Shaping a Bust with Short-Rows

The other day I was knitting the front to a cardigan sweater and I decided to add some short-rows to the bust area. I've done this so many times, now, that I know exactly where to place them (making adjustments for gauge, of course) and how to work them. I was so happy with myself when I realized this, that I took a moment to congratulate myself. I think I've mastered short-rows!


I've said before that the short-row knitting technique is something that will help you make your sweaters fit, and I'll say it again. In fact, I just did! If you've never done short-row bust shaping before, or if you want to improve your skills, here's some great information for you.

Shaping the Bust

Short-rows can be used to mimic the action of horizontal darts in sewing, creating a shape that more closely fits the human bust. Though knitted fabric has plenty of inherent stretch, short-row shaping can help prevent cardigans from gaping and sweater hems from riding up by adding length where it's needed—over the curve of the bust—while keeping the selvedges the same length.



Measuring Bust Ease

Try this dressmaker's trick to measure needed bust ease:
Tie a ribbon around your
natural waist. From the
highest point on your
shoulder, measure a vertical
line to the ribbon along your back and along your front, following the slope of the
bust. The difference between these two measurements is
how much length should be added with short-rows.



If you want to try adding short-row bust shaping to a sweater, first get an idea of how much shaping you'll need.

A and B cups probably don't need short-row bust shaping added to most garments; if your bust is larger than that, measure yourself to determine the length of the required bust ease in inches (see Measuring Bust Ease, at right).

Multiply the number of additional inches you need by the number of rows per inch and round to the nearest even number. This is the number of short-rows you'll need to work.

Plan to have the "peak" of the short-row pouch, or the shortest pair of short-rows, fall at the bust point (if you're not exactly sure where your bust point and a particular sweater meet, start your short-rows one to two inches before the beginning of the armhole shaping).

The longest short-rows for bust shaping should end at least one inch from the selvedges, and the shortest short-rows should be at least two inches wider than the distance between the bust points to prevent an overly peaky look.

— Erica Patberg, from knit.wear, Spring 2012

When I was first interested in learning about short-rows, I started with swatches so I could work the technique without worrying about messing up a garment. I knit just a bust section of a pullover sweater, sort of like the oval section of the illustration above left, working short rows at different intervals to see how the shaping would change. I highly recommend this swatching method to get yourself comfortable with the knitting technique. It's fun and a wonderful learning experience.

Nancie M. Wiseman's Over-Under Hat

Then, move on to a small short-row project like a hat or scarf so you can practice the technique some more. A project like Nancie M. Wiseman's Over-Under Hat from her new Knitting Daily Workshop, Short-Row Knitting is a good project to start with. It's a simple, garter-stitch hat that's knit sideways, using sets of short-rows to build the circumference of the hat. It's easy and really fun to knit.

I highly recommend Short-Row Knitting if you want to learn all about short-rows—there's so much more that short-rows can do, from neck shaping to shoulder shaping to building sleeve caps. Get yours today!


P.S. Have you used short-rows in your knitting? Leave a comment and let us know what your favorite short-row function is!

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Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

20 thoughts on “Shaping a Bust with Short-Rows

  1. I used short rows while knitting a sweater for my husband. His front is considerably larger that his back. I didn’t really know what I was doing so I did a short row every 5th row 4 times starting about 1 inch after the arms holes (top down sweater). It looks okay, I think. I’ve put the project on hold while I think about it. I tried to find some info online on how to do it but couldn’t. Any better ideas? I’m all for ripping it out if I have to.

  2. Since I am short in stature, when knitting a triangular shawl I add short rows so that the finished shawl is not so long and pointy-looking in the back and the front tie tabs aren’t so long.

  3. Several years ago a designed and knit a toque for my 12 year old son. He needed something cool, and distinctive (so he could find it easily). The hat is two rows black and two rows white repeated with five pointed sections of short rows. The edge has a nicely twisted look between the two colours. He still is wearing the same hat so that is a testament to his appreciation. I also add a few short rows to the back of snuggly knitted winter gloves over the knuckles to allow more movement.

  4. In the past I have only used short rows to create the wedges that form swing jackets or large, shaped collars. This sounds intriguing, but I am curious how it would actually look. And I really wonder about using it with fair isle or on a cabled front. Any comments?

  5. I make knitted outfits for small antique baby dolls. They consist of a dress, a bonnet, booties and panties to cover a diaper. I found the panties didn’t fit well, as most of these babies are in a sitting position. I used short rows across the pantie’s bottom, creating a little baby bottom bump in the knitted fabric. Perfect!

  6. I was wondering, too, if it could be used to add some room for a large tummy. I guess it would need to be done the same way with longer short rows on the top and bottom and shorter short rows in the middle of the ‘pouch’.

  7. I’ve used short-rows in gloves to give a little more length to the middle finger area before dividibg for each finger. This creates a drop for the little finger and a smoother and more tailored fit. I used this technique for my glittens in “Pop Up Paws”.

    My favorite use of short-rows is in a design element for the Lizard Ridge Dishcloth. This pattern it’s especially cute if one uses two different colors. I used an oatmeal shade for the “window frame” and a varigated avocado and oatmeal for the short-row window. It’s not very often that you work on a dishcloth and describe it as cool!

  8. Good Morning Ladies:

    The first time I used short rows other than turning a heel, was to build up the back of a shawl collar. It was very successful if I do say so myself, making the collar nice and cozy at the back, while not over doing the bulk at the front.

    Still wearing the the sleeveless sweater in a tweedy Rowan Yarn 20 years later, and my 16 year old daughter borrows it from time to time.

    More recently when playing around with scrap yarn and making hand warmers, I did a couple of short rows over the back of the hand to obtain extra coverage. That worked out well,too as the distance from wrist to fingers is slightly longer on the back than the front of the hand when the hand is in the normal relaxed position.

    good day,

    Wendy Leigh-Bell
    Hamilton, Ontario

  9. I think that’s a great idea to practice short rows on a hat or even a scarf…less commitment, just plain easier to practice than on a big project like a skirt or a sweater.

  10. I’ve used short rows on sock heels, of course; but my fave has to be eliminating “steps” at the shoulder bind-off on sweaters, which creates a smooth curved edge for easier joining of shoulder seams.

  11. I used the short row bust shaping for a summer top for my daughter, she is 34GG size and if the top is tailored it requires a lot of shaping. I was impress how well it worked and how easy it was as the top is with an intarsia pattern. Shame I can’t add a photo.
    I am getting very fond of short rows, just now I finished the KAL socks with short row toes and heels too.

  12. Ease is the extra amount of width / length given around the body to allow the garment to be comfortably worn. If the garment is knit it’s entirely possible to have negative ease (it’s smaller than body measurement) thus making it form fitting. The vertical measurements from shoulder to waist front and back are basic measurements required for drafting/ construction of a pattern not ease. What you’re showing them is that front length and back length are different and to get a better fitting garment requires darting over the bust (short rows). I really wish you would use the correct terminology just as a sleeveless garment that opens in the front is not a “Cardi” (really we can’t use cardigan?) it’s a vest. I’m still confused as to why your site would not let me post a comment yesterday.

  13. In England a vest is an under-garment your mum makes you wear when its cold, & a sleeveless jacket or cardigan is a waistcoat! A cardigan is defined as a knitted jacket, so it can have short sleeves or even cap sleeves but not sleeveless.

  14. My gramma had a very large humpy back, so her other jacket rode high above her rear. I made one with short rows in the hump area, without lengthening the armhole.