Short row experiment ... with unexpected results

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Yesterday, I sat down to learn short rows via Nona’s short row experiment. The idea is pretty simple: Knit the same short row swatch three times except using a different method for each; first the wrapped stitch method, second the yarn over method, and finally the Japanese method (or catch method as it’s called in Monste Stanley’s Knitter’s Handbook). Compare the results.

Around the knitting elite, it’s generally accepted that the less western and more foreign the technique, the better the results, so I wasn’t surprised when Nona ranked the Japanese method best, the yarn over next, and the wrapped stitch the worst for both ease of execution and smooth results. As a knitting geek who espouses top down sweaters, toe up socks, and seamless everythings, I’m no wallflower when it comes to flouting convention. So I snuggled up with a ball of yarn and happily looked forward to yet another esoteric technique and proof of its superiority.

What I got was not at all what I expected. After doing the experiment twice, I had a completely different ranking than Nona and the rest of the knitting world. The first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with the yarn over and Japanese methods,” I thought. “Or maybe it’s the differing tension. The yarn over swatch is a bit looser.” I reknit them the next day, carefully keeping my tension on the tight side. To no avail. Finally in desperation, I submitted the swatches to my techie husband, thinking that perhaps my emotionality was biasing my judgment. After examining the swatches, my husband tossed back the yarn over swatch with “Well, this one’s easily the worst.” The other two were close, but after another moment, he handed me the Japanese swatch with “This one’s runner-up,” and finally the wrapped stitch, “And this one’s the best.” My conclusions exactly.

Wrapped stitch, Japanese, yarn over, in that order. Who would’ve thought? To shake things up even more, I found the wrapped stitch the easiest to execute – simply pop the wrap onto the needle and knit or purl it together with the next stitch; super simple, super straightforward. The yarn over was alright once you got the hang of it, though you had to perform a fancy little contortion on the purl side involving slipping knitwise and purling through the back loop. The Japanese was the most awkward, with pins hanging every which way. It required me to drop a needle to fiddle with the pins, which slowed me down considerably. (Now if you do it the way PGR describes in Knitting in the Old Way, you don’t use pins; but I wouldn’t recommend it for first-timers as it’s rather hard to see which loop you’re supposed to pick up — been there, done that, had ugly results to show for it.)

Not to say that there weren’t advantages to the losers. I liked that the pins on the Japanese method visually marked the gaps I needed to close; on the other methods I’d sometimes miss a wrap or a yarn over. As for the yarn over method, the advantage is purely emotional: I’m addicted to lace and therefore yarn overs. To think that they can be used in short rows too … well, that’s just peachy.

So, final conclusions? I’ll probably keep the wrapped stitch and Japanese methods around. The yarn over method, though fun, will probably be retired on account of its mediocre results.

One thing that I’d like to explore is which method works better when you have to turn twice in the same spot, such as a short row toe or heel. Does the wrapped stitch still trump? Or will one of the others win a dark horse victory?

Finally, here’s a photo of my swatches. Recall that we made our judgements based on both sight and touch.

Short-row experiment Wrapped Stitch, Japanese, Yarn Over

As you can see, the yarn over swatch is a bit of a mess; it’s a clear last place. The wrapped stitch and Japanese are very close. The Japanese is a little nicer on the knit side (below the diagonal), but the wrapped stitch is smoother on the purl side (above the diagonal). What ultimately made the difference was the feel: The wrapped stitch felt smoother; the Japanese swatch had hard little bumps where the gaps were closed.

I think the Japanese method produced slightly better visual results, but considering the extra hassle and dubious benefits, I’ll probably just stick with the wrapped stitch for most things.