Thursday, November 10, 2011

A study in Short Rows - Shaping Methods

In this installment, I'm going to discuss the shaping methodology of short rows. The last post covered hole-hiding techniques.

The usual technique of short rowing a heel or toe goes like this:
- you divide your stitches into 3 parts,
- knit shorter and shorter rows, with the edges being progressively left unknit, while the middle section is always knit. You end up knitting a trapezoid, if you like (although it doesn't look like this since the sides are on your needle, too)
- knit progressively longer and longer rows, knitting those sides up again (the middle is again always knit). You knit an upside-down trapezoid, eating up all the wraps/YO's that were made on the previous trapezoid.
[ knit two trapezoids... the sides will be attached so it looks like a toe!]

The result looks like a toe, folded one way, or a heel, folded the other.

[here's what the trapezoids look like: a toe!]

[...but if you fold it the other way, it's heel with the classic diagonal line]

The disadvantage of this basic construction methodology is that on the upside-down trapezoid part, you are actually also doing more short-rowing (although the rows themselves are getting longer), resulting in double-wrapped sts or double YO's, which you have to knit/purl together (as in, k3tog, or the hated p3tog, tbl). This results in an unsightly ridge of loops on the inside. OK, I'm picky, but I don't like this.

Another technique (called a "boomerang heel") is the following:
- divide stitches into 3 parts,
- knit a trapezoid as per the usual method,
- knit a so-called "boomerang" row (or 2), where all the wraps/YO's are dealt with, leaving only normal sts. The boomerang row comes in two varieties:
  1. knit back and forth over all the heel sts, to one end and then back (one knit row, one purl row, so that all the wraps/YO's are finished), or
  2. knit completely around the instep as well, so that the "corner" sts between the heel and instep are dealt with. In this variation, you of course have to continue your instep stitch design.
- now knit an upside-down trapezoid, where each successively larger row immediately "eats" the wrap/YO left from the last turnaround.

I like this technique better. The wraps/YO's are never doubled in this technique, so you'll never be asked to execute a p3tog TBL, which is a good thing, as that lady who went to prison for insider trading used to say. The unsightly ridge inside is also lessened.

The final technique is as follows:
- divide stitches into 3 parts,
- knit a trapezoid as per the usual method,
- knit a boomerang row (or two),
- knit the same trapezoid as you just completed
- knit another boomerang row (or two).

[if the trapezoids face the same way, you will get multiple diagonal lines along the side of the heel]

Again no k3togs here, but in this case the two trapezoids face the same way, so that you are in fact making 2 little "diagonal" lines (not just one), and the heel curve is a lot slower and rounder. Also this construction cannot double as a "toe" because it isn't symmetric (it won't fold in half nicely).

There are clearly many variations possible on this last theme (trapezoid orientation, how long the successive short rows are,...). Cat Bordhi's "sweet tomato heel" is an example of such a variation. If you watch the video you'll see it's just a series of wedges. Her variation has no middle third - the short-rowing extends over the entire heel - and she short rows at a different angle by making the rows shorter, faster. She also shows how to incorporate slipped stitches into the work - easier to do if you make the short rows decrease by two stitches at a time. Cat uses the "dig-n-lift" technique of closing the gap, although, true to her style, she's renamed it and speaks in terms of daughters, mothers, and horses.

Right. Enough background. In coming posts, I'll send y'all some heel recipes. I'll do a mix 'n match so you can get a feeling for combining different hole-hiding techniques with the different construction methods. Oh, and after that, we can discuss how to improve the fit. So stay tuned!


  1. I have a rabbit hole down which I’ve been running and wondered if you have any insight to help me. I increased 20 percent across my 30 stitch heel- so up to 38 to try and get a better fit across the instep. Then I did the boomerang heel and I stacked the sections like the last diagram above. When I got done, there was a terrible extra ‘pouch’ for lack of a better term right in the middle of the heel. I am trying to figure out if it’s because I was doing the short rows over more stitches due to the increase. Have you experienced this? Maybe I need to figure out my row gauge and then the average height of the heel part and use that instead? Or a different ratio for the heel- rather than 3 even sections..... if you have any suggestions I’d be more than happy to hear them!

  2. Hi Wishful, I've not encountered your problem! But I suspect it is not because of the increased sts, but because of the fact that you are stacking 2 indentical trapezoids on top of each other. Try reversing the last trapezoid, like in the first diagram.

    The second diagram (with identical traps) is best done using full-row shortrows (not saving sts in the middle) a la Cat Bordhi Sweet Tomato Heel.