Gone Fishin' for Short Rows!

by 7 August 05, 2011 5 min read

Fish-hat-side What do you get when you cross a lakeside community, bright sunshine yellow & ocean green yarn, and a Calvin & Hobbes-style sense of silliness? Why, the Dead Fish Hat, of course!   You can get 2 balls of Cascade Pacific in select colors-- enough to create a fishy friend to call your own-- for only $8.80 during the month of August (which is kinda nuts, considering Pacific is regularly $6.95 for just 1 ball!). The moment I saw Thelma Egberts' rather unexpected creation on Ravelry (available for free on Thelma's Dead Fish Hat site & through Knitty magazine), I immediately knew I had to make one. It seems like just the thing to commemorate a joyful summer by the lake (and to make my knitting cohorts cackle with delight).   Fish-mouth Perhaps my favorite design element of this truly original hat is the curvy fish lips. The shape somehow manages to evoke the distinctive shape of an actual fish's mouth while still maintaining the cartoonish charm of the hat as a whole. To achieve this effect, Thelma's pattern employs two important elements: stockinette stitch to encourage the edge to roll, and short rows to lengthen the top & bottom of the mouth area (that's what makes the lips curve like a rainbow). I suspect the stockinette element isn't going to blow anyone's mind, but those darn short rows have a reputation for being cumbersome. But fear not, dear crafters; whether you're new to short rows or a seasoned veteran, this hat is well within your grasp! Short rows are often classed with ordinary increases like make 1 or knit front & back, but I think that it's a mistake to store the idea of a short row in the same mental category as these techniques. Where a regular increase selectively widens your work (turning a row of 12 stitches into a row of 13 stitches, for example), short rows selectively lengthen it. Short-row-diagram If you can keep this in mind conceptually, short rows start to feel like exactly what they are: just another way to play with the shape of your knitted work. That said, if this is your first try at short rows or you simply don't feel inclined to think about the "big picture" today, you can really just step through the Dead Fish Hat line by line & do just great. Work-to-stitch-27 Take a look at the "Shape Mouth" section of the pattern, and I'll show you what I mean. You've justfinished several rounds of stockinette to form the lip, and now it's time to work your first short row.To work row 1, just keep on knitting for 27 stitches like nothing's happened at all, as if you're working another ordinary round. Once you knit that 27th stitch, though, you're going to turn your work over as if it were flat (like a scarf or a dishcloth), and purl back in the direction you came from. Do you see why they're called short rows? They're just like regular rows of knitting, except that they don't extend across the entire width of your work.   Slip-stitch     To prevent unattractive little holes in your work, the pattern says to W&T at the end of each row, which stands for "Wrap & Turn." This is possibly the only truly new move that short rows will demand of you, but in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, don't panic! Once you've done all the knitting or purling the row calls for, slip one additional stitch from the left needle to the right.       Bring the working yarn around the stitch (if it started in the back, bring it to the front, or vice versa), and then put that slipped stitch back where you found it. See what you did? There's now a cute little yarn lasso connecting your short row to the rest of your knitting! How slick are you?

Wrapped-stitch Very slick indeed.

Now just keep on working, stepping through the rows one by one. On your first pass at rows 1-16, you're making one lip on one side of the fish. Then, row 17 brings you to the other side of the fish, and you repeat rows 2-16 to build the second lip on the other side. Here's a row-by-row chart of what you're doing, starting with the red row at the bottom & working upward in order of rainbow colors: Short rows as written However, you'll notice that as your work progresses, those nice straight rows of stockinette you started with (the curly lip part) will actually begin to curve to meet the edges of your short rows! Shape-wise, it'll look more like this:

How short rows turn out Basically a birds-eye-view of Madonna, circa 1989

Nifty, eh? In fact, if you were to change colors on every row (which I emphatically discourage-- So. Many. Tails...), you'd see something pretty darn similar to the grid above. Remember that the bottom red edge represents a formerly straight row of stockinette stitches from the beginning of the pattern. See how they curve?

Short-rows-sampler

A note to those already familiar with short rows, or to those who plan to apply this method in other circumstances: this pattern is unique in that you don't have to do anything special to work the wraps. Very unique, as a matter of fact. That's usually the part that knitters dread the most, but on the Fish Hat, it's quite unnecessary (hooray!). Normally, when you knit across one of those stitches you lassoed previously, you must take special measures to push the wrap to the back of your work. It's a nice way to keep your work connected without that telltale bar across your stitches. But since the Fishy has such cute curly lips, you'll find that all your immaculately-worked wraps never even see the light of day, so my vote is to not stress about it!

Well, folks, there you have it-- a quick introduction to the ever-so-clever use of short rows! Once you've worked the mouth of this hat, you're ready to plug short rows into all kinds of other pieces-- in fact, the great Elizabeth Zimmermann swears by a few of them at the back of a sweater neckline to prevent the bottom from riding up. You're also through the toughest part of your Fishy, too, so double congratulations! If your sense of accomplishment makes you feel ambitious, scoot on over to Thelma's Dead Fish Hat site & look at all the cool things you can do with color in this pattern!

Until next time, blub blub blub (that's fish-speak for "Happy knitting!")!

Visit Alpaca Direct this month to get a swell deal on enough soft, machine-washable Cascade Pacific to create your own funny fishy friend!

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