On short row colourwork and 3D design

It’s probably common knowledge by now that I’m not a fan of fairisle or stranded knitting, I know, I know, blasphemy and all. But, well, they’re rather 2-dimensional. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m not a surface design sort; I never have been.

What I find with colourwork is that it demands the technique bends to create the colours; that the colours are more important than the construction. The colourwork techniques themselves don’t manipulate the fabric per se but instead are are designed to ensure the pattern pieces on the surface fall into place (every knitting technique is a construction technique in the traditional sense a of constructed textiles vs surface design, but not every technique pushes construction beyond the surface). You can add other shaping to a stranded piece with increases/decreases/short rows, but the methods for creating the stranded knitting themselves aren’t used to create the form. One exception might be where you deliberately pull the floats tight to create a vertical tuck like effect, although I’m not sure how structurally sound that would be.

Short row colourwork on the other handle demands that the colours bend with the technique.  The technique is the dominant factor. Whilst there may be an intended surface design as a result, it’s actually a 3D technique that is put to play and that means that it can be taken beyond the surface. And that’s why it caught my interest.

When I first chatted with Carol and subsequently LoveKnitting about this project, my MO was to create short row colour patterns, to do in Hats what had been done in shawls. I’d set myself an engineering challenge. 

There are some amazing short row colourwork patterns out there, and short row colourwork is inherently distinctive. But as with a lot of textiles that are 3D in a fabric manipulation sense (as apposed to a sculptural sense) they’re invariably found on flat pieces. It’s one challenge to manipulate the fabric enough to make it 3-dimensional in and of itself, it’s another thing entirely to then form that fabric into a 3-dimensional item whilst still maintaining it’s integrity. 

Short rows do provide us with the means, though. And working through these designs I was able to create the 3D shape – crown and brim, but in particular the crown – by using the colourwork itself. The short rows that create the pattern also create the form. 

To ensure a short piece works it wants to be balanced, which means that it wants to have the same amount of rows for each stitch, otherwise it becomes distorted. Once a balanced fabric is mastered, it can then be carefully and deliberately unbalanced. By omitting rows (or by adding more short rows) at any given point, we can ensure that our fabric has form (in a 3-dimensional sense, not in a “what’s it been up to this time?” sense).

The design above is Toph, one of the 5 Elemental Hats. In the shots of the crown you can see how the short row forms, which represent leaves in this case, are used to create the crown. The entire Hat is knit sideways, consists entirely of short rows, without breaking either of the yarns. All of the Elemental Hats are created the same way.

It was quite an engineering challenge to achieve this, and I’m really pleased with the results. I have so many ideas now that I’ve got this cracked, so many things I want to create!

Woolly Wormhead

Woolly Wormhead is an internationally reknowned knit designer, specialising in Hats, technique and construction. Their patterns and techniques have been used by thousands of knitters worldwide. Join The Woolly Hat Society to be the first to learn of their latest projects and special offers!


  1. Sue Krekorian

    This is stunning, utterly gorgeous.

  2. Gina

    The genius that is Woolly. I can’t wait to knit this.

  3. Andrea Mordoh

    Truly amazing! I feel the same way about construction. Can’t wait to see what else you design.

  4. Michelle

    I love your thought processes behind your designs, thanks for sharing your creative genius with us! Looking forward to seeing all your elemental hats!

  5. Claire Wilkins

    Thank you for the insight behind your creative process. I’m so excited about the release of these patterns!

  6. Suzy

    This hat is AMAZING. I can’t wait for the patterns to be released!!!

  7. Amy

    Ooh, I’m looking forward to the pattern! The colours are gorgeous, and I love how they and the short rows work together to produce a fantastic texture.

  8. Jo

    WOW. I love that.

  9. nic laliloo

    I can NOT wait for these patterns to be released. I can quite understand why JenAC shed a wee tear when you showed her the Hats! You’re a flipping geniarse! 🙂

  10. Elizabeth

    Love a post that has me grasping a new concept. What an original idea and you did such a great job of explaining it. Such a beautiful hat too!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *