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The Difference

I'd noticed in comments and emails that there's some confusion over the difference between Norwegian-style and Fair Isle-style steeks. The Steek Series (now edited and re-organized for your coherent reading pleasure!) focused on Fair Isle steeks exclusively, though the principles of decreasing and placement are useful when working with Norwegian steeks, too.

I kept meaning to do a little piece on the difference, but kept putting it off - last night, I noticed that the steek series was getting fairly frequently referenced and linked-to (which rocks! Woot!), but occasionally in the wrong context. I'd really hate for anyone to try to follow it and have their project fail, so, without further ado - Scottish v Norwegian Steeks

While Fair Isle steeks use extra stitches cast on mid-row to form a bridge of waste stitches at armhole and neck, Norwegian-style sweaters knit in the round are formed as one continuous tube from ribbing to shoulder. The traditional drop-shoulder shape means no decreases are done at along the armscyes, and no stitches are held at the armpit. When the body is completed and the shoulder stitches bound off or held, it looks something like the diagram on the top left:


If the tube is flattened to put the side "seams" at the center, it would look like the diagram at top right. The center stitch is marked as the location of the armhole (thick dotted line).

A machine, set for a small stitch, is used to sew all around three sides of the center stitch (thin dotted line), taking care to completely surround the cutting line (bottom left). Finally, as at bottom right, the armhole is carefully cut open, keeping clear of the machine stitching on all sides.

The sleeves of a Norwegian sweater aren't picked up and worked from the body; rather, they're knitted seperately with a little extra length at the top and sewn in, with the extra length forming a facing to cover the machine stitching on the inside.

The main difference between Norwegian and Scottish steeks lies in that the body off the sweater itself is cut for Norwegian sweaters, while a flap of waste stitches seperates the cut edge and the body of the Fair Isle jumper. While Fair Isle steeks done in traditional Shetland wool need no reinforcement (the minimal fray doesn't matter, since the fray is well away from the knitting that matters), Norwegian steeks absolutely need machine sewing to create a sturdy edge.

It seems like an inelegant, sort of awkward system to me. I've voiced before my opinion on sewing machines and handknits - that is, they don't mix, period. To my mind, the wonderfully fluid, cushiony, drapey quality of handknit colored knitting is spoiled when the edges are squashed and stiffened by the one, two three lines of polyester-threaded machine sewing people put in to guard against fray. There's no reason why someone knitting Norwegian-patterned sweater couldn't put in some extra stitches at the armpit and use a hand-sewn or crocheted steek instead.

(I haven't discussed neck steeks in Norwegian sweaters because, frankly, I don't know how they were done traditionally. If the armholes are going to be steeked to allow circular knitting, of course you'd steek the necks to. But then, why do all the Norwegian sweater directions I've seen direct one to cast off center neck stitches and work flat, reattaching the yarn at the beginning of the knit row to maintain pattern continuity? In fact, I have my suspicions that the steek in drop-shouldered Norwegian knitting is a recent innovation borrowed/adapted from truly circular Fair Isle knitting, mostly because of its reliance on the sewing machine - anyone care to educate me? I love learning about this stuff).

Anyway. Look what I got!

Ironically, this picture sucks because the Ott Light is still in the box and not yet brightening my room with its "clear, accurate, comfortable" light, the one that'll let me see "with amazing clarity". It might have to perch on top of my printer because my desk is tiny and I don't see me suddenly becoming an organizational wonder anytime soon, but I'm glad to have it.

So-Called Argyle Socks

Thanks for all the nice comments! The pattern is a lot of fun to knit, though it grows pretty slowly.

Laura said:

The yarn is great -- do they make Baby Ull in that gorgeous red?

Which totally cracked me up - boy, do you guys have my number. Yes, I love Baby Ull (and it actually does come in a bunch of vivid, grown-up colors and not just insipid pastels), but I wanted something tightly spun, with a little more stitch definition for these. Which brings me to what Jess said:

What yarn are you using? It's got great stitch definition

It's Meilenweit Cotton, a cotton blend sock yarn from Lana Grossa. I bought it ages ago for the Austrian Knee Socks, but cannibalized them for this project. I might get back to those someday; we'll see.

For everyone who asked whether this is from a chart or my own - I did chart this out for myself, though I'm sure the idea's not very new. I started with plain purl blocks and moss stitch blocks, but the rhythm of the cable crosses meant that some blocks are odd-numbered and others even, which is very noticable in moss stitch. I like the twisted lines even better - and, to answer the topic Purly brought up, they pretty much act like 1x1 rib, drawing the sock in. I'm hoping this means a supportive, hugging fit, with no droop.

Yes, there will be a pattern. Yes, it will be free. It might wait until after the Olympics, but I'd be delighted to share this with you guys.

Speaking of patterns, the larger sizes for the Deep V Vest are on the way - very, very soon, I promise. I'm just double-checking the math now, and should have them up tomorrow night - thank you so much for your patience.

Comments

I just got an Ott Lite and it is the best thing ever. I love it. I don't know much about the history of steeking, period, but the reliance on machine stitching the steeks does sound a bit dodgy to me--I'll be interested to see if anyone has anything to contribute to the discussion.

