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The Steeking Chronicles: Putting it all together

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

So, maybe you know all the reasons why you might use a steek. You know when to use one, how to use one, all the different methods you might use to keep it from turning your whole sweater into a pile of limp, crinkly threads. You definitely know how to scissor into knit fabric - in fact, the image is burned indelibly on your brain :)

But what comes next?

On the needles, the body of a sweater (this is a scale model, of course; it's about 80 stitches in circumference and 70 rows tall) will look funny and misshapen, drawn in at the top by the neck steeks at back and front. Get ready to cut your steeks by putting the shoulder stitches on four seperate holders and anchoring all your steek stitches in some way.

Steeks capitalize on the reluctance of a knit stitch to run sideways, but even Shetland wool will ladder merrily from top to bottom. For this reason, steek stitches must always be bound off or held before cutting. Since the neck steeks will be folded away from each other and under the the fabric of their respective shoulders, they can be bound off.

Shoulder steeks, too, can be bound off, or can be held (seperately from the shoulder stitches!) and grafted or bound off together to form a continuous facing all the way around the shoulder.

You'll notice that for both neck and shoulder steeks, the border or edge stitch (the stitch worked with background yarn on either side of the bridge stitches) is held together with its shoulder stitches. For all intents and purposes, those stitches, which will be used to pick up and work bands and sleeves, are now part of the garment body, rather than part of the waste stitches.

Apply the reinforcement of your choice, and open the garment up.

Close the live shoulder stitches however you like - I use a three needle bindoff, but grafting works well, too. Close the front and back sides of the armhole steeks along with the shoulder "seam".

The edge stitch, which we've made such a big to-do over, finally comes into play here. Worked all in the background color, it creates a distinct line along which button bands, neck bands and sleeves can be picked up and knit.

Work all bands and sleeves, incorporating the held stitches at armpit and center necks. Now, before final finishing, is the time to wash and block the garment for the first time - soak it in cool water with mild soap, rinse carefully with water of the same temperature, and roll it in a towel to get as much water out as possible. Pin it out carefully, and let it dry completely.

I wetblock everything, and find that I am very pleased with the way Shetland wool blooms and softens with a gentle washing. The women of Fair Isle generally dressed their finished garments with a washing, too, and a ride on the wooly board for a completely smooth, flat fabric - today's knitters, of the gauge angst and macro fright, tend to forget that the first Fair Isle colorwork was necessarily done very quickly and without excessive attention to the appearance of the fabric before dressing. I've read that knitting with four long pins held at in a knitting belt created a rather corrugated piece, particularly where the jumper started bunching up on a too-full needle - they knew that a serious blocking on the rack would fix almost any perceived inconsistency.

Some people steam with a hot iron passed over (not touching) the fabric; I find that the yarn doesn't bloom as fully and the garment doesn't drape as well as with a real washing. Steam does come in handy, though, for ribbing that may have been stretched out by a proper blocking - after the garment dries, thoroughly steam the stretched ribbing and pull it vertically to encourage it back into shape.

Finishing the steeks is the absolute last step of the traditional Fair Isle jumper - the washing and blocking will have slightly felted and strengthened the waste stitches. Turning the garment to the inside will show that the cut stitches naturally fold back and lay flat, but badly need neatening. There are a few options here:

1) Do nothing. Trim the steeks as close as you dare to the reinforcement (or to the fold line for an unreinforced steek) - one or two or three stitches is about right. Call the garment done then; continued washing and wear will, over time, marry the steek and body together.

2) Tack the trimmed edge down. Use a simple whipstitch:

Or a crossed stitch:

Or a blanket stitch:

in a single strand of the knitting wool.

And there you have it - a whole garment, made quickly, and without a single seam. Maybe we don't count on finishing a jumper a week to pay the grocer; but aren't we lucky that the women who did, working by daylight and fireside with no pause for cramped fingers or strained eyesight, did it with such attention to craft and workmanship, and with such endless ingenuity?

Next: A Word On Norwegian Steeks

All posts in this series:


Thank you Eunny!
I've knitted for several decades, oblivious to this steeking business. Coincidentally, I recently started a sweater which requires steeking and your tutorials are a lifesaver. I still have to ask though, is Vodka required prior to making that first cut? Ha ha.

Wow. Which method of finishing do you prefer?

Thank you so much for this series. I'll be back when I'm planning my first project with steeks.

aaawww, look at the cute little steeked sweater.

The Chronicles are awesome. Well done!

