How to knit German Short rows

A step-by-step tutorial showing you everything you need to know about German Short Row knitting.

Your pattern tells you to make a double stitch and you have no clue how to knit it? Maybe you need to do a German Short Row heel or maybe it’s a beautiful shawl in many different colors. I grew up in Bavaria and might be partial but I honestly believe German short rows are super easy and sound more complicated than they really are.

someone holding up a swatch with german short rows with blue and yellow yarn

I hope, in this quick little tutorial I can convince you of the same. At their core, short rows mean nothing else but not finishing your whole row. Instead, you turn around in the middle of the row using a special technique. This can be used to insert blobs of color in the center of your knitting or, when repeated often enough, add extra fabric to accommodate various complex 3-dimensional shapes (like heels when you knit socks toe-up).

a swatch with german short rows laying on a table

In knitting patterns, you often read “make double”, or “make double stitch”, or just “mds”. And whenever you read that and there is no specific technique mentioned, you can use German Short Rows.

Let’s dive right into it!

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Instructions: How to knit German Short Rows

someone holding up a swatch with german short rows with blue and yellow yarn

German Short rows work with any yarn - no matter if you are knitting in the round or flat. It's just a general technique to avoid holes and gaps whenever you turn your work around in the middle of a row and continue in the other direction. Even though I use two colors, you can also knit them with the same yarn.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Instructions

  1. Knit up to the point where you want to place your first double stitch.

    knitting up to the position where you want to place the double stitch
  2. Turn your work around as normal and bring the yarn to the front.

    turning around the work with yarn held in front
  3. Slip the stitch back to the right needle purlwise.

    slipping the stitch back to the right needle purlwise
  4. Pull at the working yarn. Pull it down until you've created what looks like a double stitch.

    pulling down the working yarn until a double stitch is being formed
  5. Continue purling across the rest of the row as normal.

    purl across the rest of the row
  6. Continue knitting across as normal until you come to the double stitch in the next right side row.

    continuing to knit until the double stitch in the next row
  7. Turn around and slip the stitch purlwise with yarn in front as before.

    slipping the stitch with yarn in front
  8. Pull at the working yarn to create another double stitch.

    pulling on the working yarn to create another double stitch adjacent to the first
  9. Repeat steps 5-7 as many times as desired, then stop knitting right in front of a double stitch.

    stopping at the double stitch
  10. This time, continue knitting across the right side of your work without turning around anymore but knit all double stitch together (k2tog). Always knit the two little legs you pulled down together. At the end of the row, you should end up with the same number of stitches you started with.

    knittingg the double stitches together
  11. Continue knitting according to your pattern.
    someone knitting german short rows with yellow yarn

Notes

Please bear in mind that short rows add extra fabric. Your fabric will not lay perfectly flat anymore (unless you counterbalance it with more short rows on the other side, etc). If you just want to use short rows to insert specks of color, intarsia might often be the neater solution (albeit a bit more complicated).

German Short rows on the knit side / purl double stitches

You can also create double stitches purlwise. It’s the exact same process: You slip purlwise with yarn in front and then pull down. This technique will be used when you have to create double stitches on both sides of a project.

Step 1: Turn your work around with yarn in front.

turning the work around with yarn in front to the knitside

Step 2: Slip the next knit stitch purlwise with yarn in front.

slipping the stitch purlwise with yarn in front

Step 3: Pull on the working yarn to create a double stitch and continue knitting.

pulling on the working yarn to create a double stitch

Step 4: Later on, you purl all double stitches together to finish the short rows – except you work on a project in the round. Then you will have to knit them together as well.

purling together the double stitch

Twisted double stitches

a swatch with german short rows knit and purlwise
Left: double stitch created on the purlside | Right: double stitch created on the knitside

Maybe you are like me and you want everything to be as perfect as possible. If you take a close look at your double stitches, then you may notice that the ones you created on the knitside (so where you pulled down when the right side was facing you), appear to be twisted.

You may also notice that your heel has quite big holes on the other side even though everything appeared to look neat at first. In these cases, you may opt to knit your German short rows twisted. Here’s how:

Step 1: Turn your work around as before with yarn in front.

turning the work around with yarn in front for twisted double stitch

Step 2: Slip the stitch knitwise.

slipping the stitch knitwise with yarn in front

Step 3: Pull on the working yarn (in front) to create a double stitch.

pulling on the working yarn (in front) to create a twisted double stitch

Step 4: When it’s time to knit across, you knit all double stitches together through the back loop.

knitting the double stitch together twisted

In a similar way, you could also create twisted purl double stitches if you face problems on the other side. So the only difference is that you slip knitwise instead of purlwise and knit or purl them together through backloop later on.

a swatch with twisted german short row stitches and normal short row stitches
Above: Twisted German short row stitches on both sides | Below: standard double stitches

If you take a close look at the swatch above, you can see the differences. If you employ the standard technique, your stitches will appear to be twisted on the right side. If you use the twisted technique, your double stitches will be twisted on the left side.

Now, there is no right or wrong here but if you want to create a truly balanced fabric, then you would have to slip purlwise whenever you create a double stitch on the purl side and slip knitwise whenever you create a double stitch on the knit side of your project.

But it gets trickier yet! Depending on the use case, you may do it exactly the other way around. Why? Well, any sort of short row technique shapes the fabric, meaning you kind of turn it around in that spot. And if you space your double stitches adjacent to each other, this effect will be very pronounced.

close-up of a german short row heel
A sock heel where I slipped knitwise on the left side

You typically use this effect to turn your heels. Now, this will have a very interesting result: If you follow the logic above, you would need to slip all stitches purlwise on the left side of your heel to create balanced stitches with neat and nice little Vs. But because the heel turn in the other direction, a twisted double stitch (so slipped knitwise) will often look neater.

Essentially I am saying, knit a swatch before you start your project and check which combination you like most! Sounds bothersome but you will only have to do it once and your projects may end up looking so much neater!

Anyway. That’s how to knit German Short Rows. Comment below if you have any questions.

how to knit german short rows - a tutorial for beginners

5 thoughts on “How to knit German Short rows”

  1. Norman, your tutorials have helped me immensely as a beginning knitter (I am 72!) I signed up for a class that is unfortunately not proving to be helpful. I found your YouTube posts, and they have made it possible for me to nearly finish my first shawl-collar cardigan for my husband-whew! It has been a difficult journey, and my UN-knitting probably means I have knit it 3 times. I wish I could meet you and have a cup of tea and knit together. I find you to be helpful, kind and calming in a world that is less so. I hope to sign up for a few months of your Patreon site soon. You deserve great success!

    Reply
  2. Dear Norman, I am 65 and just started teaching myself to knit about 10 years ago. I bought a book to practice and master essential knitting skills. But my knitting encyclopedia merely glossed over teaching short row knitting. I knitted a capelet with wrap and turn method. I was successful, but it was so difficult. I would like to knit another capelet, and in desiring to master short row knitting I turned to the internet and found your tutorials. It helps so much to see well done knitted samples detailing each and every step. It is wonderful to have a very intelligent and talented instructor. I plan to attempt knitting socks after this project. I prefer it to viewing a screen! I hope that many people will explore acquiring hobbies such as knitting. It is creative, and a hobby anyone can engage in their whole life! I thank you kindly and enthusiastically.

    Reply
  3. Hi Norman,
    Thank you for such detailed tutorials, they are most helpful. I am still a bit stumped by my knitting pattern involving short rows. If for example my first row says P6, w&t and I perform that do I then continue purling to the end of the row or move to the next short row instruction which is K12, w&t. I have 112 sts on my circular needle so I am confused what to do after the first w&t. Thanks a million! Your needle work is divine btw!!

    Reply

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