Learn Something New: Steeking

My Bohus-style sweater, waiting to be steeked

When I cleaned out my knitting bags(!) a week or so ago I found a sweater that needs to be steeked. It's a Bohus cardigan that's so close to being done—it just needs the aforementioned steek and then the buttonbands picked up and knitted. I've heard a lot of knitters talk about how scared they are to cut their knitting, but I'm not scared, I'm excited!

If you're new to the knitting technique of steeking, too, here's some great info from Interweave Knits and Knitting Daily TV host Eunny Jang.

Steeking: Cutting the Edge

A steek is a column of extra stitches used to bridge two edges of knitting. Steeks let you knit an entire sweater in the round without reverting to knitting flat. Steeks can be worked between the right and left fronts of a cardigan, the front and back edges of an armhole, and/or the sides of a neckline.

Openings are created by cutting along the center of the column of stitches—and sleeves, neckbands, and buttonbands are picked up along the cut edges. 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. 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.

Two examples of steeks and where to cut them. Both are equally effective.

What about raveling?
The thought of cutting into knitted fabric is counterintuitive at best. Doesn't the knitting ravel as soon as it is cut? Not when the circumstances are right. Steeking capitalizes on the reluctance of knit stitches to ravel 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 raveling).

Reinforcing and cutting steeks
There are several methods for reinforcing steek stitches before cutting, each appropriate to different circumstances. All of them require good light; patience; a small, sharp pair of scissors; and steady nerves.

Unreinforced: The traditional steek, worked in sticky Shetland wool in a garment with a very dense gauge, calls for no reinforcement at all. The friction you create as you knit will mat and felt the fabric very slightly, stabilizing the area to be cut and minimizing fraying. Simply cut carefully down the center of each steek, working in a very straight line and snipping just a few threads at a time.

Crocheted: Crochet steek reinforcements firmly bind together the sides of two adjacent stitch columns to hold the cut ends securely in place. The method is ideal for sticky or smooth animal fibers still at relatively dense gauges: the applied binding adds security even to yarns that don't felt readily, but it relies on a firm base fabric to stay in place. Crocheted steeks are not suitable for plant fibers or for superwash wools, since the base fabric must have some natural cling.

Sewn: When you use a very slick plant or synthetic fiber, sewing is the only way to ensure that a steek will not ravel. Because sewing stitches have no elasticity, some of the flexibility inherent in knitted fabric is lost when you use a sewn reinforcement. Save this method for when crocheting will not provide enough security.

Figure 3: Picking up and knitting from a steek edge
Figure 4: Tacking down the steek flap

Picking up and knitting from a steek edge
Once the steek is cut, you can pick up stitches just inside the cut edge, along the purl channel between the border and body stitches, and work button and neckbands. Figure 3, at left, shows a stitch being picked up at the edge of a steek; notice how the needle picks up the bar between the border stitch of the steek and the first stitch of the body, both of which were worked in the background color.

In shaped sweaters, the sleeves may be knitted separately and sewn in along the line created by the border stitch. In every case, the steek flap will naturally fold to the wrong side along the pick-up or seam line.

Once all finishing work is completed and the sweater has been washed and blocked, the steeks should be finished neatly by trimming away any frayed ends and tacking down the flap with a simple whipstitch or blanket stitch (Figure 4, at left). With every washing and wearing, the facings will full a little more, eventually creating a durable, hard-wearing finish on the inside of the garment.

—Eunny Jang

And now here's a video from the new season of Knitting Daily TV, episode 912, where Eunny demonstrates steeking.

Did you know you could download individual episodes of Knitting Daily TV? That's right—there are tons of knitting techniques right at your fingertips! Get episode 912, Eek, Steeks!, right now and learn even more about steeking!


P.S. Do you have any steeking tips? Share them with us in the comments!

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