Tutorial: Short row bind-offs

Wherever possible, I knit using short row bind-offs in place of stair-step bind-offs. Mainly that means armhole shaping, back neck shaping, and front neckline shaping. Although a really simple concept, it's much wordier when writing out a pattern than the traditional stair-step "BO x sts at the beg of the next y rows," so I really had a fight with myself about whether it was worth it to include in patterns, or just do the usual and let people figure it out on their own. In the end, since i like learning new things from patterns, I've written nearly all my patterns using this technique.

If you've never knit one of my patterns, and have never come across it otherwise, here is a tutorial for it. (Although I haven't read or heard of it, I'm sure someone has done it before, and has probably written about it somewhere.)

I'll use the smallest size of the Mongkok Cardigan for my example. Normally, the armscye for the back would be done with stair-step bind-offs, and would look, to my mind, like this:



The instructions would say, roughly, "Work until piece measures 35.5cm/14 inches. Start armscye shaping: BO 4 sts at the beg of the next two rows. BO 3 sts at the beg of the two rows after that. BO 1 st at the beg of the next two rows after that. Cont in st st until piece measures x cm/y inches." Let's say your work measured the correct length after a wrong side row, so you start your armscye shaping on a right side row by binding off 4 sts.

I would show you a picture of what the stair-step bind-off looks like knitted up, but I honestly don't even have a picture of any I've done.

Short-row shaping and bind-off would make your knitting look more like this:



To do this, you'd replace the the bind-offs with short rows. Now, we'd said your piece measured the correct length after a wrong side row, and you would normally start your stair-step bind-offs on the right side row. Instead, for the short row BO, you'd purl that last wrong side row until you have the last 4 sts left, then wrap and turn. What you're faced with now is a right side row, with 4 sts at the front that you haven't knit- that's equivalent to your binding off those 4 sts. Now knit until you get to the last 4 sts, then wrap and turn. What you've done is the equivalent of the first set of bind-offs- the "BO 4 sts at the beg of the next two rows" set of instructions.

You're now at the beginning of a wrong side row again, and you'd do the equivalent of the next set of bind-offs by purling to the last 7 sts (the original 4 + the next 3), wrap and turn. Knit to the last 7 sts (the original 4 + the next 3), wrap and turn. You've just done the equivalent of the second set of bind-offs- the "BO 3 sts at the beg of the next two rows after that" set of instructions. Now, you're faced with 7 sts at the sides of your work which haven't been worked- the equivalent of binding off 4 sts, then another 3.

The next set of short rows would have you purl to the last 8 sts (4+3+1), wrap and turn, knit to the last 8 sts (4+3+1), wrap and turn.

You've now finished the short row portion of the short row bind-offs; next you'll do the bind-off portion. You're ready to start a wrong side row. On this row, purl all the way to the end, picking up and purling the wraps together with their stitches. On the next, right side, row, bind off the first 8 sts (these are your short row sts) and knit all the way to the end, picking up and knitting the wraps with their stitches. On the next, wrong side, row, bind off the first 8 sts (again, your short row sts) and finish the row as the pattern says. You're now finished with the short row bind-offs and can follow the rest of the pattern.

Basically, wherever it says to "BO x sts," you work to the last x sts, wrap and turn. At the end, you pick up and knit all the wraps before you bind off all at once.

In summary:
Where traditional stair-step bind-offs say: BO x sts at the beg of the next two rows; then BO y sts at the beg of the two rows after that; BO z sts at the beg of the two rows after that; etc.

Use the short row bind-offs as follows: work to last x sts, w+t, work to last x sts, w+t; work to last x+y sts, w+t, work to last x+y sts, w+t; work to last x+y+z sts, w+t, work to last x+y+z sts, w+t; etc until all stair steps are done. Work to end, picking up and working wraps with their sts, BO x+y+z sts, work to end, picking up and working wraps with their sts, BO x+y+z sts.

So you've now bound off the same number of stitches as you would for a stair-step bind-off, but all at once, so the resulting line is smooth and un-jagged, like this (on my swatch for the cardigan):



For me, this makes it much, much easier to seam in the sleeves later on. Note, also, at the top, I've use the same method for the neckline bind-off, which is where this method comes in really useful. Because you have one smooth bind-off line, you can leave that edge as is- it's automatically beautifully, simply, finished. There's no need to go back with a crochet hook and neaten up the stair-steps. So, for sleeveless tops, such as my Draped Lace Shell, when you're done, you're done- no need to finish off the rough edges at the armholes, because there are no rough edges!



Using short rows to shape shoulders is well-known. (I love Nona's tutorial for this.) But if you have a back neckline that's U-shaped, the short row bind-off method can also be used for it. In fact, anything U or half-U shaped, like scoop necks, and the front necklines of cardigans, as I showed above. The back necklines of both the Mongkok Cardigan and the Draped Lace Shell is done with short rows, as is the scoop neck of the Horseshoes Cardigan:





The exercise of how to do a short row bind off for a scoop neck, front or back, is left to the reader. Hint: think of it this way: