Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Steeking - a lesson in knitting violence....

For the unititiated, the steek is a terrifying thing. The basic idea is that you knit a jumper, pour all your love and devotion into getting it just right, and just when it's almost finished, when the end is in sight and all you have to think about is the damn neck finishing, you take a pair of scissors and make the one, truly irreversible craft act: you cut your jumper in half right up the front in order to make a cardigan.


Sounds brutal, eh?

There are actually a million ways you can use a steek, but for basic intents and purposes, we're going to look at simple cardigan conversion here, which is where you'll want to begin if you're even remotely terrified of cutting your knitting in two.

Right. Step one. Knit a jumper. I'm serious. Knit a full jumper, minus the neck borders.

The one thing you can do to prepare for a steeked cardigan is to add a section of about 8 stitches to the centre front to accommodate the cutting and curling over of the cut fabric. If you're working in a pattern, mark these stitches as separate, and keep them in plain stockinette all the way up the front, simply knitting them away and pretending they don't exist as far as the pattern is concerned. This will provide you with a 'channel' up the front in order to do your cutting. I also use this as a handy place to change yarns, add in new balls, and change colours when knitting stripes - this part of the knitting will not be visible in the finished piece, so you can hide all kinds of shit in there. No one will ever know.

When your jumper is finished (bar the neck borders), lay it out flat, and find the absolute centre front stitch. Run a line of basting up that centre stitch in a bright colour, like so:


Now, you want to run the jumper through the sewing machine to secure the stitches on either side of your basting thread. Using the smallest stitch you can, and a loose tension, sew a line of stitching up either side of the basting line. This can be a stitch or so away from the line, and though it pays to keep it as straight as you can, you don't need to be crazy finicky about it.


Once you've done the stitching, it should look like this:


Now here's the part where fortification is necessary. Whisky works well, just don't drink too much, or you won't cut straight. Deep breaths are recommended, but don't panic. This part is easy, you just haven't done it before.


Now what you want to do is cut along the basting line, up the middle of the channel created by the two lines of machine stitching.


I leave the basting in as a guide, because it's not always easy to see the machine stitches. Make your cut, all the way to the top.


Now sit down, and have another whisky, and contemplate your cardigan:


Once you've recovered, take a look at the cut edge - it should curl slightly to the inside. This will provide a little selvedge for you to sew down later - you want to keep the little curl there, which is why you cast on the extra stitches for the steek in the first place:


To knit up your button band, you want to pick up stitches a few rows in from the edge - if your cardigan has an all over pattern, start picking up at the edge of the pattern, letting the plain stitches of the steek curl to the inside. If you've knit a plain cardigan like me, look to your ribbing at the bottom for a guide, or simply choose a row a couple of rows in and pick up your stitches along that:


Now you can knit up your borders in whatever style you wish - garter stitch, ribbing, whatever. This is also where I stopped taking photos, but you're almost there!

All you have to do once you've knit the borders is turn the work to the inside, neaten up the edges of the steek by tucking any stray threads in, and stitch the selvedge down using a herringbone stitch or similar. Make sure your stitching doesn't show on the front, and then you're ready to block. Finished!

Obviously these are pretty basic instructions - I recommend doing a bit of research if you're planning fancy colourwork, or steeked armholes and the like. The instructions will do for most purposes though - I'm on my sixth or so steeked cardi now, and have never had a problem.

That's it! If you need to know anything else, or if parts of this don't make sense because it's late and I've been drinking some of that whisky, please email me and I'll sort it out.

More to come - I've been busy these last few days!