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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.

~Alexa

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 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

      Where it says ‘more times’ that means in addition to the first repeat; so it would be 6 times total.

  2. 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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