FF: Why you (probably) don’t need short rows

(I realized that I hadn’t set an end time to the little contest I’m running. All comments entered before 9am on Sunday, July 14, will be considered and the winning yarn chosen then.)

Hi, all! This week on Fashion Friday, we’re talking about the bust line. And why the chances are good that you don’t actually need short row darts. First, an illustration of what happens when a busty woman puts on a sweater sized properly for her shoulders:


When you stretch knit fabric width-wise, it shrinks lengthwise. And when someone busty wears a sweater properly sized for her shoulders, there isn’t quite enough fabric to fully cover the bust (sometimes by a long shot). That’s okaaaaay, kind of, because knit fabric stretches beautifully. But stretching the fabric width-wise (over the bust) shrinks it length-wise.

Producing the lovely little rounded scoop over your stomach, here:


Super awesome, right? (NOT.)

The standard bust dart solution is to use short rows just under the apex of the bust to create an even hem on the bottom.

In most cases, I think this is the wrong choice. Let me explain.

Short rows are, fundamentally, a length solution: They add length to one part of a sweater.
But busts are typically width problems: The bust is wider than the rest of the woman.

Short rows will cause the hem to lay even, but the bust is still stretching the sweater all out of whack in the bust. If you’re using fabric with some drape to it, you’ll see through the fabric of the sweater because it’s stretching so much. (You can kind of see it in the blue sweater, above.)

A width solution, matching the width problem, is to add extra stitches to the front of the sweater, from the waist leading up to the bust, until the sweater’s front has sufficient width to cover the wearer’s bust. I call these vertical darts.

  • They’re easier to work than short rows: If you’re already working waist shaping on princess seam lines, you simply work additional increase rows on the front fo the sweater.
  • They’re less visible than short rows: For most people anyway, increases are naturally more discreet than wraps, and more importantly their placement is less eye-catching since it is further away from the fullest point of the bust.
  • They produce a more natural look: The fabric of the sweater is suddenly shaped like your body. Full stop. End of story. Rather than “Okay, well, you’re going to stretch it out, but that’s okay, because I’m going to add length so that when you stretch it out the bottom of the sweater is fine.” For a width problem, short rows are basically a kluge!

The extra stitches at the bust must be removed closer to the top of the shoulder. In most cases I prefer removing them in the neckline, but I know many women who have had success removing them the same way they added–decreases going up to the shoulder line. It’s your choice.

This kind of bust dart is beautiful. It completely eliminates the stretching problem:



It does produce something of a blocking challenge–you’re blocking 3-d fabric, so you’ll need to put some paper towels under there to hold up the fabric! But the results are well worth it. A sweater that fits, because the fabric is shaped like you.

Nothin’ better.


(Oh, and J. says “hi” too!)

Now, the title of this past was why you “probably” didn’t need short rows. For some women, there actually is a length issue. I find that knitwear can easily cover a 2” difference in length with no modification. But if your front length (distance from shoulder to hem) is more than 2” different than your back length, you might consider a short row dart. I do occasionally see this body in class, but nowhere near as frequently as I see a straight-up busty figure. (For reference, I have no length difference, because my bum and my bust cancel each other out, length-wise.)

Happy Friday! And I’ll see you on Sunday for the results of the contest–and maybe a new design!

34 thoughts on “FF: Why you (probably) don’t need short rows

  1. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m learning so much for these posts — I love it! Happy weekend!

  2. I love all the information you share with. Thanks You! Enjoy the weekend!

  3. brilliant analysis and exactly right. plus the cutest kid on the planet, too!

  4. Translation please! What’s a ‘kluge’??

    1. Oh no, I dipped into computer programmer speak! Sorry about that.

      A “kluge” is a quick-and-dirty workaround. Something that will get the job done, kinda, but sure isn’t pretty.

  5. I’m not considered “busty” but this one and all your posts about fitting are super interesting. I find I’m starting to use my brain more when knitting sweaters and not following the pattern blindly. Thanks!

  6. Brilliant, thanks so much for clearly explaining this. Its one of the questions I’ve had for a while. Have a great weekend.

  7. FWIW, I actually do need both kinds of dart in order to make my sweaters fit properly, for example:
    Or at most extreme http://www.ravelry.com/projects/chialea/dna-cabled-sweater

    My first two sweaters, before I worked out that adding stitches width-wise, as you suggest here, was not sufficient for my shape were fairly comical

    1. Absolutely, Chialea, there are definitely some bodies that need both! Thanks very much for sharing your links.

  8. Thanks for that post! I was pondering whether to put short rows into the front of my Dansez but I’ll just do vertical darts. If it’s too short in the front, I can easily rip out just the front down to the waist without reknitting everything.

  9. So glad to have picked up your Fit to Flatter book. The instructions in it, like the ones here, finally mean great fitting sweaters rather than box-like tents or disappointments to be hidden away in the back of the closet. A heart felt thank you for recognizing and acknowledging everyone’s uniqueness as well as taking the time to share your secrets!

  10. Great!! I have heard you say this in the crafty class, and this helps reinforce the concept. I recently finished Isis, top down summer top and I put some bust darts in for fun. The scoop neck did not allow for alteration to the shoulder width (at least not easily enough for my taste).
    This post is another piece of evidence in favor of knitting in pieces instead of top down. Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Just wanted to chime in and say that I think you can work vertical bust darts regardless of the construction. In a top-down style, you’d cast on (or increase) more stitches for the neckline, and then remove the stitches along waist shaping markers once you’re past the fullest part of your bust.

      (I wouldn’t want to discourage a top-down knitter from trying bust darts this way, I think they work better all around.)