But, wait - what did the Norwegians do before sewing machines?! This sewing machine thing is a relatively recent invention, compared to the history of the Norwegian sweater...

Your posts about technical knitting techniques are always so in depth and informative. Thanks for taking the time to share :).

I just did a rant on steeks~ BTW I have referred peeps to your article which is fabby. I refuse to believe Norwegians didn't use steeks. The crocheted steek was proposed as a historically acurate pre machine steek treatment for those who were using heavier yarns[and wanted to use less yarn than the traditional FI steek as well] The crocheted steek requires 3 sts to be Cast On at armholes, neckline and cardigan's front. Norgies DO USE steeks. Dale of Norway uses steeks for cardigan fronts and other Norwegian designers use steeks at armholes and necklines. I surmised in my post that the reason Dale doesn't use steeks at armholes because it doesn't suppose everybody matches both row and stitch gauge. If those are off then predetermining where you are going to cut can be tricky for non FI stuff[which oftentimes has the sleeves picked up from armholes] I plan on consulting my Annemor Sundbo and other more historically minded Scandinavian knitwear books for further historical research. Fingers crossed the topic is covered!

Thank you for your timly blog report. I was reading my Dale of Norway pattern last night,(training for the Olympics) trying to figure out where the steeks for the sleeves were and thinking that I must be missing something. I can stop obsessing now and can avoid bothing my LYS for an answer. Great articles on steeking!

Another fabulous discussion on steeks. Your knowledge amazes me.

oooh oooh a yarn that looks pretty and that I could actually get here!! WOW...

Actually I thought of your socks. I just got teh vogue ultimate guide and flipped through it seeing quasi argyle/diamond patterns that reminded me of your pretty socks.

But I only glossed over it to dig in teh design section I am jealous of all you people who design your own things! And I might just learn something in this book :)

Interesting additions for our steeking pleasure!

Oh, I love Meilenweit Cotton. Ironically, the socks I've knit out of that yarn have held up better than any of the wool socks I've knit.

Would you be a dear and let us know what you think of the ott lite. I'm curious about them, but have never seen one in person, so would love a review. Before I go and spend all that money.

I'm not very good at knitting history but I am Norwegian, so maybe I can bring some insight in what Norwegians (not necessarily kntting designers though) do now... My Mum taught me how to knit sweaters (she learned from her Mum), and she doesn't use steeks for necklines, she does the leave stiches on thread/cast off and then knit flat thing (and she's adamant about it too, she wouldn't hear of EZ's short rows necks for instance:). She does do the armhole and cardigan-front steeks, with the sewing machine. I should point out that many traditional cardies are reinforced with woven ribbons, so then the elasticity of the knitting is lost anyway. I see your point, though - I love that stretchiness too, and why shouldn't it be there in the armholes? She comes for a visit this weekend, I'll ask her then. Now I want to know too.

Oddly, I read your post this morning and then this evening was reading Traditional Scandinavian Knitting by Sheila McGregor and there's mention on pages 124-6 of knitting sleeves from the steeked armholes down and neck opening steeks in "older" Scandinavian sweaters. It's stated by the author that this is a recent(-ish) development (related to published patterns and tourism) and is not traditional.

I haven't read the book cover to cover yet, so am not sure what age the "older" sweater she's talking about are, but there are sweaters featured in the book from the mid 1800's. I don't know how those dates compare to fair isle knitting and the development of those steeks.

I got the same Ott-Lite for Christmas! I love it...all except for when the dog turns it off. The push button on the floor to turn it on can be a nuisance with little ones or annoying pets :) Enjoy!

Thanks for the great description of the difference between the two types of steeks! I have been working up the nerve to cut my first sleeve steeks (Dale of Norway sweater) so this post is very timely. I'm not crazy about the idea of using a sewing machine on hand knits, either, but I don't have a choice at this point. Depending on how this one goes, I may decide to alter the pattern for the next sweater...

P.S. I originally came to your site to see the Print O' The Wave stole -- it's lovely!

I'm the granddaughter of a prolific Norwegian knitter, and the sweaters I have after her (knit during 1920's to 1970's) are done with her own type of steek, while others she chose to knit back & forth (yikes!) and knitted separate, plain background color facings which were then sewn on. Lots of variations do exist within whatever is called "traditional". I don't think there is any single point of time where "traditional" exists in history! Also, if they didn't have electric sewing machines, doesn't mean that they wouldn't have used them if they had them, think about it!

Great blog you have, best of wishes to you. JericoX

First, as a historian, I have to say 'hurrah' for Cheryl's comment of March 13, noting that "traditional" does not refer to any particular point in time.

I also wanted to add that a machine-sewn line does NOT have to make the knitting "squashed and stiffened" if done right. I say that with immense respect for Eunny's obvious skill and the admission that I can't do it myself. But when I learned to knit from my host moms when I was an exchange student in Norway, they did my steeks for me, and I can attest that they are not remotely squashed or stiff (I have the sweaters right here with me, and they're still being happily worn, 15 years later, looking like they did the day they were finished). The tension on the sewing machine has to be just right, and has to be done, obviously, in a straight line between stitiches. While it necessarily keeps the stitches from moving vertically, it doesn't remotely squash them, and doesn't make the stitches on either side of the sewn line stiff. They retain most of their horizontal flexibility even right next to the sewn line.

