Sticking Your Steeks: How To Cut Your Knitting Without Fear

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:

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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Stashbusting in 2018: Making the Most of Your Yarn Stash

We know that some of you may be “cold sheeping*” in 2018, but even if you’re not, we all have yarns marinating in our stash that we’d like to use. Today’s blog post will talk a little about how to use your stash, with a look at a few ways that Ravelry can help you make the most of your precious skeins.

Better Stashbusting Through Ravelry
First, we'll look at a few tools on Ravelry that can help you find the perfect match between yarns in your stash and patterns to knit with them.

We recommend taking the time to enter ALL of your stash into Ravelry - even those skeins lurking in the very bottom of the bin! While this may take an afternoon of your time (or perhaps several afternoons), it's worth it if you are committed to stash-busting.

You can easily go to the Stash tab in your notebook and see what you have already entered into Ravelry, and also use the Add to Stash button to enter your yarns into your stash.

If you decide at some point that you want to knit with a specific yarn in your stash, you can click on that yarn entry, and then view projects that have been made with the same yarn. This may help you narrow down your choices for that perfect pattern!

Perhaps you'd rather start with the type project you want to make and then figure out what yarn in your stash you'll use for it - Ravelry makes that easy, too! First, go to the Patterns tab, and then click Pattern Browser and Advanced Search. You can now sort by a variety of factors: pick the kind of project you might want to knit (hat, scarf, shawl, sweater, socks, etc.), and then you can scroll down the page and on click the menu option Yarn in My Stash.

If you want to narrow down the pattern by what weight of yarn you have and how much you have (for instance, say you have 1,000 yards of worsted weight yarn in your stash), then select the appropriate parameters and Ravelry will find patterns calling for just that amount of yarn.

Mixing Yarns in Your Stash
Sometimes there are a variety of skeins that appear in one's stash that are all different weights and fiber types - have you ever wondered if you could use some of them together? In general, you may not want to mix yarns of extremely differing fiber types or weights within the same project because they may detract from the finished object. For instance, you might not want to mix merino yarn with a cotton yarn because the merino will be soft and stretchy and bounce back into shape, whereas the cotton may not have very much give or might get stretched out of shape more quickly. Or you may not want to knit a striped project out of a fingering weight and a worsted weight because there will be such a variation in your gauge between the sections.

However, you may want to explore projects where yarns of different fibers and types are worked together. Kobuk by Caitlin Hunter is a hat that is knit by holding a lace weight strand of mohair together with DK strand of merino yarn to create a super fluffy and warm hat. Stephen West designs a large number of his patterns to be knit with yarns of multiple weights and fiber compositions, and his latest Marled Mania theme is all about holding two strands of different yarns together for the effect it creates.

Do you have a ton of leftovers in specific weight(s) of yarn? Perhaps you knit socks like crazy and always have odds and ends left over, or maybe you love to knit hats and lots of little bits of worsted weight yarn lying around. If so, you might consider the following stashbusting projects:

There are many, many projects on Ravelry that can be knit with leftovers of various types. Scrappy sock blankets are a popular project now. Try the Sock Yarn Blanket by Shelly Kang, Memory Blanket by Georgie Nicholson, or Barn Raising Quilt by Shelley Mackie & Larissa Brown, all of which can be knit with sock scraps, or adapted for any other weight yarn. Another pattern to keep in mind is Stephen Wests' Garter Squish pattern, which is available for free and could be adapted for a variety of yarn weights and yardages. If you’re a crocheter, you might check out patterns by Lucy of Attic24 which incorporate a variety of stripes and colors into fun afghan patterns.

Colorwork Projects
If you’re feeling adventurous, you might check out patterns featuring colorwork to use up your odds and ends of leftovers. This works best if your leftovers are solid, but we have seen some beautiful projects out of variegated colorways as well. For this you can use the search parameters we discussed above and select what you might like from the Colorwork folder under Attributes. Then you can add what weight yarns you’re looking to use up, and determine what might be your perfect project.

Reclaiming Your Stash
We all have those unfinished projects, you know the ones that we were so excited to cast on but are now languishing in project bags out of sight and out of mind. You might try rediscovering those yarns and repurposing them for other projects: Frog that sweater you started 2 years ago that is now too small for the recipient (here's a great tutorial on the Knitted Bliss blog)! Don’t like knitting with lace weight as much as you thought? Use the tools above to find a project where you can combine it with another yarn or hold it doubled and select a fingering weight project that shows that beautiful yarn off. Or just use the pattern search to help you find different patterns that catch your fancy. Don’t let those beautiful yarns go to waste!

We hope the stash busting ideas and tools we discussed above will help you make the most of your stash. Please share your stashbusting projects with us on Instagram by using the tag #knitterspride. We look forward to seeing what you create!

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*Cold Sheeping: Trying not to buy any new yarn!