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Adding Short Rows to Flax

September 24, 2020
Woman in a hand knit sweater.

This tutorial is designed to be used alongside the free Flax sweater and free Flax Light sweater patterns. These and 10 other free patterns make up The Simple Collection – our free learn-to-knit series featuring classic designs supported by in-depth tutorials.

These and other free patterns are part of The Simple Collection – our free learn-to-knit series featuring classic designs supported by in-depth tutorials.

Note: This tutorial includes excerpts from the Flax pattern. If you’re following the Flax Light pattern, all the techniques described below will apply, but the numbers will be different.

Want to start at the beginning?

If this is your very first sweater, congratulations! Our full Flax tutorial is a great place to start. The tutorial includes detailed instructions for each step of the sweater.

Let’s talk short rows

So many questions… What are short rows? Why should I add them to my Flax sweater? How are they knit? Don’t worry – we’ve got answers! The detailed instructions and pictures explaining how to work short rows are below, but if you just want the quick version, you can download the PDF here:

We considered including these instructions within the Flax pattern itself – both when we first published it back in 2013 and now, seven years later. But we decided that the Flax is easier to follow as a first sweater pattern without the complication of short-row shaping. So we created this tutorial as a supplement for those who are ready to learn the technique and knit a garment with a bit more subtle shaping.

What are short rows?

Short rows are rows that don’t go all the way to the end of the round or row; they stop short. Working a series of these short rows creates a wedge of fabric. Here, this extra wedge of fabric is located at the back of the sweater, meaning there is a little more fabric in the back yoke. The result is that the back neck of the sweater sits higher than the front. See below for examples.

Why should I add short rows to my Flax or Flax Light sweater?

Of course, short rows are totally optional! Working the pattern without short rows is simpler to knit, and it makes the back and front the same – so there’s no wondering if you’ve put your sweater on backwards. The benefit of adding short rows is that it gives your sweater a slightly better fit by raising the back of the neck to be a bit higher than the front. Here are some examples that show the difference. Emily is wearing her Flax sweater without short rows, while Francine is wearing hers with short rows.

A woman in a hand knit sweater.
Emily’s sweater is worn without short rows.
A woman in a hand knit sweater.
The back neck of Francine’s sweater is slightly higher than the front.

A note on kids’ sweaters: Though we have included instructions for baby sweaters and smaller child sizes (the under six crew), we recommend skipping the short-row shaping to keep the sweater reversible – that way you don’t have to worry about front and back when popping it over small heads. Plus, if they stain the front, you can just make it the back. Let’s be practical!

4 children of various ages wearing matching hand knit sweaters.
Knitting for kids? We suggest skipping short-row shaping for the under six crew.

Where do the short rows go?

For the Flax and Flax Light sweaters, short rows are worked at the bottom of the yoke, just before splitting for body and sleeves. At his point, all of the raglan increases have been completed, and you will have worked even until the yoke has reached full depth. You will have just completed a round 2.

An illustration of a knit sweater yoke from above.

For this tutorial, we use German short rows, our favourite method. However, others will work just fine, so feel free to substitute your favourite short-row method instead.

Let’s get started!

Placing the centre back (CB) marker

Short rows are designed to create a wedge of fabric at the back of the sweater, so they will be worked symmetrically around the centre back of the sweater. To simplify things, the first step is to place a marker at the centre back of the sweater. To start, the beginning of the round (BOR) marker should be located at the back right shoulder. Once you have placed the CB marker, your short rows will be worked symmetrically around it.

Note: some sizes have an odd number of back stitches (sts) at this point in the yoke, so the CB marker will come before that centre back stitch. Other sizes will have an even number of sts, so the CB marker will come between the two centre back sts. We have accounted for this in the instructions.

Placing the CB marker: [knit to marker, SM] 3 times, k18 (20, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 31, 33, 35, 37, 40, 44, 49, 52, 56, 59, 62, 66), place CB marker.

You should now have two markers in your work: the CB marker and the BOR marker. From this point forward, you will ignore the BOR marker, slipping it when you come to it as you work the short rows.

Let’s work those short rows!

You now have two markers in your work, and you are starting from the centre back of the sweater.

Picture of a knit yoke from above, showing the 2 markers.
This is a picture of the yoke from above before starting the short rows. The blue marker is the BOR marker, and the yellow marker is the CB marker. Working yarn is at the CB marker.

Short row 1, right side (RS)

k24 (27, 28, 29, 32, 35, 39, 43, 47, 50, 53, 57, 64, 70, 76, 81, 88, 91, 95), turn work.

Close up showing the sweater yoke with 2 markers.
Here I have knit to the stitch indicated in the pattern. I have slipped the BOR marker as I came to it, and I am ready to turn my work.

