Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Fair Isle-Style Steeking:The Quick and Dirty Tutorial

In the last few weeks, I have received more than a dozen emails about steeking, the technique of cutting one’s knitting. I always refer people to Eunny Jang’s Steeking Chronicles, because they provide a wonderful overview of why and how knitted articles are cut. Eunny’s tutorial covers how to plan for steeks and offers an overview of hand sewn steeks, crocheted steeks, and a bit about machine sewn steeks. I would encourage anyone interested in steeking to read the entire series because it is well worth the time.

However, for those who just want to know what they need to do to secure their knitting before a cut, I thought I would put together a really quick tutorial to cover the absolute basics of crocheted and machine-sewn steeking.

Why cut your knitting?

Why not? Would you rather purl back every other row? Or worse, purl back in a stranded color pattern? It’s easier and faster to work in the round with the right side facing you the entire time. Although it sounds terrifying and difficult, cutting your knitting is shockingly easy to do. Really, it ought to be harder.

The key to success is to support the edges alongside the cut to ensure they do not unravel. This support can come in several forms: grippy, feltable wool stitch fibers holding themselves and each other in place, or feltable crochet chains, machine sewn lines, or hand sewn lines running down either side of the cut site. If the garment is made using multiple colors of non-superwash wool at a very fine gauge, it may not even be necessary to add extra support; the wool itself will provide enough, felting together at the steeks over time. Indeed, many traditional Fair Isle steeks were not supported with crochet or sewing at all.

This tutorial applies to Fair Isle-style steeking, in which extra stitches are cast on specifically for the steek. It should be noted that in Scandinavian-style steeking, the garment is worked in the round with no extra stitches; the cut is made directly into the garment pattern itself. Most steeks in contemporary patterns are done in the Fair Isle style. Given the choice, I would prefer to use crochet chains over a sewing machine any day. I am clumsy with a sewing machine and I do not trust myself not to make a dumb, difficult to reverse mistake. Experiment with both methods to determine what works best for you.

In the examples below, I will demonstrate the cut being made down the center of a column of stitches (as shown here, in Eunny’s steeking tutorial), although it can certainly be done between two columns of stitches. For my swatch and waste yarn, I used multiple colors of Harrisville Designs New England Shetland. I knitted the swatch in stripes to make it easier for you to see exactly what I was doing. For a more detailed look at the pictures, click on any image to access higher resolution versions.

The Crocheted Steek

Advantages: It’s fast, easy, and does not require sewing (or a sewing machine).
Disadvantages: I would say it is not as secure as a machine-sewn reinforcement; however, given the proper yarn choice, it will be strong enough.
Requirements: WOOL. Feltable animal fiber. Just say no to superwash wools, plant-based materials, and acrylics. This is not negotiable: the yarn must be able to felt and felt well. You will also need to have some feltable wool scrap yarn, a crochet hook several sizes smaller than the needles used for the garment, and be able to crochet a simple chain. Phenomenal crochet skills are not necessary: I learned to crochet only for this purpose, am barely able to produce more than a chain stitch, and have never had a steek fail because of my meager crochet skills.

1. ) With the garment upright, turn the work 90 degrees so that the bottom edge of the steek stitches is on the right. Identify one column of stitches as the steek column, the location of the cut. With a crochet hook, pick up the right half of the stitch to the left of the steek column stitch and the left half of the steek column stitch.
Since I casted my swatch with the white yarn, you will notice that the half stitches I picked up in this foundation row were both white. For every other row, the left one will be white and the right one will be blue, based on the striping of the swatch.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

2.) With feltable scrap yarn, make a loop on the crochet hook and pull it through.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

3.) Loop the yarn over the crochet hook once more.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

4.) Pull through the first loop. There will be only one stitch on the hook.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

5.) Here, you will see the beginning of a single crochet chain. Continuing up the stitch columns, pick up the right half of the left stitch (white) and the left half of the steek column stitch (blue).
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

6.) Loop the yarn over the crochet hook again and pull through. There will be two stitches on the hook.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

7.) Loop the yarn over the crochet hook and pull through both stitches. There will be one stitch on the hook.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Continue in this manner following steps 5-7 until the last stitches at the top of the column have been worked. Break the yarn and thread it through the last remaining loop to secure the chain. The chain will look like this:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Now, turn the work 180 degrees.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Repeat steps 1-7 outlined above, picking up the right half of the steek column stitch (blue) and the left half of the right stitch (white).
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Return the work to the upright position so that the chains run vertically down the steek stitch block.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

Notice how the crocheted chains splay out to the sides. You will be cutting between the two chains, taking care not to snip ANY of the yarn used for the chain. Starting at the bottom of the work with small, sharp scissors, carefully cut up the middle of the steek column.
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

View of the steek from the right side:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

View of the steek from the wrong side:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

View of the edge:
Crochet Steek Reinforcement

The Machine-Sewn Steek

Advantages: It’s fast, provides a very sturdy reinforcement, and can be used with any kind of yarn.
Disadvantages: Running the knitted fabric through the sewing machine risks catching floats on the sewing machine plate and distorting the fabric a bit. A line of tiny stitches will also prove difficult (I would say impossible) to rip out if you make a mistake.
Requirements: A sewing machine (duh) and a small stitch setting. This can be done with fibers that do not felt as well as with those that do.

