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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 SteekThe Hand-Sewn SteekThe Crocheted SteekPutting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; FinishingA 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.

Next: The Traditional, Unreinforced Steek

All posts in this series:


As far as whether this information is accessible for the average knitter, is boring, or is otherwise undesirable, I couldn't disagree more. The information you've presented here is practical, comprehensive, and coherent. I've been reading with interest every day, and thinking a lot about the 'production' knitters and what their experience must have been like. I read Alice Starmore's _Fair Isle Knitting_ recently for the first time and was moved by her account of the amazing, prolific Shetland knitters, the pittance given them for their work, and the expectation that they would average a sweater a week. I'm happy to learn whatever I can about their methods even if I never practice them myself. Thanks for all the time and care you have taken to present this information to all of us.


It's plenty accessible to the average knitter! (Thank you for not having any scissors today.)

You lost me - the steek stitches are cast-on separately mid-row?

Eunny, your steeking tutorials are great - I am totally coming back when ready to do a steeked garment. The little illustrations are especially helpful.

I love your diagrams! What software do you use to make them?

I say-blog what you love! Chances are, someone out there loves it too!

Your steeking chronicles have inspired me, not only to do my first steeking project (I'm thinking the wristlets from some Interweave Knits, start small), but you've also continuously inspired me to improve my fledgling blog. Thank you.

I think that your series has been great! Personally, I don't really understand why some beginning knitters only want to read about beginning-level knitting. By reading about some techniques that they don't know how to do, they just might learn something.

Your steeking articles have been well-timed for me. I've started knitting again after setting aside my needles for more than a few years. I decided to plunge right in and try a relatively simple Fair Isle-type cardigan vest that is done with steeks. I have bookmarked your terrific instructions and know I'll look at them again and again.

Been reading a few weeks now. First time commenting. I've really loved this series. Thank you so much for all the hard work you've put in here. In the past I've dismissed the idea of Fair Isle knitting or anything to do with steeking. It looked complicated and scary!! You've done a great job with the step by step instructions and explanations have taken all the scariness out of it. I'll definately be trying out this technique and your pages will be getting lots of hits from me!! I think you've made a huge contribution to the internet knitting community, and I'd be sad if someone's negative comments made you less likely to share your knowledge and experience. Some of us can really use it. :)

I'm not finding this boring at all! You're thorough, your photos are interesting and helpful, and darn it, it's your blog, write what you want! I think it's interesting!

Thank goodness! No scissors today!

Even though I'm still certain I'm not ready to take scissors to my knitting, I've really enjoyed this series and will probably refer to it when the day comes. And as for those who haven't enjoyed it -- who's forcing them to read it? Keep up the good work!

Thanks a million Eunny. I have steaked once before, but I am a newbie at this. Now, I cannot wait to do more. Your tutorials are clear, inspiring and so damn motivating!! Honestly I can hardly restrain myself to tray it all out RIGHT NOW!

Thank you Eunny! I'm currently knitting a Philosopher's Wool Fair Isle (my first Fair Isle) and your steeking instructions are much more helpful than those in the book. Happy Knittin, Heide

Not sure why someone who wasn't interested in this wouldn't just move on without commenting. I have no immediate plans to steek, but I find your posts very informative, and someday....

Please ignore the naysayers and continue your articulate, informative and interesting posts.

Although I am not planning on steeking anytime soon, I appreciate all of the hard work you've put into this! And I agree with the others--it's your blog, so you have the right to talk about whatever you want.

I think you should write a book or at least an article for Knitty. You explain things in a lovely, concise way that really makes it make sense. I could find this interesting only because I'm preparing to embark on my first fair isle sweater (which will require steeks), but I actually think it's interesting because of the way you explain these scary and technical techniques. I can't wait for the next installment.

Eunny, I think it's wonderful, fascinating, and will make me a better knitter! I say PHTTTTTTTT to all those people who voluntarily wander to your personal blog and tell you the stuff you feel like writing about is boring.
Steek on!

Until you started the Steeking Chronicles, my knitting and my big scissors simply didn't even exist in the same room! Now I am anxious to start a Fair Isle and try steeking (must wait until the Knitting Olympics are over, however....) Do you have a favorite FI pattern for steeking novices? And thanks again for your excellent series!

No Way! This is great! Someday someone will google how to steek, and get your site, and be so happy and greatful!

You have no idea how timely you are with your steek posts...this weekend I will be cutting into my first adult Dale (lots on needles, this is the firt to make it to the finish line), and I plan on having my laptop next to the sewing machine when I do so! Thanks much!

I'm finding all of this fascinating and timely; I joined the Sweaters From Camp knit-along and will be knitting the Crichton Cardigan, my first really complicated fair isle with steeks. Your steeking series is the most comprehensive and easy-to-understand I've seen yet.

For those people who feel the need to complain: a good blogger doesn't blog for the entertainment of others, but for the entertainment of themselves. Someone doing it for the attention, and not for some higher purpose, creates a shallow and boring blog, enjoyed only by shallow and boring people.

So there.

This is fascinating reading. I do admit, some of it is greek to me. Even so, I can assure you that once I am ready to create a steeked garment, these posts will become my bible. Thank you for the fabulous photos, too.

Keep on teaching! You're great at it and I look forward to each installment. Also can't wait to see your argyle vest - any more progress on that?

I could read about you writing about steeks for weeks. I love this stuff. Thanks again for doing such an awesome job and making this available to the knitting public!

I found your blog just before Christmas and really look forward to reading your blog and seeing what you're doing. I haven't tried my hand at fair isle yet, but am really happy to know where to find a good primer when I'm ready to give it a try. Thanks for investing so much time and effort into sharing what you've learned.

Oh Eunny! I just love the way you write. It's nice to read that I'm not the only one enjoys imagining and thinking about the people who developed and fine-tuned the craft of knitting.

I love your technical advice, but you seem like you have alot of knowledge about the history of knitting in general. Maybe in a future post you'd be interested in sharing a little of your historical knowledge? I know I'd be interested. :-)

Boring!? Granted, a matter of opinion to which everyone is entitled. However, to those is the know... OMG!!! what a GEM!!! Quality information presented so comprehensively is a real find. And to think, all this knowledge that enriches our learning and knitting is being made so accessible... a big THANK YOU!!! I'm really glad I found you!!!

Loving the tutorial - don't listen to those other fuddy duddies ;) I do have a question re: Norwegian stockings, which I finally started. It's not clear to me in the graph section what the stitch is - continue k2p2 or st st? I wish I had seen your follow up comments on the dpns vs. circulars - I couldn't agree more - mine is looking very wonky and really must be pulled apart and started again. :(

Oops! Also wanted to mention this article on spinning - thought you might be interested...

Uh, Eunny? It's YOUR blog. Tell those people to shut the hell up.

You and your steeks rock. ;-)

Me again. I just wanted to let you know that I just used your wonderful decrease information on my mitten. Thanks again - I wouldn't have known what to do without this tutorial.

i have been reading your steeking series, i have to say my head was spinning every time... i guess that was because i was not doing steeking now or had never done it. but i'm so glad you put this together as one day when i actually try, it will totally make sense to me. thank you, eunny!!

You don't have to explain yourself. Some of it is over my head but it's all very interesting. I don't like when people comment on something they arn't interested in, then don't read it!

wow- a pox on anyone who sent you nasty emails! This is fantastic- I can't wait to work up the courage to try some of this out, you give great directions with fantastic pics and graphics!

I am an 'advanced beginner' and it made complete sense to me!

WOW. just. wow.

thank you.

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I love your advice and instruction details. This is why I am asking you to describe and instruct me in the armhole steek at the point of where the armhole meets with the shoulder. I have read of beginning the underarm steek, and I understand your directions. I assume that I graft the shoulder area together prior to beginning to knit the sleeve, but how does the last row of steeking end? The top row of stitches are on a holder for sleeve attachment on the body of the garment? Does any of your previous instructions show this matter? I cannot visulize the process in reverse, and I do not want to ruin weeks of knitting my cardigan.
Thank you for your assistance in advance.

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