My first introduction to short rows was the Fiber Trends "Huggable Hedgehog." I fell in love with the little guy at a fiber festival display table. I had to have it. Small problem: pretty much the entire thing is made up of short rows. But I loved him so much that I took a deep breath and launched right in.
You know what? It wasn't so scary after all. As is almost always the case, in my experience!
A short row is, as you might guess from the name, a row which falls short. You stop before you get to the end of the row, turn around, and knit back the other way. You may have done this by accident - I know that I do it from time to time, out of sheer inattentiveness.
Short rows create a wedge shape in amongst the tidy rows of your knitting. This makes them extremely useful for creating three-dimensional forms, like the round body of a hedgehog, or the diamond shape of a bust dart.
Elizabeth Zimmerman advocated adding some short rows to the upper back of a sweater, to give it more fullness than the front, so that the neckline falls a little bit higher. Short rows are also often used to make a ruffle at the edge of something knit back and forth, like a garter stitch scarf.
There are two ways to make a short row: with and without a wrap. The "wrap and turn" is the most common flavor of short rows, particularly in short row sock heels (which is where many knitters encounter short rows for the first time). Wrap and turn, often abbreviated to "w&t," gives much more stability to the end of the short row.
How To Wrap & Turn
1. Knit the number of stitches called for.
2. Use your right-hand needle to pick the next stitch off the left-hand needle.
3. Move the working yarn over the gap, in the direction you'll be knitting in next. If you're going to start a purl row, move the yarn from front to back. If you're going to start a knit row, then move it from back to front.
4. Pop that stitch back onto the left-hand needle.
5. Turn your work, and start knitting.
As you will see, what you have done is wrapped the working yarn around the stitch after you stopped knitting. It makes more sense when you do it, I promise.
Often once you have finished a series of w&ts, your instructions will have you pick up the wraps and knit them together with the stitches. This is common in short row sock heels. It gives a little more thickness and solidity to that mock seam.
The other kind of short row is simply a turn. You just stop knitting, turn your work, and start knitting again. This creates a gap, so never work this kind of short row when the instructions call for a wrap and turn!
Photo credit: Flickr/shiny red type