Steeking is a technique used primarily in colorwork knitting where you knit in the round, adding extra columns of stitches that you can later reinforce and cut open. "Steek" is a Scottish word that is used for the columns of stitches that will later be cut. This technique enables you to knit colorwork patterns in the round without interruption, rather than having to work back and forth on sections to accommodate armholes, necklines and openings for cardigans.
For instance, if you are interested in knitting a colorwork cardigan, you may choose to knit the garment as a pullover seamlessly in the round, adding a small panel of extra stitches at the front that you will later cut open to create your cardigan fronts.
Steeking is best accomplished using non-superwash animal fibers that are slightly sticky or fuzzy because they tend to hold together better when you cut them open. While you can steek with superwash yarns, we recommend using something a bit stickier for your first attempt, as superwash yarns are normally fairly smooth. Traditionally, steeked sweaters are knit with Shetland wool (as in Fair Isle sweaters) or in Icelandic wools (as in Nordic sweaters).
If you are contemplating steeking a colorwork project, the best thing you can do to prepare is to create a swatch. Let’s try it!
- A pattern, specifically a colorwork chart.
- Appropriate yarn and needles as your pattern requires.
- A crochet hook that is approximately the same size as your knitting needles.
- 5-10 yards of sturdy waste yarn.
- Stitch Markers.
- A pair of sharp scissors.
- Sewing machine, threaded and ready to go.
Start with creating a swatch of your colorwork design in the round, adding a short vertical panel of 5 stitches where you will be making the cut to your knitting later on. For this swatch to be useful both in terms of testing your gauge and as a steeked swatch (it's always good to make your swatches do double duty!), be sure that you knit a sufficiently-sized swatch to check gauge (click here to read our previous blog post about swatching). For whatever gauge you knit at, we recommend knitting your swatch as a 5” or 6” square. Additionally, a design which has frequent color changes is ideal for your first steek, as denser colorwork holds together the best when cut.
Step 1: Cast on your chosen number of stitches for your swatch (remember to add 5 extra stitches for your steek panel!). Knit the first row of your swatch in your main color. At the end of Row 1, join your work, being careful not to twist it, and place a stitch marker to mark your beginning of round. When you knit Round 2, place a second stitch marker 5 stitches from the end of your round. Now knit 2-3 more rounds in your main color.
Step 2: Begin knitting from your colorwork chart. You will be working Row 1 of the chart over all of the stitches of your swatch, except for the last 5 stitches of the round (which is now located between your stitch markers). Most often, patterns will have you work 2 colors per row; you should alternate these colors in 1x1 colorwork when you reach the final 5 stitches of the round (which we'll refer to as the steek panel).
For instance, if you are working with colors A and B, you can knit the 5-stitch panel in A-B-A-B-A. On the next round, if you are using the same colors, you should reverse the colors, so you knit B-A-B-A-B. If you are using different colors in the next round, just alternate those colors in the 5-stitch panel. When you finish using any color, you can cut that color, leaving a 5-6” tail.
At the end of your swatch, knit 2-4 rounds in your main color and then bind off loosely.
Step 3: Once you have created your swatch, the next step in steeking is to reinforce the edges where you wish to cut. There are two primary methods you can use for this: sewn reinforcement and crochet reinforcement. If you are comfortable machine sewing your knitting, run a single or double line of stitching vertically along the outer edges of where you will be cutting. We recommend running these lines through the 2nd and 4th column of stitches of your 5-stitch steek.
If you are not comfortable with the sewing machine method, you can use a crochet hook and crochet around the 2nd and 4th column of stitches holding your knit stitches into place, as shown below. For additional photos and a tutorial on how to do a crochet reinforcement, you may wish to consult Kate Davies’ excellent tutorial on her website, Reinforcing and Cutting.
Step 4: Once you have reinforced the edges, it is time to cut your knitting! For this you will want to use a pair of sharp scissors. You will also want to pick a vertical line in the center of your steeking panel, the 3rd stitch, and cut through your knitting at the same point in each row.
At this point you made your first steek! What follows are additional suggestions for finishing a steeked edge garments or other finished knits. You may wish to practice these techniques on your swatch, but if not, you can now wash and block your swatch to check for gauge and get ready to start your project.
Additional Steps: After you have cut open your knitting, you will need to begin your finishing work. From the outer edges of your reinforcement line, pick up for your button bands and knit them as written in the pattern. Or, in the case of sleeves, you may pick up the stitches and knit your sleeve down to the cuff; alternatively, you could knit the sleeves separately and sew them in.
There are many methods for finishing the inside of your garment where the steeked edges are. You may wish to knit a folded button band. If you do this you can tack down the inside portion of the folded button band over the steeked edge, trapping it inside the buttonband, out of sight.
If your button band is not folded, you may wish to purchase some ribbon to line the inside of your button bands. This will both stabilize your button bands, as well as cover the steeked edge. Again, if you are comfortable using a sewing machine on your knits, you can attach the ribbon to the button band using your machine. If you are not, you can tack the ribbon down and hand sew the edges to the button band, covering up the steeked edge.
Whether or not you hide the steeked edge, after a few washes the edges should felt a bit and become even more secure.
If you are interested in more information on steeking, you may wish to read:
- Eunny Jang, The Steeking Chronicles
- Wendy Johnson (via Knitty), “You want me to cut what?”
- Knitting Help/Very Pink Knits video tutorial, Steeking
It's been a while since we hosted a giveaway here on our blog! We're giving 1 lucky reader a chance to win this Pattern Chart Keeper and Blush Needle and Crochet Gauge with Yarn Cutter from our 2017-18 Collection! To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post telling us if you've ever given seeking a try (and how it went if you did!). Be sure to also mention your Ravelry ID or email address so that we can contact you if you win. We'll randomly select a winner to announce on our next blog post in March. Good luck!
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