Monday, January 23, 2012

Sweater shoulders: transform stair steps to short rows and radically improve shoulder shaping

4 illustrations, click any illustration to enlarge
Sometimes, a sweater pattern will have you cast off your sweater shoulders in "stair steps."  For a sweater worked in stockinette stitch, the directions might look something like this:
  • 16 sts on needle.  Purl to outer edge of shoulder.  Turn work. Knit side facing
  • Using ordinary chain bind off, bind off 5 sts.  Knit remaining 11 sts.  Turn work.
  • Purl 11 sts.  Turn work
  • Bind off 5 sts. Knit remaining 6 sts. Turn work.
  • Purl 6 sts.  Turn work.
  • Bind off remaining 6 stitches.  Shoulder bind off completed. 

In real life, these directions are going to get you the fabric illustrated below, with the bind off shown in DARK GREEN. 

Stair-step shoulders (bind off in dark green)

As you can see, this method of bind off creates "stair steps" at the top of the shoulder.  When you come to connect the shoulders to one another at the sweater top, this jagged fabric is difficult to sew up nicely.

How about if we use short rows instead?  Instead of that jagged edge, we'll make a lovely smooth shoulder top--a top which will be a pleasure to sew up when the time comes.

Before we begin, if you're a little rusty on short rows, you might wish to consider reviewing these illustrated posts:
The particular kind of short rows we are going to use for the shoulders are a mash up of ordinary wrap-and-turn short rows and Japanese short rows--we'll steal the wrapping and turning from the former and the slip stitching from the latter.

If all this sounds WAY complicated, hang on!!  This really is far easier than it sounds so far, I promise!   Even if short rows seem scary, it'll all come clear when we take this step by step. (You might even want to cast on a 16 st swatch and follow along.)
  • Step 1. 16 sts on needle.  Knit to within 5 sts of outer edge of shoulder.   You will now have 5 sts on your left needle and 11 on your right. 
  • Step 2. slip the stitch on the tip of the left needle (shown in PURPLE below) onto right needle.  (Slip this and all other slipped stitches "purlwise," which means slip the stitch from one needle to the other without changing the stitch mount--the RIGHT arm of the stitch should remain the forward arm.) Draw running yarn forward, slip purple st back onto left needle, draw running yarn to back again.  The running yarn has been turned into a "wrap" around the purple stitch.  The wrap is shown in RED, below.   Continuing to hold the running yarn in the back, slip the st on the tip of the right needle (shown in ORANGE, below) to the tip of the left needle.  You now have 6 sts on the left needle, and 10 sts on the right needle, as shown below.

Wrap the purple stitch with the red running yarn as described
above and then slip the orange stitch

Here is a closeup of the wrap and slip detail.

Close up

  • Turn work, purl the remaining 10 sts.
  • Turn work again and knit 6 sts.  
  • Repeat step 2, except that when you finish wrapping the purple st and slipping the orange stitch, this time, you will have 11 sts on the left needle and 5 on the right.
  • Turn work and purl these 5 stitches.
  • You will now have all 16 sts on one needle and you'll end up on the neck edge of the shoulder.
  • You will now knit across the entire shoulder top from neck edge to outside edge, all 16 sts, as shown by the DARK GREEN stitches below.  As you come to each wrap, fish around with your needles and "unwrap" the red wrap from around the neck of the purple stitch, placing the wrap on the tip of the left needle.  Then, k2tog the red wrap together with the purple st.  The TURQUOISE stitches along the top row in the below illustration  show where these two were knit together.  

In real life, these directions would get you the fabric below.  If you compare the final row (DARK GREEN) to the bind off in the first illustration above, you can see that the short row method yields a single smooth descent along the shoulder line: the jagged steps have been eliminated. 

Stair steps eliminated via short rows

You can now attach this shoulder to its mate by a three needle bind off, or you could bind it off via ordinary chain bind off on the next row, then sew the shoulders shut.  

PS:  Geek note:  If you intend to bind off anyway, you could just as well bind off the DARK GREEN stitches the last row.  In other words, that last row could have been worked as an ordinary chain bind off as it was made, instead of working this row and then working the bind off on the following row.

