The Steeking Chronicles: The Unreinforced Steek
Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color Changes Planning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle Knitting The Traditional, Unreinforced Steek The Hand-Sewn Steek The Crocheted Steek Putting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; Finishing A Word On Norwegian Steeks
Today, I'll show you the scariest steek - the one with nothing to stabilize it. No sewing, no crochet, nothing to keep the whole sweater from unraveling but some peculiar properties of Shetland wool. This method won't work for any superwash, manmade, plant fiber, or otherwise smooth yarn, or yarn much thicker than DK weight - hairy, prickly wool fibers and tight gauge are what promote the slight felting that holds the cut steek together.
For a no-sew steek, the bridge can be formed by any even number of stitches, depending on habit and comfort. I have read of production knitters in Shetland working with as little as two steek stitches, for speed and reduction of waste, but I like to use between six (shown below) and ten stitches, depending on the stress the stitches will receive after being cut - more along a high-stress area like a button band or armhole; fewer along a less-manipulated area.
The steek proper is flanked by two edge or border stitches (marked with pink arrows here), usually worked in the background color, which become the stitches for picking up and working sleeves, neckbands and button bands.
There are several ways of working the steek itself. For an unsewn steek, the arrangement of stitches isn't particularly important - the main requirement is frequent color changes (usually every stitch) to create a tightly woven fabric. A steek with long floats of color will not hold together well, while a steek made of yarns that alternate every stitch has a firmness that promotes cling. I follow Alice Starmore's advice and alternate colors every row, creating a checked or seeded effect, while others stack colors, creating vertical columns that can be easily followed for stitching and cutting.
The end-of-round is marked with a blue arrow in the picture above, clearly showing the jog where each row ends and the next begins. The end of round, whenever possible, should take place in the center of a steek, as the jog is hidden and color-change ends become a non-issue once cut. When casting on, the steek stitches should comprise the first and last few stitches of the round.
I simply knot new strands at each color change, though a felted join or no join at all works just as well. If the change takes place outside a steek, I'd later unknot the ends, pull up the tensions, and weave them in. I'll just leave these as is, and trim the knots away with any other hanging ends once the bridge has been cut.
Remember to bind off your steek, or put it on a holder if you prefer to graft or bind off the two sides together. Now, there's nothing left to do but cut.
Elizabeth Zimmerman gave some famous advice about retreating to a dark room with a stiff drink after making the cut. I don't know if it's necessary to go quite that far - though it certainly couldn't hurt. Just cut slowly, snipping a few threads at a time, with a pair of very sharp scissors. Since we have an even number of stitches, we're cutting between the third and fourth stitches of this six-stitch bridge.
Here's the edge formed. As you can see, hardly anything has unraveled at all.
It stands up fine to washing and blocking, too. Further handling will only strengthen the edge - those suckers aren't going anywhere.
Next: The Hand-Sewn Steek
All posts in this series:
- Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color Changes
- Planning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle Knitting
- The Traditional, Unreinforced Steek
- The Hand-Sewn Steek
- The Crocheted Steek
- Putting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; Finishing
- A Word On Norwegian Steeks
After the whole debacle of the baby sweater, I needed something to cheer me up - I started last night on an argyle vest for me in the Korean Merino. If you can make out the "lazybones" scribbled at the top, it's because my construction for this takes the easy way out - no intarsia, knit entirely in the round in stranded Fair Isle (shoulder shaping, too! Walk, do not run, to read this), with the pattern plotted with double lines to ensure that there are no floats longer than 5 stitches.
I'm hoping the final product will be a good union of a very traditional pattern, modern (that is, easy-way-out) construction, and up-to-date shaping, all in an old-school garment (I mean, who wears a vest anymore?). It's going to be a long-line kind of thing, with wide ribbing and a rather deep (below the bust) v-neck. I picture wearing it with a pink oxford, white wide-leg pants, brown slingbacks, and my hands in my pockets - we'll see.