Short row 2, wrong side (WS)

With yarn in front (on the WS of the work), slip the first st from the left hand (LH) needle to the right hand (RH) needle purlwise (the last st worked). Next, pull the working yarn over the RH needle to the back of the work, then slip it between the needle tips to the front of the work, ready to purl. This distorts the stitch and makes it appear as two loops over the needle. This stitch is referred to as the doubled stitch.

Close up of knitting needles with the wrong side of the work facing, yarn is at the front of the work on the left hand side.
The WS of the work is facing, and my working yarn is at the front (WS) of the work coming from the LH needle.
Close up of knitting needles with a stitch on the right hand needle with working yarn coming from it.
I have slipped the stitch from the LH needle to the RH needle purlwise.
Image showing the doubled stitch on the right hand needle and the working yarn at the front of the work.
I have moved my yarn over top of the RH needle back around to the front of the work ready to purl. On the RH needle, it appears that there are two loops over the needle.

Next: Purl to CB, SM, p24 (27, 28, 29, 32, 34, 38, 43, 46, 49, 52, 57, 63, 70, 75, 81, 87, 90, 95), turn work.

Recognizing the turned or doubled stitch

The doubled stitch appears as two loops over the needle.

Image of the sweater with the doubled stitch. There is an arrow pointing to the stitch and the words 'the doubled stitch'

Short Row 3, (RS)

Bring the yarn to the front of the work between the needles. Slip the stitch from the left needle to the right needle purlwise. Next, pull the working yarn over the RH needle to the back of the work. Again, this distorts the stitches and makes it appear as two loops over the needle. Knit to CB, SM, knit to 5 sts before doubled st, turn work.

Close up of knitting with right side facing the yarn is coming from the left hand needle and at the front of the work.
I have purled to the designated stitch and turned my work, so the RS is facing. My yarn has moved between the needles to be at the front (RS) of the work.
Close up of knitting with the working yarn at the front of the work to the right of the first stitch on the right hand needle.
I have slipped the stitch from the LH needle to the RH needle purlwise.
Close up of the doubled stitch.
I have moved my yarn over top of the RH needle, distorting the stitch and making it appear as two loops over the needle.

And that’s it! Short row 4 is just like short row 2. You will repeat short rows 3-4 as indicated for your size.

Picking up short rows

Once all of your short rows have been worked, you will have a number of doubled stitches. To resolve those doubled stitches, you will knit to the CB marker and then to the BOR marker. As you come to a doubled stitch, knit the two loops of the doubled stitches together as one stitch.

Close up of the doubled stitch. It is the first stitch on the left hand needle.
I have knit up to the doubled stitch. Here you can see that the doubled stitch is on the LH needle.
Close up of a knit 2 together. The right hand needle is through the 2 loops on the left hand needle.
To resolve the doubled stitch, I insert my needle through both loops in order to knit them together.
Close up of knitting with the knit 2 together on the right hand needle.
The first stitch on the RH needle is the turned stitch resolved.

An alternative method for resolving the doubled stitches

Another technique for resolving (or closing) the short-row purl-to-knit side turns (the second set of doubled stitches you will arrive at), when working from the RS (in the round) is as follows: 

  1. Knit to one stitch before the doubled stitch and stop. 
  2. Slip that last stitch, knitwise, onto the RH needle tip.
  3. From the doubled stitch, using the RH needle tip, slip the extra loop you made over the needle onto the RH needle, without dropping the stitch itself (it remains on the LH needle tip). 
  4. Insert the LH needle tip into the fronts of the two slipped stitches that are now on the RH needle, and knit these two loops together (the same as when you work a SSK).

Emily prefers this method when closing the short-row purl-to-knit side turns because it’s quite effective at closing any gaps and hiding the turn once the fabric is blocked.

Short rows complete

Once you have resolved all of your doubled stitches, you will be back at the BOR marker, and you will be ready to work the yoke separation round.

View from above of a sweater yoke pinned to a blocking board. There is a distinct wedge of fabric at the back of the sweater where the short rows were worked.
In this view of the yoke from above, you can see how there is an extra wedge of fabric at the back (the bottom of the image) after the short rows have been added.

Give yourself a pat on the back, the hard part is over! Time to work the body and sleeves and enjoy your new sweater. We love to see your knits so be sure to tag us on Instagram with #TinCanKnits and #FlaxSweater or #FlaxLightSweater.

A woman in a hand knit sweater.

How did it go?

Was this your first experience adding short rows to a sweater? First time with short rows? Let us know how you did in the comments!

Looking for more tutorials and new techniques?

