Color Knitting: All About Steeks

Using steeks in color knittingOn Monday, Lisa wrote about the art of Fair Isle knitting. I wanted to follow that up with something that happens a lot in that type of knitting: the steek.

Steeks are an important technique to know if you’re a color knitting lover, and like so many things in knitting, they’re easier to work that they seem.

Technically, a steek is made up of extra stitches inserted into the area between two sections of knitting. You can put a steek in a cardigan, for example, between the two fronts, so you can knit the entire thing in the round. When you’re done knitting, you cut down the middle of those extra stitches, and voila! you have your cardigan opening. You can use steeks on armholes and neckbands, too.

The cutting of the steek is usually where I lose people, so stay with me! There are ways to reinforce steeks so you don’t have to worry about any unraveling, and sometimes, if you’re using 100 percent wool or a “sticky” blend, you don’t need to reinforce it at all.

Eunny Jang wrote a fabulous article on steeks for Winter 2006 Interweave Knits, and she also demonstrated three types of steeks in episode 912 of Knitting Daily TV. Here she is to teach you about this useful technique.

Steeks: Cutting the Edge

Why use steeks? Circular knitting is desirable for several reasons. For many knitters, the knit stitch is faster to form than the purl stitch, and having the right side of the work always facing the knitter makes it easy to see the color pattern. When you don’t switch to flat knitting, gauge remains consistent. Seams are minimized or eliminated altogether; and very little finishing is required. The many ends of yarn that result from color changes in Fair Isle patterns can be hidden within a steek, eliminating the need to weave them in later.

What about unraveling?

The thought of cutting into knitted fabric is counterintuitive at best. Doesn’t the knitting unravel as soon as it is cut? Not when the circumstances are right. Steeking capitalizes on the reluctance of knit stitches to unravel from side to side. You can further secure the cut edges by choosing a “sticky” yarn (hairy animal yarns such as traditional Shetland wools felt so readily that the slight friction created in the knitting process mats the hairs together and discourages unraveling). You can also work frequent color changes and use a tight gauge within the steek, and/or you can use one of several reinforcement methods, such as sewing or crocheting.

Using steeks in color knitting

How to work a steek

Although there are as many ways of working steeks as there are knitters, some general principles are useful:

1. The steek itself—the bridge of extra stitches—may be composed of as few or as many stitches as the knitter feels comfortable with, typically between six and ten stitches. More stitches should be used in high-stress areas and with slippery yarns, while fewer can be used in lower-stress areas and with yarns prone to felting.

2. The steek is flanked by one border stitch on either side, which separates it from the body of the sweater. This border stitch, always worked in the background color in any given round, provides a guideline for picking up stitches for sleeves and bands, as well as for seaming.

3. The steek stitches should be worked in a stitch pattern with frequent color changes, for example, a 1/1 vertical stripe (Figure 3) or a check pattern (Figure 4). Stripe-patterned steeks provide a useful visual guide for reinforcing and cutting.

4. Whether you use an even or odd number of steek stitches, you cut the steek along its true center. With an even number of stitches, the steek will be cut between the two center stitches. For example, you would cut between the fourth and fifth stitches of an eight-stitch steek. With an odd numbers of stitches, you would cut through the center stitch. For example, you would cut through the fourth stitch of a seven-stitch steek. Odd numbers are necessary for crochet-reinforced steeks, which are worked over the center three stitches of the bridge, while other securing methods are more easily applied to an even number of steek stitches.

5. Reinforcement, if any, should be applied as close to the cutting site as possible.

When the garment is complete, the cut edges are trimmed and neatly tacked down on the wrong side of the garment, creating a tidy facing, as shown in the video above. Although steeks are most often worked in color patterns, if you prefer knitting in the round to working flat, you can use them in solid-color sweaters as well. Read more . . .

—Eunny Jang, Interweave Knits Winter 2006

Venezia Fair Isle color knitting pattern

Venezia Pullover by Eunny Jang

Lots of videos and articles about steeks include the word “eek” (I may have even used this in the past!), but as you can see from the video above, there’s no reason to be afraid of steeks. They’re just another tool to ad to your knitter’s toolbox.

Eunny used steeks in her design for the fabulous Venezia Pullover, at right. Isn’t it just stunning?

You can learn so much from the instruction in Knitting Daily TV, about color knitting and every other knitting technique you can thing of. Get the entire series on DVD now, for a very special price, and fill up your toolbox to overflowing!


P.S. Have you used steeks in your knitting? Leave a comment below and tell me about your experience.

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