I love that little sweater! You must knit at warp speed! It would have taken me forever to knit just those swatches. You’re amazing.

You are a wealth of information; charting laces, unventing cables, everything you ever wanted to know about steeking but were afraid to cut!

Once I have a few projects out of the way, I'm going to attempt your Print o the Wave stole. I saw some instructions for a print of the wave pattern in "The Complete Book of Traditional Knitting" by Rae Compton in the library today, but like your version better.

You are fantastic.

That is all.

"indelibly on your brain" ... hmm...


I love that little sweater!

My undying gratitude. Thank you.

You are absolutely unbelievable! Thank you so much for your time, patience, and expertise.... And for sharing them all!

Thanks so much for the lessons in steeking. I've read about them and seen some photos, but you've actually made it come alive. You are very talented! I am happy to have found your blog. :)

Its a teeny, wee sweater! And only one quick pic of the scissors....Maybe one day I'll find the balls to give steeking a try myself. Maybe not.

Thanks so much for this series! I've got it bookmarked to come back to when I attempt my first colorwork sweater. The miniature sweater is adorable, and I think I might try one as a "swatch" of sorts so that I can practice before I do it on a real garment. I love that I learn so much reading your blog.

these steeking chronicles have rocked my little socks off. now, i have absolutely no reason to not cut up my knitting...eeeee!! the little sweater is too cute.

Eunny, you are amazing. I predict a win next year in the Best Technical Blog category.

As you know, the Steeking Chronicles have turned out to be very timely for me. When I screw my courage to the sticking place and cast on for Greg's vest you know I'll be poring over these posts again.

That is the most adorable little sweater I've ever seen! Your steeking instructions have been incredible. A tad over my head, but fascinating to read, and extremely informative.

This was a great tutorial and the photos were so pretty, too. I really enjoyed it.

Three cheers for my favorite blogger.

You know how the cheers go. :)

Thanks for all the great info and pictures. I'll remember it when I knit my 1st steeked sweater. The idea of no seams is so great! What a cute little mini-sweater you made too! How is the baby sweater coming along?

Thank you so much for this workshop/tutorial. So enlightening. I'm not one who is afraid of cutting garnment hastily with a scissor. Unfortunately, I must say. Would I have had your ingenious information in mind, I would have saved a sweater and a lot of time. Now I'm prepared for the next attempt. Thank you again. Very much, actually!
And by the way, the sample sweater is pretty cute.

Thank you for all the work that went into this and for making the concept less frightening and more obtainable!

And it's a darn cute little sweater, at that. I admire the amount of work you've put into this series. It's wonderfully helpful!

This is so great! Thank you for designing these tutorials. After all these years of sufferring from "fear of the scissors" I'm going to try this!

This is so great! Thank you for designing these tutorials. After all these years of sufferring from "fear of the scissors" I'm going to try this!

Thanks for posting this series. I got really into Icelandic sweaters when I lived there last summer but I could never figure out how the steeks worked on the cardigans. This will be extremely helpful when I dig up my patterns again.

Thank you Eunny!! I am not ready for steeking yet, but when I am I can guarantee that I will be referring to your helpful tutorial! You have a wonderfully generous spirit!

What a great series - thank you again for going to all this time and trouble to keep history alive.

PS: you should take up a collection to pay for all your Shetland wool!

I'm loving this little series! Fantastic work. One question, though: did I miss where you demonstrated machine-sewn steeks? I think that was supposed to be up on the day you got pre-empted by the flu, but I didn't see where you came back to it.

Thank you so much. I may not be ready for steeks yet (I still have a LOT to learn about knitting), but the information has been fascinating and I'll be sure to refer back to the details when the time to steek arrives.

The mini sweater is darling and what an ideal way to explain the transformation that happens.

Thanks, Eunny, for this very helpful series. I just finished blocking an Alice Starmore vest that uses steeks and your suggestions have been very helpful.

Really quickly, I have a question about the way you tack down the steek onto the wrong side of the fabric. When you stitch it down, I'm assuming you use the background color yarn and not a thread, right? Also, you are only tacking it down through the floats and not clear through to the other side of the fabric. I was thinking about doing a crossed stitch tacking but wasn't sure exactly how to attach it to the fabric.

Thanks for your help,

A cracked bell can never sound well... Salamon

So that's what steeks are??!!

(jaw hanging open in awe and wonderment. And sudden comprehension)

I've been wanting to make a little lime-green hoodie in the round, instead of back and forth, and I've been wondering what to do with the arm holes and the v-neck. Now I know! Thank you!

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