Here at Tin Can Knits, we are passionate about learning new things. For more tips and techniques, as well as project tutorials, check out our help page here, and sign up for our email updates to learn when we publish new tutorials and patterns.


40 Comments leave one →
  1. Caroline permalink
    November 6, 2021 7:08 am

    Just an FYI, you forgot to bold one of the numbers (43) in the Short Row 2 steps. This almost messed me up because I always look for the third bolded number. I went to purl 52, but was confused as to why the short rows would be going into the garter panel. I double checked and realized 43 should have been bolded, so I only needed to purl 49 instead of 52. The PDF pattern is accurate; it’s just a mistake in this blog.

  2. Elizabeth Cottrell permalink
    September 12, 2021 2:21 pm

    I’m not clear on RS 3- to get to the CB, you need to knit all the way around the sweater. If you do that 5 times total while working rows 3 and 4, you add more than 2 rounds. What am I doing wrong? Thanks.

    • September 13, 2021 5:18 am

      Hello. In Short row 3 (RS), you have the Right Side of the work (RS) facing you, and you’re knitting. At the end of the previous short row (short row 2), you turned the work. So you will be working back from the right shoulder (ish) toward the centre back marker, which is in the middle of the back. Then, when you get to centre back (CB), you slip the marker, and knit past this, to 5 or 7 sts before the ‘doubled stitch’, and then you turn around. So you stop and turn before you go all the way round the sweater.

      • Elizabeth Cottrell permalink
        September 14, 2021 4:57 pm

        Thank you very much!

  3. Lori Thompson permalink
    August 24, 2021 5:36 am

    Thank you for these beautiful instructions! I appreciate the time you took to show all the steps clearly while working the sweater.

  4. Nina permalink
    June 17, 2021 5:51 am

    May I ask why you chose to work short rows that start longer and become shorter? I have only ever seen short rows in sweaters that start shorter and become longer…


    • June 17, 2021 11:30 am

      Hi Nina – It depends on what you are working on, sometimes it’s better the other way

    • Brandi permalink
      January 1, 2022 11:53 am

      I watched a podcast by someone on YouTube and she explained it can be done either way, but like you said this way is less common but usually there isn’t a specific reason just preference.. be nice if she answers and maybe she has a reason!

  5. Leanne permalink
    April 27, 2021 4:11 am

    Hi, I have knitted this once it’s size 6-8 brilliant! First time I have knitted a top down. So now I’m attempting the short rows on a size 4-6, my questions are:
    1. The round you place the center back marker in, do you then finish that round? So short row 1 starts at the BOR?
    2. Do the short rows go into the sleeves right up to the knit panel?
    Thank you.

    • April 28, 2021 9:25 am

      Hi Leanne – Nope, you don’t need to finish that round, and yep, they do go onto the sleeves!

  6. Françoise Bouvier permalink
    April 7, 2021 8:13 am

    Hi! I would like to know why we do the ribbing at the end when we do the short rows version.
    Thank you

    • April 7, 2021 9:56 am

      Hi Francoise – You don’t need to do the ribbing at the end if you do the short row version. Either method is fine.

  7. Julie permalink
    March 18, 2021 7:34 am

    You guys are so great! So, I always add short rows to my round sweaters, but the back neck still feels too low. Can you add more than six sets of short rows, or does the sweater start to get wonky? Do you have any other collar recommendations for those of us with cold necks?

    • March 21, 2021 1:03 pm

      Yep! You can definitely add more. You probably want to move them a couple of stitches closer together, and also make the first 2 a bit longer.

  8. February 1, 2021 8:47 am

    I realized that a baby sweater is a fantastic way to use up some of my miles of sock yarn leftovers. Just did my first, and I might be hooked because there are so many possible color combos….kinda like a very rewarding swatch!

    I am not great at it yet but here goes!

  9. Liz Alpert permalink
    January 31, 2021 6:18 am

    Thanks so much for the instructions for the flax sweater! I knit it for my 3 year old granddaughter, putting in horizontal stripes from the top to the arm/body connection, then 6 llamas around the body. How can I do patterns, stripes and such with the wedge located where it is. Could it be higher up next to the neck ribbing?

    • January 31, 2021 10:46 pm

      Hi Liz – Your granddaughter’s sweater sounds cute!

      If you want, you could make a wedge of short rows higher up, near the neckline of the sweater, but it’s a bit more complex, as you probably would want to span across the raglan increase lines. That’s why, for this design, we located short rows where we did, at the bottom of the yoke. But if you are ambitious, perhaps you could ‘wing it’ or figure out the math for short-rows placed at the top of the yoke.

      However, you can still place patterning before and then again after the wedge of the short rows. Also, short rows are not in any way required, they simply improve the fit slightly.

  10. Joe permalink
    January 30, 2021 7:28 am

    When you talk about the method for resolving German short rows without holes, I Am a little confused. Is it only half of the double stitches that create holes that you would need to use Emily’s method, and the other half doesn’t create holes so you just knit the loop together with the stitch?

    • January 31, 2021 10:47 pm

      Hi (this is Emily). I find that the first set of stitches to be resolved are easy to close up with a k2tog stitch which looks nice and tidy. It’s the second set of stitches to be resolved that are a little trickier, and for which I use my second method described in the post.

  11. Judith Labrin permalink
    January 27, 2021 12:27 pm

    Im working on the flax light and placing the CB. I don’t understand (knit to marker, SM) 3 times. Knit to which marker?
    k 52 place CB marker (52 for my size) What do i knit 3 times? Completely lost. Thank you for your help.

  12. Anna permalink
    January 7, 2021 10:45 am

    Thank you for this pattern, I’m really enjoying knitting it. I have a question about setting up the CB stitch marker and resolving the doubled stitches at the end:

    1) It sounds like to place the CB we knit most of a Round 1(from the main pattern)?
    2) To resolve the stitches at the end (and to make sure the garter panel is set up correctly for the sleeves) we knit a Round 2?
    3) Will this not make the yoke longer than we want it to be?

    • January 8, 2021 12:22 pm

      Hi Anna – you have it just right! The short rows do add 2 rounds, but the yoke shouldn’t be too long.

  13. Dee permalink
    December 22, 2020 3:42 am

    Sorry, I read the instructions wrong! No need to answer my last question. I should have knitted the yoke completely before doing the short rows.

  14. Dee permalink
    December 22, 2020 3:22 am

    After completing the short rows, and moving back to the pattern, where do I measure the yoke from before separating the sleeves? Centre front?

    Thanks for the brilliant pattern, I’ve knitted three and am just attempting my 4th but this one has short rows :)

  15. sierrakiloecho permalink
    November 13, 2020 10:06 am

    Ditto the gratitude for sharing these tutorials so generously! I have a question about the very last step to resolve the doubled stitches. Where it says “knit to BOR, purling the garter panels and knitting the 2 loops of the doubled sts together as one stitch” – but the first time I get to the BOR marker I will have only resolved a few of the doubled stitches and wouldn’t have passed the garter panels. I’m assuming this means I need to knit another full round past the BOR marker, i.e. adding a new row to the front of the sweater as well, in order to fully resolve all the doubled stitches, is that right? Thank you!

    • November 13, 2020 10:21 am

      Hi – If you haven’t resolved all of the doubled stitches work one more round, keeping the garter panel in tact.

      • sierrakiloecho permalink
        November 13, 2020 10:27 am

        Awesome, thank you so much for the speedy response!

  16. Vicki permalink
    November 2, 2020 11:30 pm

    Hello! Thank you for giving so much so freely :) I am knitting my first ever sweater and I would not have dared without you! Can I please ask about the stitch count for Short Row 1 in size S/M? In the PDF the third bold number is 50, but here on the blog its 53. I can’t seem to wrap my ahead around that bit! Many thanks, Vicki

  17. Elizabeth Kushner permalink
    October 8, 2020 3:53 pm

    After working short rows 3+4, it says to repeat short rows 3+4 5 more times for size m/l. Does the 5 times include the first time short rows 3+4 were worked so it would be 6 times total or does the 5 include the first time? Thanks!

    • October 12, 2020 1:48 am

      The pattern states to work rows 3-4 a total of 5 times, so you will have already worked rows 3-4 once, and you will need to work them 4 more times.

      • Nicole L permalink
        February 4, 2021 9:57 pm

        The PDF says to work them a *total* of 5 times though?

      • February 4, 2021 11:58 pm

        Hi Nicole – You’re right, it does say total, I’ve fixed the above answer. Thanks!

      • Nicole L permalink
        February 5, 2021 12:46 am

        Thanks Alexa!

  18. barbstuppyahoocom permalink
    October 4, 2020 12:13 pm

    Hi! I cannot seem to find the instruction that indicates how many times to repeat short rows 3&4 for my size? Also my short row 4 is not the same as short row 2? Any help you can give would be very appreciated! :)

    • October 4, 2020 11:31 pm

      First, you’ll find this instruction below the description of Short Row 4.

      Work short rows 3-4 a total of 1 (1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6) times.

      Second, short row 4 is similar to short row 2 in that it’s worked with the WS of the work facing. But after working the turn, you work to 5 sts before the ‘doubled’ stitch, and that’s where you turn once more.

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