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The Steeking Chronicles: The Hand-Sewn Steek

Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color ChangesPlanning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle KnittingThe Traditional, Unreinforced Steek • The Hand-Sewn Steek • The Crocheted SteekPutting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; FinishingA Word On Norwegian Steeks

After the horror of the naked, unstabilized steek, every other kind should appear to be slightly less insane. Today, I'll show you my method for a steek stabilized on either side of the cut with hand-stitching.

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While the unreinforced steek is really suitable only for Shetland wool or other very hairy, very "sticky" yarns, hand-sewing works to stabilize smoother animal yarns - think Merino or other wools that feel soft against the skin, but would still be candidates for felting. The hand-sewing provides some hold, but isn't a complete guarantee: the real work is still done by tight gauge, closely woven floats, and the natural tendency of animal hairs to cling together. Superwash wools and plant yarns aren't great prospects for hand-sewing - the possibility of a slippery yarn popping out of its thread binding is too real for my tastes.

For this steek, I've used eight bridge stitches and two edge stitches, and worked the color changes with vertical lines rather than checks. The two methods are interchangeable, though some people prefer lines for the guidance they give when sewing and cutting. The edge stitches, worked in the background color (shades of gray) are marked again with pink arrows, and the end-of-round jog (between the fourth and fifth bridge stitches) is marked with a blue arrow. Once again, that end-of-round point will be our cutting line.

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I sew as close to the cutting line as possible - that is, exactly half a stitch away on either side, or down the centerlines of the fourth and fifth stitches. If cutting into the sewing by accident is a concern, there's no reason why sewing can't take place a whole stitch or stitch and a half away from the cutting line, but the longer unraveled ends will have to be trimmed as part of garment finishing. The stitching lines are shown here in green, on either side of the blue cutting line.

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Plain polyester sewing thread works fine, as would cotton or linen thread. Thread a sharp needle, and run the thread all the way down and back up the steek, catching as many floats as you can. The goal is to split the plies of the yarn (hence the sharp needle used) to create a secure hold.

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Backstitch along the running stitch foundation you've laid, taking very narrow stitches that split the yarn itself. The finished stitching should be strong and firm - making tiny stitches allows you to create a firm seam without pulling or puckering or otherwise distorting the gauge of the steek itself. The smaller your stitches are, the tighter they'll hold the floats once cut.

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Repeat along the other sewing line. Begin and end each line of sewing by taking two or three stitches very close together to secure the thread.

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On the wrong side, the stitching is more obvious, since it isn't buried in the valley of a knit stitch - some people prefer to cut from this side, to ensure that the stitching isn't inadvertently cut.

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I know you love these pictures!

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Seriously, cut very slowly, snipping just a float at a time. Slipping and cutting into the backstitching will spoil the whole thing, and you'll curse the Shetland archipelago and Scotland and knitting and every other damn thing you can think of. Patience, patience.

The cut steek, ready to be turned under and tacked down. Done correctly on the proper wool, this method should give you a secure, stable edge without stiffness.

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(for those who are interested in such things, the swatch here uses the same pattern as yesterday's, but the background and pattern colors have been reversed. Neither is really a success - but that's what swatching's for, right?)

Next: The Crocheted Steek

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Comments

That is sooooo scary looking!

I'm not sure my nerves will survive this series... But it's very informative! Thanks. :)

These tutorials are fabulous. I'm learning so much and by the time it comes to actually doing a steek I may be able to do it without totally freaking out. Hopefully.

Steeking is scary.

But I'm looking forward to tomorrow's installment.

You rock! Thank you so much for doing that tutorial.

It is rare that there are such clear, concise, detailed, accurate tutorials available.... You are incredibly talented! Thank you for sharing your time and expertise with us... and yes, we do love those pictures!

Thank you for going to so much effort for the rest of the knitting world. I have always been fearless in knitting except for steeks. After your tutorials I feel I could tackle them. Weird because I have no qualms about cut and sew with machine knitted fabric. I think fair isle some how feels mor precious. thank you, thank you, thank you.

I usually just drag out my sewing machint to stitch down the steeks before cutting, but I'll definitely have to try hand sewing and see how this goes.

Ah, Lola Lee just brought up my question. Have you ever just used your machine to sew the steeks?

Thank you sososo much for the phototutorial on steeking. I'm getting ready to learn fair isle and while I'm not afraid to do steeks, it certainly helps to have such clear pictures and know what the options are before I start!

Your tutorial couldn't have come at a better time - soon I will be doing my first FI sweater. I'm planning on doing it in the round then using steeks to make a cardigan. Thanks!!!

This just gets better and better! I'm very eager to see the crocheted steek in action. Many knitters fear the hook, but I embrace it. :-) And it sounds so much less fussy than this needle-and-thread maneuver.

Maybe a silly question, but I was wondering how you tack down the steeked edges after cutting. Do you simply fold a mini hem and stitch it in place? Or is there some other magical method?

Oh my. Very informative, but that image of the fair isle with the scissors "in action" made my heart flutter... poor wittle yarn...

I am not sure exactly what a steek is but I was searching for info on cutting a hand knit piece and then sewing it so I found the info posted here extrememly helpful.
Thanks for the pics and detailed description.

I'm about to cut my first steek and I think I need to take a tranquilizer before I make the cut. Your instructions are great. I'll let you know the results

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