Elinor Brown Knits

Knitting Designs by Elinor Brown

Category: crochet

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!

The Perfect Stashbuster

With an organic chemistry exam (they just keep coming) this evening, I’ve made lots of progress on my study sock and as soon as I weave in ends on Ann’s socks, they’ll be ready to send. Unfortunately, this is the only progress picture I have for you today.

I can’t believe I’m crocheting. *sigh* I assure you hard core knitters that this crochet is a temporary break from the usual sock knitting! I have a few small baby knits in my queue so maybe I’ll start those as soon as all of these gift socks are done!

Crochet: The Abyss

I’m shocked that it’s been two weeks since my last blog post! I’ve been collecting little bits here and there but I haven’t had any knitting content worth mentioning!

First up, you really must go check out this really cool free sock pattern. It’s a great pattern on its own but the designer? Another Elinor. And she spells it correctly. Not like the manufacturer of Sarah’s shoes, which are still cool because they’re called ‘Eleanor’, but not as cool as if they’d been called ‘Elinor’.

Speaking of shoes, check out what Johanna’s been making! I’m definitely going to put in an order for a pair for Beatrix! Where does that mama find the time? I am thoroughly impressed!

For those of you interested in the Woolarina sock yarn I used for my Orchid socks, you should go see Jennie’s current WIP with another colorway of Woolarina. She’s struggling with the sock heel but the yarn is just beautiful!! I hope Woolarina puts up more yarn soon!

I’m afraid that I’ve been teetering on the abyss of crochet. (runs around in circles screaming) All thanks to Maryse and her stinkin’ Soft Waves Ripple Afghan. You see, I have this huge “stash”. I use the term tentatively because I’m referring to partial skeins and leftovers from other projects, which I know many of you refuse to call “stash” (denial must be nice…) Leftovers aside, my stash is tiny compared to some of the ones I’ve been seeing on Ravelry (I’m lookin’ at you JulieFrick!). Nevertheless, I would love to use up my remnants and since I’m not likely to finish any knitted blanket, I thought I’d try to crochet one.

The first problem? I don’t know how to crochet. Maryse gave me the rundown on exactly what crochet stitches I’d need to learn and blogless Camille from my knitting group got me started. I’ve already used up about 5 oz of Cotton Ease remnants making washcloths! I’ve been giving them away as I crochet them so you don’t get any pictures of my wonky “squares”.

The second problem? The pattern is from a book that my library doesn’t have and I’m just not going to buy a book for ONE pattern. While there are 200 stitch patterns in this book, I thought I’d take my chances on Amazon to see if the book had an excerpt. It does and guess what? The excerpt includes the pattern I want! This just goes to show that you should ALWAYS ‘Look Inside This Book’!

I’m planning to make the blanket baby sized and use up lots of Wool of the Andes, Cascade 220 and misc worsted weight wool. I might buy a few more WoTA skeins to balance the colors out but not until I get started! No need to add to stash for a stash buster, right?

Next up, I’m going to have to come clean with you about what I’ve done with my Grapefruit socks:

Let’s just say that there will not be a sock giveaway, although I promise to hold another giveaway (with a good prize) in place of the socks. I am weak. Ann offered to trade me some Sea Wool for my socks and I took her up on it. Please don’t hate me (didn’t I tell you I was weak?) Besides, you know you would have done the same…

Because Ann is too cool for words, she also threw in some Lang Jawoll for fun! I’m hoping to finish up Ann’s socks this week so I can liberate my size 1 circular so I can continue knitting this pair for my aunt. I can’t remember the name of the pattern just now but it’s a 4-stitch cable pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks.

Even so, I need some stockinette socks to knit while studying! Studying is the only way I’m getting in any knitting these days. This is my new study sock! It’s Regia Cotton India. I’m knitting these for my mom who claims to be allergic to wool (I have my doubts about this but I’m compromising).

The knitting is really taking a back seat to organic chemistry and exercise!! I really must carve out some knitting (dare I say ‘crochet’ too?) time soon! I’ve been running 3 days a week with my friend’s running program, playing soccer 2 days a week, taking exercise classes 3 days a week and getting up for Dog Days, a community exercise program 2 times a week. Since there aren’t 10 days in a week, that means exercise twice a day most days of the week. It’s been a lot of fun but it doesn’t leave much room for knitting. Summer is for getting outside so don’t expect prolific knitting in the next few months! I know you’re all outside too!