Moreover, the sewn line, as Eunny explains here, gets folded up under the extra flap of fabric knitted onto the top of the (bottom-up) sleeve. The actual seam around the arm, that determines the elasticity of the armhole, is the line hand-sewn with yarn between the top of the sleeve and a few stitches outside of the steek. The machine-sewn line(s) end up sewn inside this extra flap, providing ultimate stability but not actually marking the seam of the armhole (I hope that's clear - I'm not nearly as good as Eunny, either, at explaining this kind of thing).

Another couple of points - "traditional" Norwegian sweaters call for a huge drop-sleeve. Do you really need or want for it to be stretchy?? The arm moves easily inside the sleeve, because it's huge, and IMHO, if the armhole itself were to stretch significantly, the sweater would look hideously mishapen. Since, as I said, the actual line of stitches at the seam is NOT directly pulled by the line of machine-sewing, I find that the seam looks and feels perfect on my Norwegian, drop-shoulder, steeked sweaters - firm, but not unflexible or stretched (credit, again, due to my host moms, not me!) On any other kind of sleeve, I grant you, I would never use this kind of steek. But for a drop-shoulder, I personally think it's ideal.

Also, many of the most traditional designs have "lice stitch" patterns on all or part of the body, usually reaching up into the first 2 or 3 inches of the armscye. These have only a single stitch in the contrast color every few stitches of every third or fifth row - that means there just isn't as much yarn in there for it to hold together with the same kind of steeks as in FI. Yokes tend to have the majority of the color patterning, and that'd be my guess as to why collars are the one place where crocheted steeks seem to be more common in Norwegian knitting.

As for what they did before sewing machines - how do you think they sewed clothes or sheets before machines? They did it by hand, with sewing-weight thread and a sharp needle. My guess is that, if they were doing steeks on these kinds of sweaters at all, many Norwegians sewed steeks with sewing needles and thread, while others might well have done the same with a single ply of their yarn, and still others may well have used what Eunny describes so thoroughly here as FI methods.

With total respect and appreciation for Eunny's priceless guide to FI steeks (which I'll be using religiously to make my first steeks on my own in the near future), I do urge knitters to keep an open mind about the differences described here in Norwegian steeks! Generations of brilliant, creative knitters have been doing them for a reason, after all.

Thanks for the great info on steeks. You have given me the courage to finish a Norwegian sweater I have labored over for years!

Thank you Eunny for this wonderful tutorial. Your photos were extremely helpful!

RE the NORWEGIAN STEEK. The current steeking of the Norwegian sweaters is not the same as years ago. The style seems to be to have inset sleeves, rather than those added to the yoke, or raglan style done in the round.

In any event, I purchased a Norwegian sweater pattern many years ago, in Norway, printed in Norwegian (I am half Norwegian)--which also had an English insert.

The pattern had pullover or cardigan options. I chose the cardigan. The steek was made out of "nonsense" stitches in the front. I machine double stitched both sides of the steek (not the body of the sweater), and cut down the middle of the steek. I then laid the steek part back, and I don't recall how I did it, but put a flap over the raw edges (I think it was knitted with the button band and folded back somehow, and hand sewn in place.)

Machine stitching, does not make the seams tight, if one sews it like a stretch knit fabric--you stretch it a little as you go. I suggest also using a longer stitch. (I have machine stitched children's sweaters--which are pushed and pulled every which way, and it makes a professional looking, workable seam. If sweaters made for stores can have machine stitched seams, I reasoned, why couldn't I do it. It works best on st st. Anything else, I hand sew.

So, I hope that gives you a different view of another Norwegian steek. I am sure it was around for years.

marianne/marianne's creative knits

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A short comment from Norway: The way I was taught to do steeks and still do is to machine sew as you explained. A couple of experiences of threads slipping through the machine seam has made me add (to the two straight seams) a zig-zag once the knitted fabric has been cut. While machine sewing I pull quite hard on the fabric (not overdoing it though), and then i 'catch up' the looseness and adjust it while sewing (backstickes -?) with the knitting yarn.
Also, the machine seams are in a matching color and the zig-zag stop half an inch before the bottom. Then I hand sew both sides of the sleeve from the top (having determined exactly where the middle is...) and cut open the last half inch if needed.

The general way of adding a 'flap' to hide the frayed cut edge is to purl the last 5-6 rows (if they were knit), preferably by turning the whole knitting inside out, as we Norwegians largely prefer knitting to purling.
Also, while hand sewing the sleeve on, the best wa is to turn the sleeve inside out and put in inside the body of the tors (which is right side out) as this helps preserve the natural drape of the torso part. The extra flap combined with the hand stitching will (I find) make a suitable drapable transition between sleeves and body.
With freindly greetings from Oslo, where the sun right now just dips into the hills for four hours or so before it reappears...
I was referred to this site from Norwegian knitting colleagues and after a short browse I'm very impressed, and inspired!

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