Steeking (aka setting your knitting up to be cut, in order to turn a knitted-in-the-round piece into a flat piece, for example to open up the front of a cardigan) tends to scare otherwise bold and courageous people. It feels vaguely wrong to take a pair of scissors to your knitting.
Really, it shouldn’t. Honestly. It used to scare me, until I tried it a few times, at which point I thought, “Is that all?” The secret is this: *whispers* Knitting doesn’t especially mind being cut vertically. (Cut horizontally, and you’d be in a for a whole hairy heap of horror, though.) There’s a wealth of advice out there in the blogosphere, some of it wonderfully detailed and advanced and immaculately illustrated. I’m not even going to try and replicate that, but I will try to condense it. Dis is da basics, no? Steeking 101. Steeking for people who are too busy/impatient to be world experts. Steeking for dummies… like me.
Fair question: I see that you are a knitter of uncommon perspicacity. A steek is a set of extra ‘bridging’ stitches added in addition to the pattern in a piece of in-the-round knitting, in order to reinforce and cut those stitches to produce a flat piece of knitting. Why would you do that? Well usually, it’s used in colourwork, ie fairisle/stranded knitting, as in the picture above. If you’ve ever tried purling stranded work, you’ll understand why sticking exclusively to knit stitch in the round is vastly preferable. Purling in stranded/fairisle work is poo. Don’t do it. Just don’t. It will visibly age you, which would be a dreadful shame because you look perfectly lovely just the way you are.
How To Steek
Ah, now you’re talking. There are a few basics that you need to know. Let’s award them each a neat, round, inky-black bullet point:-
- What yarn are you using? No, I’m not just being nosy.
Actually, I am.The more that a yarn will felt, the more suitable it is for steeking. So a nice Shetland pure wool will work perfectly and maybe not even need any reinforcing stitches. It’s no coincidence that it’s fairisle knitting that’s best associated with steeking. Animal fibres are (generally) good, though anything superwash is not. Artificial fibres ain’t great for this technique. The more slippery the yarn, the more unsuitable it is. I guess that nothing is absolutely ruled out, but you’re going to have to think long and hard about how much reinforcement your stitches will need if you’re using an ultra-smooth synthetic or cotton yarn. Sorry. You may wish to consider superglue… *joking*
- Extra stitches. Listen up, people. Stop fiddling with your phone, and pay attention, because this is important. The steek comprises some extra stitches that are added for the express purpose of sewing the outer ones in order to secure them, then cutting down the middle. You don’t need many stitches to achieve this: in fact, the fewer stitches there are between seam and cut, the less there is to unravel. But try telling that to a newbie such as me in the (old) example photographed above. I thought more stitches meant more security, so I added eight. In pure wool knitting. Not really necessary, (though more stitches may be helpful in slightly less feltable yarns). Anyway, let’s move on. Steeking is typically used in stranded/fairisle work, and in such cases, I recommend knitting a ‘chequerboard’ pattern for the steeking bridge, as you can see in the photo above. This makes it easy to ‘catch’ everything in your steeking stitches, and also makes it nice and obvious where the bridging stitches are. You can steek with just one yarn, though, as I’ve done for my knitted picture of a mandala.
- Sewing. So, you need to reinforce what will be your two edges before you cut down the middle. There are various ways of doing this. I’ll briefly mention two, before telling you in detail about how I do it:-
- Crochet-chaining your edges. Google it, if you’re tempted. This method very neatly holds in the cut edges.
- Machine-sewing beside where you’ll cut. Quick and easy, but watch that you don’t accidentally catch your floats in the machine mechanism. And you risk not catching every thread, because you don’t have exact control over where every stitch lands.
(But I’d quite like to use this method, because I’ve got my great great grandmother’s 1895 Singer sitting, rarely-used, in the cupboard upstairs.)
- My own personal favourite, hand-sewing the edges, because you can see exactly where every stitch lands. Here’s how. Let’s assume we’ve got a lovely fetching brown-and-blue piece of stranded work in progress. No need to adjust your sets, people, but you may wish to fetch your sunglasses in from the car. See the picture below. I’ve chequerboarded the bridge stitches that are to form the steek. In the picture, the cut will (later) be made along the dark red central line. There are two columns of stitches on each side of the cut. This is especially important in colourwork, where you want to catch both colours. (Am I making sense yet?) The black lines in this picture are where I’d sew, catching the two colours by sewing a half of adjacent stitches. (Don’t you love that knit stitches are like little hearts? I once sewed the occasional red stitch into a stranded skirt, and people said, ‘Oh that’s lovely that you’ve knitted hearts into your design’. But I digress – not for the first time, and not even remotely the last.)
For sewing, use a yarn of the same constitution as the knitting (100% wool, for example), though it can be thinner than the yarn with which you knitted. Now, there’s a special way of sewing this. It’s called backstitch. I’ve tried to illustrate it below. In this example, you’d insert the needle in row 2, then bring it out again in row 1, insert it in row 3, bring it out again in row 2, insert in row 4, bring it out in row 3, etc. Make sure you’re using a nice sharp needle, because you want to pierce through the middle of each thread. So stitches on every row will be pierced. Twice. Ha! That’ll learn ’em.
Here’s the process of sewing the steek on my knitted mandala picture. The stitch markers are just to remind me of where I’m working:-
- Cutting! Simply (yes, simply) cut up the centre of the steek. A few words of warning: the first time you do this, you won’t dare take a breath for the entire time you’re cutting, which could prove problematic if you’re steeking something as large as a blanket – do please try not to lose consciousness through hypoxia. You may or may not be well fortified with gin. And when you’ve finished, it will astound you that your knitting doesn’t immediately disintegrate into a pitiful pile of fluff. The second time you steek, you will approach the matter with calm concentration. And by the third time you steek, you’ll hack away distractedly at your stitches whilst yabbering to your best friend about the price of baked beans.
It really is that simple. So here I am, cutting the mandala picture:-
And then the thing can finally lay flat, prior to blocking and then embroidering with gold:-
Naturally, we need a shot with the star of this bloggy show, ie stork scissors, as usual:-
And that, my friends, is all. It’s that simple. 🙂