How to knit with German short rows: A not at all scary guide

Do you know what I really bloody love? German short rows.

Seriously. They’re one of my very favourite knitting techniques. If you’ve knitted one of my patterns, then you’ll know that I use them a lot, but I’ve never felt compelled to truly sing their praises before.

Until now.

What are short rows?

Now, before I get all over-excited about German short rows, let’s take it back to basics a bit by answering the question “what are short rows?”

The answer, like many things in knitting, is suprisingly simple. Short rows are – as their name suggests – where you knit only part of a row before turning your work. You have to do a little bit of a something at the end of your partial row to stop a hole appearing there, but we’ll get to that later.

Why would you use short rows?

You mean other than because they’re brilliant?

They can be used for all sorts of things to do with shaping knitting; adding high-low hems, shaping shoulders, creating “chunks” of knitting within a pattern (as in my Set the Tone scarf), and even turning heels.

And what are German short rows?

German short rows are one technique that you can use to avoid those holes I mentioned earlier. A lot of people use the wrap and turn short row method and think it’s fine, but I can only assume that those people have never used German short rows. Because German short rows are way, way better.

What makes German short rows so good?

They’re really simple. Honestly, they’re so, so simple. When I tried the old wrap and turn back in my early days I got myself into a right pickle trying to pick up wraps and then dropping wraps and then forgetting to even do the wraps and oh it hurt my head.

There’s no faffing with wraps in German short rows. What you do instead is make the first stitch of your row into a “double stitch”, which sounds fancy but really isn’t.

So how do I make a double stitch?

Creating a double stitch is surprisingly easy, and weird satisfying. And it’s the same whether you’re working with a knit or purl stitch.

To create a double stitch, you bring your yarn to the front of your work, slip the first stitch onto your right hand needle, and pull the yarn over the top of your needle to make a stitch with two “legs”. That’s it.

Bet you thought it was going to be a more complex thing than that, didn’t you?

What about getting rid of the double stitch?

Once you’re done working your short rows and want to go back to knitting the full row – or round, because you can use them for knitting in the round as well – you just work the two “legs” of the double stitch together. If you’re on a knit row, you knit them together. If you’re on a purl row, you purl them. That’s it.

Can I see German short rows in action?

You can indeed. I’ve made a handy little video tutorial to German short rows and creating double stitches. It’s even got a cameo from my cat.

And just because I’m all kinds of lovely, I’ve also made a handy little reminder pin that you can use as a cheat sheet.

Got any questions about German short rows? Drop me a comment below, get in touch on Instagram, or even send me an email. In case you can’t tell, I love German short rows and will be very, very happy to help.

Well that’s not scary: shawl knitting

Of all the ridiculous misconceptions I’ve had about knitting, perhaps the most ridiculous of all is that knitting a shawl is a really complex thing. Any shawl. Of any kind. Must be tricky. Must have crazy complex increases and decreases to make those shapes, and must be beyond my capabilities.

Told you it was ridiculous.

But just in case you’re still hanging out in the cave of knitting fear, I’ve designed what may in fact be the world’s easiest shawl. The Math of Love Triangles shawl.

The world’s easiest shawl. Probably.

Large green garter stitch and textured triangle shawl

Ok, maybe not the very easiest – because that would probably have a whole load of nothing but garter stitch going on – but this has got to be right up there. It’s a lovely, sideways triangular shawl with a few textured panels to keep things a bit interesting. And – and this is the really key bit of information – it’s way, way easier than it looks.

(Small aside: I briefly considered making “way easier than it looks” my business tagline, but then realised that’s probably a bad idea.)

Anyway. The thing that’s so magically simple about the Math of Love Triangle shawl is that it only needs three skills beyond your classic knit and purl stitches – and two of those skills are basically the same. That’s it’s. So, if you can cast on, cast off, knit, and purl, you’re ready to take on this guy.

If you’re a total beginner and want to have a crack at just doing those first, then I recommend having a little look at the kits and patterns that Lauren Aston Designs and Moloney Makes put together. But seriously, this shawl is really not much harder than a beginner scarf.

And why am I so confident in that? Because I’m about to show you those two extra skills that you need.

How do I “slip 1 purlwise with yarn in back”?

Sounds a bit complex, doesn’t it? It’s really not. Let me show you.

You see that? It’s so straightforward I made it a gif! Because all you have to do for this one is put your right hand needle into the next stitch as if you’re going to purl it, and then just slip it off your left hand needle. Then carry on.

It’s so easy that you don’t even have to bother knitting the stitch.

And how about “slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front”?

Now, when I said that two of the skills were kind of the same skill, this is what I meant. At its core, you’re doing the very same thing here that you did above – inserting right hand needle as if to purl, and then slipping it off the left hand needle.

But because you’re working on the wrong side of the shawl at this point, you need to do a little bit of yarn jiggling to keep it looking pretty. But it’s only very little. Let’s have a look, shall we?

So, for this one you work to the stitch you’re going to slip, move the yarn forward, slip the stitch, and then move the yarn back again.

It ends up lying across the stitch you’ve just slipped, but as we’re on the wrong side of the shawl here, so you’re all good.

And how about this “knit front and back” thing?

Now, this one is every so slightly more complex. But only in that you actually have to do some knitting with it.

And what knitting do you have to do? Well, pretty much what it says; you knit into the front of the stitch, and then into the back of it. Now, if you’re not super familiar with knitting yet than it can be a bit tricky to work out exactly what this means, so yet again I’m going to show you.

Let’s break that down. Starts off normal; you knit into the front of the stitch, as per usual. But then, instead of slipping that stitch off the left hand needle, you go round the back of the stitch and knit into it again.

Once you’ve done that, you’ve got two stitches instead of just the one. That’s exactly what you’re meant to have; these increases are how the shawl gets its lovely triangle-y shape.

So now you’ve watched those demonstrations, you’re all ready to get going with a bit of shawl knitting. The Math of Love Triangles shawl comes out on Thursday 5 November, so not long to wait.

Well that’s not scary: Knitting Intarsia

A FEW WEEKS BACK, I ASKED ON INSTAGRAM IF THERE WERE THINGS THAT OTHER KNITTERS FOUND A BIT SCARY. BECAUSE I’VE GOT A THEORY THAT ALL BUT THE MOST CONFIDENT AND CAVALIER OF KNITTERS HAS A SECRET LIST OF THINGS THAT THEY FIND A LITTLE BIT INTIMIDATING.

I know I did. I’ve written before about how I found yarn substitution to be a thing of absolute mystery. But that wasn’t my only fear; I had a whole big mental list of scary techniques. They intimidated me right to my yarn-y core. So much so that I’d avoid any patterns that used them, no matter how beautiful those patterns looked.

I’d see people talk about these terrifying techniques, and I’d freak right out. How could they do this incredible thing with this scary technique, and I couldn’t?

Turns out there’s a simple answer to that one. They’d tried, and I hadn’t.

Because – and this is the point of my asking the “what scares you” question on Instagram, and of starting this new series of blogs – nothing in knitting is actually that scary. It’s just yarn and sticks. The worst that can happen is that it goes a bit wrong, and you try it again. And that’s fine.

And so, in the spirit of de-scarying knitting, I thought I’d start off by talking about colourwork – after all, quite a few people said they were scared of it. And I’m not starting with just any colourwork; I’m starting with intarsia, the style of colourwork that scared the beejesus out of me until a few short months ago.

What the hell is intarsia?

Good question. Sounds fancy and magical, doesn’t it? But the basic definition is this:

Intarsia is colourwork where the fabric remains single thickness. Instead of carrying (or “stranding”) the yarn across the back of your work to the next area of that colour, you join in a new yarn for each area – or “block” – of colour.

(It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s defintion, this one – smushed together from the Ultimate Knitting Bible by Sharon Brant, Rowan Yarns’ definition, and The Spruce Crafts)

Right. Lovely. What does that actually mean?

The simplest way to explain intarsia is to look at it. So, let’s look at this dog cushion. It’s one I designed and knit back in the summer because I’m a ridiculous woman who decided to make my first intarsia project a little bit complicated.

A light teal cushion with a knitted spaniel dog on it

You see all those little patches of colour on that dog? Each one is a different bit of yarn that I joined in, just for that patch*. Each eye? New bit of dark yarn. Pink tongue? Little bit of pink yarn. The teal background on either side of the dog? Two separate bits of yarn. You twist your new yarn round your old yarn at the back of the work when you join it, and that stops it forming holes. Magic, hey?

*this isn’t strictly speaking true, but we’ll get onto that later. So let’s just ignore that for now, shall we?

So, now we’ve established what intarsia is, let me share my hints and tips for how to make a great big success of your next intarsia knitting project, rather than staring at it in fear.

Let me hit you with my intarsia hits and tips

Plan out your intarsia project before you start

I know, I know. Planning is so very boring. But believe me, it’s pretty crucial to making a success of intarsia knitting. I’m not saying you have to swatch every little bit, but have a look at your pattern and have a great big think about how many areas of colour there actually are, and how many different yarns you’re going to need. It’s guaranteed to be more than you think.

For example: I didn’t initially consider that I’d need a new bit of golden yarn for each side of the dog’s nose. Or that I’d need one for the fur to the left of his eyes, one for in between his eyes, and one for to the right.

If you’re using a paper pattern, then I’d crack out a pen and circle each area. If, like me, you’ve come up with something on Stitchmastery and are just hoping for the best, then good luck to you, friend.

Bobbins are your friends when it comes to intarsia

Dark brown yarn wound round a small cardboard bobbin

And what, pray tell, are bobbins?

They’re these things; little bits that you wind your yarn around (technical, I know). I just hacked into some of the endless cardboard that we’ve got knocking about to create mine. You want one for each different area of colour you’re going to knit, so you may find yourself with four of one colour. That’s fine. That’s good. That’ll stop you getting into a flap once you realise you need more golden yarn and all your golden yarn is currently in a big ball attached to your work.

Definitely not speaking from experience there.

Do the twist

Back of a piece of knitting, showing twisted intarsia join between patches of colour

Twisting is the key to intarsia. It’s what stops big holes appearing between each patch of colour, and keeps your work one lovely bit of material. Tin Can Knits have a great blog showing you how to do this twisty join, which I should’ve looked at before starting.

Even though I didn’t check that post out though, I still managed to work it out. See, for example, the twists on the back of the cat cushion I’ve absolutely not left languishing in my WIP pile. They’re pretty much the same thing as the Tin Can Knits join, which shows that even a cavalier fool like me can work intarsia out.

Sometimes you have to cut your losses

I’m not going to lie to you; when you’re working with umpteen different bobbins, you are at some point going to end up in an almighty tangle. If you do, then it’s absolutely fine to just cut your way out of it and start again.

By which I mean to just snip off the working yarns, and rejoin them without the tangling. Not to get in a rage and take scissors to all your work. Let’s keep things in perspective here.

And finally, duplicate stitch is your friend

I’m a big fan of doing what works, regardless of whether it’s the official “correct” thing to do. So remember when I said that technically speaking, I didn’t knit with a new yarn for every single patch of colour in that dog?

That’s because I got myself into one of those almighty tangles, threw a bit of a strop, and decided that the smaller patches of colour could be added later with duplicate stitch. It was a wise choice to make, and one I would absolutely make again.

Because after all, when it comes to knitting there is no single right way to do things, there is just the way that works for you.

Have I missed anything out on my quick jaunt around the intarsia universe? Is there anything you want to see me try and de-scary for you? Let me know.

The Woolly Badger guide to yarn substitution

There’s been a lot of talk in the online knitting community over the past few days about how to make sure that knitting is financially accessible for as many people as possible. As a large part of that responsibility rests with designers, and the yarns we choose to use, I wanted to lay out my approach to choosing yarn, providing alternative options, and helping people find the yarn that will work best for them. I’ve pulled together some helpful yarn substitution resources at the end of the post, so if you’re just here for them then skip to the end.

Yarn stash shot
Yes, that’s only part of my yarn stash. Yes, I have a problem.

Ah, yarn substitution. You funny old beast. I’ll be honest; for years, I didn’t even realise yarn substitution was a thing. I thought you had to knit the pattern in the yarn that the pattern told you to knit it in, or it would all go terribly bad and wrong. Every single time. No exceptions.

I now know that not to be the case.

And I also realise that yarn substitution is actually a pretty important thing. Switching in a different yarn can be the difference between being able to afford to knit, and not. When I first got into knitting a lot of my friends assumed I was going to save myself a lot of money by being able to knit my own jumpers, and I had to explain time and again that that’s really not the case. Unless you’re willing to knit everything in acrylic (and to be clear, I have nothing against acrylic except a bit of environmental unease, but that’s a whole other blog about how sometimes slow fashion made out of acrylic can be better than a constant stream of fast fashion made in terrible conditions with supposedly ‘better’ fibres), then chances are you’ll end up spending rather a lot more on your knitwear than you would if you bought similar on the high street.

So, yes, having yarns at a variety of price points is really important if knitting is going to be accessible for as many people as possible. And having patterns that work for yarns at a variety of price points is a pretty big deal too. I used to look at patterns and think I couldn’t knit them because I couldn’t get the yarn they called for. Sometimes because I couldn’t find it, but sometimes because I just couldn’t afford it.

These days I’m lucky enough to be able to afford some really, really lovely yarn. And as a designer, I really want to support other indie businesses by using their yarns in my designs. That’s why you’ll see a lot of fancy, hand-dyed yarn used in my patterns. But I also know that won’t work for everyone; spending £20 on a single skein of hand-dyed yarn is not going to work with everyone’s budget. And crucially, not everyone will have the knowledge, or indeed the confidence, to substitute the yarn I’ve used without getting a little help from somewhere.

So, the other side of my role as a designer is supporting people who need more affordable choices. I’m not going to lie here; I am not a yarn substitution expert. My preferred method for my own projects starts with looking at yarn weight, takes a brief sojourn past fibre content, and then invariably gets wildly distracted by colourways. It’s probably not the way you should do things.

But, I’m going to put my haphazard ways aside and make sure that where I can, I’m recommending at least one more affordable yarn choice with each of my patterns. But, that’s still not really enough. The great joy of the internet is that people from all over the world can use my patterns. The great ballache of that is that not every yarn is available in every country, so it’s going to be impossible for me to recommend a yarn for every possible scenario. But I can recommend places that help.

Your local yarn store

Man, local yarn stores are great. They’re run by people who love yarn, and who seriously know their stuff. If you ever need help substituting a yarn for any pattern you’re knitting, I’d really recommend starting there.

Now, I know not everyone is lucky enough to have a local yarn store they can just drop along to. But one of the (very few) good things about the Covid-19 pandemic is that more and more people are trading online, including yarn stores. Chances are a quick google will be able to bring up someone who will be happy to help you via phone or email, and then post your goods out to you.

Online resources

Now, I could write a nice blog about which fibres behave similarly, and which swapouts work particularly well. I could, but I’d largely be making it up. So instead, I’m going to point you towards some other resources from people who really do know what they’re talking about.

So there you go. That’s the Woolly Badger guide to doing yarn substitution the right way, as opposed to the haphazard way. Writing this post has almost convinced me to start following my own advice.

Almost.