Good knitting, TK


Tiddy and Charlie. said...

What a great idea! This will be even more useful when I make thicker yarn shoulders, as they always come out mega steppy! Thanks :o) c x

Allison said...

Great tutorial! I always love the magic of short rows!

Angeluna said...

I love this method, which I learned a while back but somewhat forgot. Your illustrations are excellent as always. Thank you.

Jen said...

Can you explain why you slipped the stitch after the wrap? What does that do versus a "regular" (in the US) short row?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Jen--the slip is just another little refinement to smooth out the stair steps. You need not do it, and the results will be very nearly the same if you knit that yellow st rather than slip it.

azteclady said...

Thank you so much!

I love how you explain things. It's not necessarily that they are difficult of overly complicated, but my brain gets it better when you explain it than when reading what most other knitters write.

Musclemom said...

Thank you for the clear explanation. I find short rows are often explained in an unnecessarily confusing way. Plus, the comparison of normal shoulder shaping vs. short rows makes it easy to understand where you wrap and turn when you want to adapt a stair steps cast off to a short row cast off.

Samina said...

Thanks so much for this. While I understand short rows & can do them, the thought of using them for shoulder shaping always throws me off. I'm going to pick out the bindoff on sweater back I just finished & follow your tutorial step by step.

Sarah JS said...

Oh, I do love short row shoulder shaping. I normally do a three needle bind off after -- I feel it makes a nice strong (non-elastic) seam.

Thanks as always.

JustMe said...

This is really great blog. I have found here I think everything I needed and much more. The illustrations are amazing - this is a wonderful thing.
Are the illustrations generated in some program - or is this your hand work?
Best regards

TECHknitter said...

Hi Justme. The illustrations are drawn by hand using the graphics program "Adobe Illustrator." It is a vector drawing program--very powerful. I'm glad you are enjoying the illustrations! Best regards, TK

Evelyn said...

Darn it! I just bound off the shoulder of my vest last night, the old-fashioned way! I wish I had looked here first!

JustMe said...

Hi TK,
In that case you put a lot of work in the illustrations, not mention of the rest of work.
I do reverence to you! It is really great job what you do on the blog.
Best Regards!

Beverly said...

This is definitely my preferred method of shaping shoulders. Even when they are only 12 sts wide, I include short rows to give that nice sloped line. Great illustrations, as always!

Kenj said...

Thank you! I'm so disappointed with my most recent sweater's shoulders, and I think I'll take the time to pull them out and re-work them this way.

Anonymous said...

What a great pictures do you have! when you see it, it is very clear.
I did this the same way for the swatch from the TKGA. They (TKGA) prefer handsewing(...) which I don't like: too thick. I did it exactly the same way as you described!

Sally said...

I just sewed together my "stair-stepped" Central Park Hoodie shoulders, but I sat pondering how I was going to get jagged edges into a smooth line for two days before I tackled it. I think I will try this on my second one. My other option was to eliminate the shaping altogether, but this would work better. Thank you!

WS said...

Great idea!

I also love EZ's method of knitting the first two stitches (the previous step and the next step) together during a stepped bind-off. It also creates a much smoother edge, which I use all the time, and to my simple mind, is a nice, easy fix.

Perhaps you could do a tutorial on that one day?

Carolyn in California said...

I would love to see an illustration of how the stitches sit after "unwrapping" the red stitch and putting it on the needle. Do you really take it off the purple stitch altogether, or do you just stretch it and set it on the needle? Thanks! :)

TECHknitter said...

Hi Carolyn--i'm thinking that when you try this for yourself, you will see that there is, in practical fact, not a lot of difference between stretching it out and actually lifting it over. This is because, whichever way you do it, the unwrap is placed next to the purple st and they are knitted together with the turquoise st. However far apart they were sitting on the L needle will not end up mattering once they are k2tog'ed. The only important thing is to to get the unwrapped loop to be an independent loop before the k2tog, however you want to conceptualize that process. Write again if still unsure, OK?

Thanks for writing, best regards, TK

Elizabeth said...

Techknitter, what are your thoughts on German short rows? I find them so much easier to do than the wrap and turn method with really nice results.

maja said...