1) Identify one column of stitches as the steek column, the location of the cut (in my example, it is a blue column). You will be sewing straight lines down the center of the stitch columns on either side of the steek column (shown in white below). Take care not to catch any of the floats on the sewing machine plate and try not to pull the fabric through, as this will distort the edge.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

2.) Beginning at the top of the work, lower the sewing machine needle into the center of the first stitch to the left of the steek column. Before you sew down the entire column, it is best to backstitch a little bit to ensure the stitching will not unravel. With a small stitch, sew a straight line down this column of stitches, backstitching again at the bottom.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Repeat this process with the column of stitches to the right of the steek column.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Starting at the bottom with small, sharp scissors, carefully cut up the middle of the steek column.
Machine sewn steek reinforcement

Machine sewn steek reinforcement

OK, I cut it, what now?

Now that you have a lovely, secured cut edge, you may be wondering what to do next. Chances are, the pattern will call for you to pick up stitches near the cut edge for button/buttonhole or armhole bands. Identify from where exactly (relative to the cut edge) those stitches will be picked up.

Here is an example of picking up stitches near a cut edge:
Picking up stitches for the ribbing

Once you pick up and knit these band stitches as directed, the stitches remaining closer to the cut edge will form a facing that can easily be tacked down to the inside of the garment. Here are some examples:
Blanket stitching the facings down

Facings tacked down with blanket stitch

The guts

Now, go forth and cut away!

Hedge Fence Pullover

Center cable, Hedge Fence Pullover

For as long as I can remember, I have been searching for the perfect cabled pullover. Sometimes, I wonder if this is the real reason I learned to knit. I have very strong opinions about aran-style sweaters. As far as I am concerned, they must

1.) feature symmetrically placed cables;

2.) be heavily cabled, but not be so overwrought so as to include bobbles or a waffle stitch cable;

3.) include some kind of set-in sleeve (no matter how traditional the drop shoulder, I find it sloppy and droopy looking)

4.) not include a mock turtleneck;

5.) not be knit with 10″ of ease;

6.) not make me look 30 lbs heavier.

Is that so much to ask of a sweater? Off the top of my head, Lucy Sweetland’s Lillian and a bobble-less version of Kim Hargreaves’ Demi are the only ones I can think of that come close  - both are in my queue to knit! I have yet to make a sweater that satisfies all of these criteria, but I think this new pattern comes close to meeting my standards.

Front view, Hedge Fence Pullover

Aaron owns and wears more sweaters than anyone I know (knitters included). Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a store-bought sweater to properly fit a very tall, thin man with monkey arms. If something fits in the chest, the arms and body are 4″ too short. If the arms and body are long enough, the body is impossibly wide. Consequently, most of his sweaters are ill-fitting and gigantic. He has been asking for a cabled pullover for years and indeed, I have always wanted to make him something that actually fits. However, I could not find the right pattern. More importantly, I doubted whether he would actually wear what I made him. After all, he has been wearing too-big clothes all his life. Once, when I convinced him to try on a 40″ shirt, he reacted like a cat with tape on its paws. “It’s so tight, I don’t think I could concentrate,” he protested, as he squirmed around in 7″ of positive ease. Sometimes, I wonder if he thinks my clothes fit like spandex. I refused to knit him a sweater as ill-fitting as anything he could buy. But after years of listening to him talk about wanting a handmade cable sweater, last summer, I decided it was time to give it a go. I took some cable patterns from stitch dictionaries and put them together until I found a combination I liked.

Side view, Hedge Fence Pullover

I measured his favorite sweater and found it to have a 46″ chest, 13″ larger than his 33″ chest measurement. We split the difference, and I planned a 39″ size. With still 6″ of ease, I had to aggressively decrease at the armholes to achieve a fitted shoulder width. We are both delighted with the result. I know this pullover will enter Aaron’s winter sweater rotation. And if it doesn’t, there’s always divorce.

Hedge Fence Pullover

Pattern: Hedge Fence Pullover

Yarn: Ram Wools Selkirk (which is really Briggs & Little Regal, don’t ask me why there are two different names for the same yarn) in Brown Heather, 7 skeins

Needles: US 7 (4.5 mm)

I am happy to offer the unisex pattern in 12 sizes: 31 (33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 46, 49, 51, 53, 55)”. The garment takes its name from Hedge Fence Shoal, a shallow sandbar on the far west side of Nantucket Sound, just northeast of Martha’s Vineyard. I have been contemplating a series of fisherman-style sweaters and I decided to go with a naming scheme based on the waters I sailed so much as a child.

The pattern is available as a Ravelry download for $8.50.

The body and sleeves of the garment are knit in the round to the armholes, after which point the knitting is done back and forth. The only seaming required is the sewing in of the sleeve cap. The shoulders are joined by a three-needle bind-off, the underarm stitches are grafted together, and stitches are picked up around the neck for the neckline ribbing. The pattern comes with text instructions, a set of body charts for each size, and a set of sleeve charts for each size. None of the cable instructions are written out – they are all charted. In addition, I have included several pages of notes on how to modify the pattern to achieve the best fit for your body while maintaining the integrity of the center cable panel. Fortunately, the side cables are small enough to allow for quite a lot of flexibility in terms of sizing. The only real challenge in modifying the pattern is to ensure the center cable still flows cleanly into the ribbing at the bottom edge and neckline.

Hedge Fence Pullover

More information about the pattern and a detailed schematic can be found on the Hedge Fence Pullover page or on the Ravelry pattern page.

More photos of the finished garment here.