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!

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30 comments so far

  1. Elizabeth on

    This is such a nice tutorial. Thanks. I was wondering how you tacked the steeks down afterward. I can see that you’ve done the blanket stitch, but how does that look on the right side? Do you only secure it through part of the ws fabric, like through the yarn?

  2. Jody on

    What a fantastic tutorial – thank you so much for putting this together. I’ve been knitting for about 4 years now and have tried nearly every technique EXCEPT steeking. I have been too chicken!
    I will definitely try at least a swatch before jumping right in but this has given me renewed courage.

    Thanks again!
    -Jody

  3. Kelly on

    Thank you for this! Some day soon i’m going to tackle my first fair isle garment and shall be using this when the time comes.

  4. Lori on

    I just did my first crocheted steeks yesterday and I wish I had seen this yesterday. It would have eased some of my (unfounded) fears! The one thing that I couldn’t find in any tutorial is how to handle the top edge of the steek. I ended up whipstitching it to secure. The horizontal edges started to unravel (inspite of my awesome crocheted reinforcement of the vertical edge). I don’t know if I did something wrong or if that’s just implied (to reinforce them).

    Regardless, Thank you for this tutorial! I need to go home and tack down the facings now.

  5. Rachel on

    Wow, that’s really great! I feel a bit more secure about steeking in the future!

  6. lucy on

    This gives me more confidence to partake such a task in the future. Thanks E for putting this tutorial together.

  7. tiennie on

    What a great tutorial. I’ve only steeked once and I reinforced using my sewing machine. I want to try it your way!

  8. Melanie on

    Thank you for such a terrific tutorial! I haven’t ventured into steeking land yet, but you’ve encouraged me to at least consider it. :)

  9. mai on

    fair isle in the round and steeking are so pleasing to me! thanks for sharing the tutorial! :)

  10. Sonya on

    That is a fantastic tutorial! Thank you so much for taking the time to put it together. I’ve done machine steeking, but the crochet is so tidy.

  11. Mandy on

    Awesome tutorial! When I crochet a steek, then pull it/tug it apart before cutting, I can clearly see the strands to be cut. I also go very slowly when cutting. These little things give me that extra confidence to know that steeking isn’t scary!

  12. purlingplans on

    This is a terrific tutorial, thank you!!

  13. robin on

    This is a great tutorial. Thank you so much for showing the actual steps in making a crocheted steek! I’m a very visual learner, so this is exactly what I needed. I’m ready to try steeking!

  14. Ann on

    This is a very detailed tutorial – thank you so much. I still think I am not ready for steeking – it’s just the scary me.

  15. nova on

    Excellent tutorial, Elinor. It makes me want to knit something up just for the purpose of trying the crochet steek method.

  16. Nanette on

    That is a great tutorial Elinor – I’ll add it promptly to the Ravelry Stranded forum group pages.

    In my continuing efforts to experience everything disastrous in knitting, I once had some ends in a crocheted steek work their way loose using Brown Sheep Nature Spun wool yarn so I now sew everything.

  17. riotyarn on

    Thanks for the tutorial. I will try it!

  18. Jill aka oboegoddess on

    So, I’m knitting this baby pullover in cotton. I decided I wanted to try and steek a cut in the neckline and add a couple of buttons and then use the crocheted steek as a decorative edge and finish the rest of the neckline that way. That idea made me think of your recent tutorial. But then when I went back to read it I was sad when I read that I can’t crochet steek cotton, but I can’t really understand why. Is the single crochet not entirely secure. Maybe I’ll just have to try it on a swatch… Thanks so much for the tutorial. It has inspired me to try it out!

  19. Medea on

    Thanks for showing us!! I really want to try this in a fair isle west.

  20. Lia on

    Thank you so much for posting this with so many clear, detailed photos and such a good step-by-step description. I’m going to be reinforcing and cutting my first steeks soon, and this is an excellent reference!

  21. Flyin’ Needles » Steeked! on

    [...] you’re looking for more steek tutorials, there is another nice one on Excercise Before Knitting, and then the thorough Steeking Chronicles at See Eunny [...]

  22. Jen on

    Great tutorial – thanks for the clear explanation!

  23. kfklever on

    Your instructions on steeking are extremely helpful! I recently bought your plum frost cardigan pattern and I am no longer terrified of steeking. Thanks so much I can’t wait to get started!

    Kirsten

  24. Bonnie on

    This is wonderful, thank you! I don’t have a sewing machine, nor do I plan on getting one in the near future, so the crochet technique is great for me :)

  25. [...] comprehensive overview of the whys and wherefores of steeking. Also really helpful is a post on Exercise before Knitting. And if you want to watch how it’s done, KnitPicks has a video that shows you what to [...]

  26. Regenboog « konijnenfluisteraar on

    [...] de twee roze ringetjes zie je de zgn. “steek“, waar ik aan het eind ga knippen, zodat het een vest wordt en geen trui… Ik weet nu [...]

  27. [...] together. I also added 3 stitches in the front so that I could try for the first time a crochet STEEK. (I know! I don’t think it’s an accident that the word “steek” contains the [...]

  28. Teddy adventures « ivegotknits on

    [...] I did a bit of research on steeking – turns out there is a wealth of useful information all over the internet. I then measured Teddy Sam’s arms and body, then used pins to mark out where I [...]

  29. Gerður on

    like!


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