Sorry for maybe a stupid question, but could you also eplain how this works on the reverse i.e. the mirror side?

ringadal said...

What a great blog! I just found you last night as I was double checking how to add length to sleeves on a sweater for my daughter. It is one I knit years ago for my son, who didn't wear it, my daughter wears it and loves it, but the sleeves are now 3/4 sleeves and we want long. Found your info, looked around your blog and was really impressed. Thanks,

Me said...

Love this method
I need to bind off shoulders on back of sweater
Wish you could explain in detail
cast off 12 twice on each side
I don't want stairs and I've been looking for a method and I think this would be great if i could figure it out

Thanks for all your instructions


tamdoll said...

Brilliant. Thanks for this how-to. Just finished a baby sweater and implemented short rows instead of the jagged decreases. I think the neckline looks better because of it.

Anonymous said...

Maja asked, "what about the reverse side"? I too would like to know. Do you wrap and turn on the purl side? Thanks for your brilliant work.

helpusall said...

If I have bound off a sweater already can I undo it and work the short rows. I have 21 stitches can I just make the adjustments for short rows with the Number of bind off? Thanks

TECHknitter said...

Hi HUA: Yes, you can undo the bind-off, pull all the shoulder shaping out and re-knit the shoulder, using short rows. The stitch count should not change, so you will have the same number at the end of the process as you started with. Good luck, TK

newby knitter said...

What about the back piece of a sweater with two shoulders connected to a straight high neckline, like a pyramid with a plateau? Or like the top of a sleeve? How do I knit one shoulder then purl the other shoulder on the same row? Please help, I'm a newby at knitting.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Newby: On a sweater back, the short rows are offset by one row across the back. In other words, if the back was, lets say, 27 sts wide, and you wanted to lose 9 sts across each shoulder, in 3 groups of three. row 1: knit 4, wrap, turn,row 2: purl 21, wrap turn, row 3: knit 18, w,t, row 4: purl 15, w,t, and so on until you've gotten rid of 9 sts each shoulder and 9 sts remain for the neck. Last row: work your way ALL THE WAY DOWN to the original edge, over the top of all the short rows, unwrapping your wraps if that's what you choose to do, then turn at the edge and work all the way across the entire 27 sts, binding off as you go, and unwrapping the sts on the other shoulder, if that's what you did on the first shoulder. Hope you will find this example useful, TK

TECHknitter said...

Newby: there's a typo: it should read: knit 24, not "knit 4!!" for row 1. --TK

Anonymous said...

salithi meansHi,

Two posters asked about how you work the mirror side, and I'm another.

I did a swatch and noticed the" turquoise" stitch ended up a bit more prominent than the others, but it seemed be so in the illustration too, so is that right?
The result is certainly superior to the "stairs".

TECHknitter said...

Hi Anon--you can mirror this by working the identical shaping from the back OR add a row and work the shaping the same (from the front) but starting from the right side of the fabric, rather than from the left. Best, TK

Rose Glidden said...

Hi TK,
I removed my original comment with the question's that confused you and I can understand why they did confuse you. I am not a novice knitter but not so familiar with short rows but have learned a lot from you blog. I will check out Ravelry as you suggested. Thank you again for great instruction's illustrations and this entire helpful blog. Rose Glidden

Anonymous said...

Dear TechKnitter, would you go over how short rows can be used in shaping the crotch of pants? My pattern calls for bind off 3 stitches next 2 rows, then bind off 1 stitch next 4 rows, then continue knitting for 5" (these are 6 month size elastic pants.) I appreciate your help. Sidney D.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Anon--let's start with the easiest first. Where ever instructions have you bind off one stitch, simply work a k2tog ONE STICH or TWO STITCHES IN from the right leaning edge, or equivalent left-facing decrease ONE or TWO stitches IN from the left facing edge (SYTK, SSK, whatever). Work the decrease LOOSELY, so the edge doesn't pucker. This gives you the same pleasant-looking matching decrease lines as you will find in the matching decrease lines along the shoulder of a bottom-up raglan sweater.

As far as bind off three, you would bind off according to the directions in post, following the geek note (bind off right away on the next round, rather than at the end.)