The Steeking Chronicles: Putting it all together
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
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?
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