  11. Great post. Love the sweater in the wine color!
    See you tomorrow at the class in Maine!

  12. More lightbulbs. Fascinating. Logical. But I never would have otherwise looked at the problem like that.

  13. This is really helpful. I am seriously busty and finding tops that fit correctly is a nightmare. Anything (off the rack) with woven fabric is never cut big enough and anything knit has to stretch out so much. Even though I’m no longer a teenager I have to fight the urge to slouch in order to hide my chest. I am really looking forward to working your ideas into the sweater I plan to knit. I’ve never done a pullover for myself (always been a cardi kind of girl) but this is actually inspiring.

  14. This makes so much sense! …but it adds a question… If sweaters are sized by the bust measurement, how on earth do you pick the right size for your shoulders?

    1. Lucy, I’m so glad you asked this! I recommend choosing a size by comparing your upper torso or “high bust” measurement to the pattern’s full bust. There are a couple of other considerations, but maybe that should be the next blog post!

  15. The one problem that I have with vertical darts is getting them into the correct position for the increases. If I follow pattern instructions (knit x stitches, start increases…), they’re often in the wrong position for me, which I often can’t tell until the sweater is completed.

    I’ve got to remember to do the calculations to put them in the correct spot for me!

    1. Do you mean that they stretch up over the apex of your bust (and so should be worked closer together), or that they’re located in the wrong vertical line? I’d be happy to try and help!

  16. But don’t short rows also add width? I’ll have to think this through, but my gut feeling is that the line across the bust gets some additional length with short rows. The dart created by short rows is on the diagonal and thus longer than just your stitch gauge, no?

    Now I’m going to have to go home and measure some of my socks (I usually do short row heels)…

    1. I’d be interested to hear what happens with your sock heel. My sweaters with short rows don’t have any extra width–each row has the same number of stitches.

      When laying flat on the bed, their front hem does scoop down below the back hem, though. Does that make sense?

      1. Suppose that the short rows involve X columns of stitches on either side, leaving Y columns in the middle. And that the short rows add Z rows of length. Then the total width of the sweater front before the short rows begin is Y + 2X. However, the total width at the level of the line of wraps will be Y + 2(√(X^2+Y^2)). I think Sara K is right that short rows add width as well as length.

        1. Edit:
          Y + 2(√(X^2+(.5Z)^2))

  17. J. is SO CUTE! He is going to give you a run for your money! 🙂

  18. Fascinating. I regret I’ve always missed your trips to teach in California. I doubt you’ll ever come to Hawaii, but if you do, I’ll be there!

  19. I think your solution would probably work best for me — short-waisted with somewhat disproportionate bust for my fairly small frame. Thanks!

  20. I solve the blocking problem by sticking one of my bras in there. I have a few with just enough foam lining to make them hold their shape on their own. If the sweater is too heavy for the bra on it’s own, then I shove a couple socks in there to hold the bra open.

  21. I’m afraid I disagree here. A bust is a 3-d object, it takes up width AND length. Vertical darts are very good when a generous bust is accompanied by a relatively slim chest, as it ensures that the waist is well defined. Many of us benefit from the opposite however. But more to the point, a bust big enough to require darts also requires extra length, and so horizontal short-rows are necessary for everyone, not just the slim-waisted.

    1. I posted this in Ravelry too, but thanks so much for commenting! I’m going to repeat here:

      I absolutely agree that the bust takes up width and length. Totally, 100%, and without any question at all.

      What I’ve seen, in person in the classes, is that most women (even the busty ones) don’t have much of a length difference from shoulder to hem, front and back (where “don’t have much” translates to under 2”). And you’re definitely right that I’m a firm believer in the flexibility of knit fabric to generally cover up to 2” of bulge/difference/contour. My advice has changed in class to recommend short rows only if you’ve a 2+” difference in shoulder-to-hem length on front and back.

      Not an elimination of short rows, necessarily, but to use them for true length differences rather than just width differences. So I don’t *think* we’re disagreeing, here?

      A true length difference front to back is more likely to come if someone has a larger bust *and* a very flat backside–so the distance from shoulder to hem on front travels over something 3-d, and the distance from shoulder to hem on back does not. Thoughts?

  22. If you look at a sewing pattern, the front is longer than the sides, and the sewn dart makes that even more so, as it takes away length only at the sides. A sweater with short rows ends up looking just like the sewn dart in a woven blouse. You can cover the bust in either direction, by causing the fabric to stick out with short rows or widen with extra stitches. As you work short rows, the bottom stays level and the bust area starts to stick out. Both methods do the same thing. Properly placed short rows **prevent** the stretching, with knitting, same as with flat patterns. Short rows are not a kludge any more than making a dart with increases is a kludge. Actually, they are less of one, as you don’t need to decrease them out, after. Which you use, as always, is knitter’s choice!

  23. To follow up my previous comment, were the argument that short rows add no width accurate, short sock row heels wouldn’t work!

  24. So many sweater patterns include short rows. I neither want them nor need them. How do I eliminate them? Do I just do increases to make stitch count right?

  25. On the other hand, I guess there are women shaped like me. I look sway-backed, but according to chiropracters, I’m not really. (???) But I am at least an inch and a half shorter waisted in the back than in the front. And so clothing usually piles up at my waist in the back. I am thinking of trying short rows — but not ones that add length in the middle, rather ones that subtract length in the middle — to try to alleviate this problem. And I wonder if anyone else has tried this? (I mean I would add short rows on the sides of the back, leaving a few rows out in the middle, making the back of the sweater, at the waist line, shorter than in the front.)

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