternative approach is to knit the wrap and the stitch together the regular way k2tog. A lot of people do it this way, and it’s completely up to you what you prefer. Turning point C in the photo above shows what it looks like.

How to pick up wraps from the wrong side

It is a little different to pick up wraps when you are knitting across them on the wrong side of the work. First of all, they are more difficult to spot. If you are knitting across from a short row to the longer rows on the purl-side of the work, you may miss the wrap entirely, unless you pay attention and keep an eye out for it on the right side of the work. Knit Purl Hunter demonstrates how to pick up the wraps from both sides of the work. Note how when the wraps are picked up from the purl-side, you still grab the leg of the wrap that is showing on the right side of the work. And you purl the 2 stitches together the regular way because that is on the wrong side of the work, which is currently facing you. I am sure that makes no sense, so take a look at the video to see what I mean:

So, the general rules, whether you are picking up wraps on a knit (right) side or purl (wrong) side are:

  • You recognize the wrap on the knit-side
  • You pick up the leg of the wrap on the knit-side
  • You work the two stitches together on the purl-side.

Test your new short row skills!

Having learned the basics, it’s time to try it yourself. Here are the instructions to knit a little swatch with short rows where each short row is shorter than the last.

instructions for a test swatch with short rows
The abbreviations are as follows:
  • CO – cast on
  • k – knit
  • p – purl
  • St. st. – stockinette stitch (knit one row, purl one row)
  • w&t – wrap and turn
  • PU wrap – pick up the wrap as described above for knit-side and purl-side

Let me know in the comments how you do!

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