The Steeking Chronicles: The Hand-Sewn 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I know you love these pictures!
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.
(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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