No, not a short post, but short rows. I think I'll talk a little while today about using short rows in your knitting, both how they are done mechanically, and on a more conceptual level, what they do to and for the structure of your knitting.
Mechanically, short rows are pretty simple. When you see a direction in a pattern that tells you to turn, at any point before you've knit all the stitches on that row, usually that's going to be a short row. To follow this direction, all you do is turn the work around, putting the needle that was in your right hand into your left hand and vice versa. The stitches you just finished working will now be on your left-hand needle, and the stitches you had not worked yet will be on your right-hand needle, and you will follow the next instruction in the pattern, working back over the stitches you had just completed. Generally multiple short rows are worked, with one fewer or one more stitch being worked before the turning point on each row.
Sometimes the direction will not be simply "turn," but "wrap & turn," or some other similar thing. For reasons that I will explain in the next post, short rows leave a gap in the knitting at the point where you turn, unless some action is taken to prevent such a gap from forming. A wrap is one such action, and probably the most common one. We'll talk about that more next time; for now, just understand that that's what the wrapping is for.
Conceptually, what are short rows doing? Well, although they're called "short rows" for the way you stop short of knitting all the stitches on a row, they could also be called "long columns" for what they actually do. Knitted fabric could be thought of as a matrix, with stitches forming not only horizontal rows, but also vertical columns of one stitch stacked atop another. When you do short rows, some columns of stitches remain at one length, while the columns next to them receive extra rows of length since they're knitted additional times.
Let's have some ASCII art! We'll use Xs to represent stitches, and dashes as a placeholder in the columns that aren't getting longer because the rows have stopped short of them. So, when you do short rows, you get something like this:
The 2nd stitch in row 11, for instance, is attached to the 2nd stitch in row 4, the 3rd stitch in row 9 to the 3rd stitch in row 6, and so on.
The effect of this depends on the placement of the short-rowed section. If it is placed on the edge of a piece of knitted fabric, so that the longer columns can be longer, then it causes a curved edge, which can be used to make a nice curve on the bottom edge of a garment, to add additional height at the back of a neckline, or to slope shoulders gently. If it is placed in the middle of a section of fabric, so that the fabric above and below restrains the longer columns and does not allow them to take up more vertical space than the shorter columns, then the longer columns will bulge outward, which can be used to provide space for a heel in a sock, to provide additional bust room in a sweater or other garment (equivalent to horizontal darts), or more exotic shaping for things such as stuffed toys.
Once you understand that what short rows provide is length, it becomes easier to see how to use them. You calculate the amount of additional length you need, and combined with your row gauge, that gives you the number of additional rows you need.
Next time, we'll discuss why short rows cause gaps, and the various methods for addressing that issue.