The Steeking Chronicles: Planning and Setting Steeks, and Handling Decreases
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
While I've been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to this series, I have also received two or three emails that basically told me this stuff is boring, or inaccessible for the "average" knitter (whatever that may be). I certainly don't want to alienate anyone, but I think the technical whys and hows of traditional Scottish Fair Isle knitting (the unending work of baby-hampered women, beautiful yarns twitching with marvelous speed through calloused fingers to make fine things for the wealthy - how strange it must have been for them, the growing jumper a vibrant spot against the drab of the patched skirt!) - is an enormously interesting subject. Even if garter stitch scarves are more your bag, the science and craft and ingenuity that went into those garments are compelling things - I think the trendy knitters, the luxury knitters, the old-school knitters, the avant-garde knitters all owe respect, at least, to the ones who didn't do it for fun.
Not to suggest that some latent schoolmarm tendency prompted these posts - just trying to explain why I think it's so fascinating.
Planning and placing a steek
I talked a little bit yesterday about the importance of beginning and ending your rounds within a steek. The reason is simple - the less visible the join, the less obtrusive it is. Circular knitting is, in effect, knitting in a giant spiral that grows by one whole stitch every round. Though there are lots of methods for a "jogless join" floating about, I've found that there is no absolutely flawless way to create a seamless meeting of pattern - the end of the row will always appear to be one row higher than the beginning. Hiding the join within a steek (whenever possible) eliminates that annoying jog, and does away with color change ends, to boot.
If you are knitting a cardigan, the first steek will, of course, extend all the way up and down the front of the sweater. The steek should be cast on with the body of the sweater, as the first few stitches cast on and the last few stitches cast on. Work the steek as usual, right through the ribbing, right into the body of the sweater.
Keep your end-of-round in the same place for the whole sweater - once cut and trimmed and folded under, the body of the garment will have perfect pattern symmetry from bottom to top and hundreds of ends will have been done away with.
A pullover doesn't offer the same advantage, of course. Work your end-of-round at one side or the other, where the seam on a flat-knitted garment would run. Knit until you reach the point at which you wish to start the armhole on that side, and put the armpit stitches on a holder.
It's worth noting here that traditional FI garments, with their dropped sleeves and square shaping, place just one armpit stitch on a holder to be picked up with the sleeve stitches later. Picking up and circularly knitting a sleeve down from a shaped armhole is tricky and requires lots of short row math to handle the sleeve cap - nevertheless, if shaped armscyes are on the menu, the armscye stitches bound off in flat knitting would be put on the holder now. Both sides of that armhole - that is, the front side and back side - should have their armpit stitches held now: you would knit to, say, the sixth or seventh-to-last stitch of the round, hold those plus the first six or seven stitches of the next round, and then proceed.
With the armpit stitch(es) on a holder, cast on one border stitch, the bridge stitches, and the last border stitch.
The end-of-round will now fall in the center of the steek - you can now continue knitting the body of the sweater, set the steek on the opposite armhole, and go on your merry way.
When it comes to casting on steek stitches, I use the plain old long-tail caston, treating one color as the tail and one as the working yarn. Backwards loop and cable caston all work fine, as long as both strands make it all the way across the steek (whether held double-stranded or worked in alternating stitches).
Steeks set within one row (as opposed to straddling the end-of-round), like a neck steek or the opposing armhole steek, are handled much the same way. When setting your neck steeks, knit to the point at which you'd normally start binding off stitches for the center neck (or the point at which you'd stop and turn to work the first side of the neck), put the center neck stitches on a holder
cast on your border, bridge, and border stitches as usual
and knit on. The steek stitches lie between the stitch markers in this photo.
Because steeks are often narrower than the number of stitches they replace, the held stitches pouch out a bit. This is a good time to get out that ziploc of scrap yarn, since those fancy stitch holders in your notions bag are too rigid and will distort the stitches.
Handling decreases in Fair Isle
Steeks afford the knitter the freedom to shape the garment however she likes within the fabric of the body. Decreasing in a patterned fabric, though, can present some problems when done the usual way.
In plain knitting, most of us decrease like this:
The decreases are made two or three stitches in from the edge, and they are worked such that they slant away from the shaped edge and toward the center of the garment. A smooth, continuous line is created where a series of decreases runs. To create the edge above, a ssk is used, while the opposite slant would be created with a k2tog.
It's all very well and good, but it presents problems when done in patterned knitting:
Even the simplest seeded pattern (a 1x1 check) is disrupted by the decreases. The two stitches between the decrease and the edge, though worked in pattern, are thrown out of alignment with the stitches above and below them.
The very simple solution: in Fair Isle and other colored knitting, always (1) decrease in the first or last two stitches possible (right up against the edge or steek); and (2) reverse the decreases, meaning each decrease should slant towrads the edge and away from the center of the garment.
An edge that slants from right to left as it grows is made of k2togs:
while the edge that slants from left to right as it groes is made of ssks.
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