Thursday, 8 April 2010

My first steeks!

I am terribly excited: I started an Elizabeth Zimmermann cardigan using steeking for the sleeves, front parting and the neckline.  These are my first steeks!

This picture shows the cardigan with the neck steek sewn down and cut and also the left sleeve steek (from the perspective of the person wearing it). I hadn't sewn the other two steeks yet but I had picked up the sleeve stitches and knitted the couple of inches you can see in the photo.

If you haven't come across the technique before: steeking is a way of knitting a garment in the round, even across 'openings' like the armholes, centre parting or the neckline (you cast on a number of so called 'steek stitches' which will later form facings on either side of the cut to be turned inwards and sewn down) and then fixing the column of stitches with a sewn line to prevent the edges fraying, - then you cut the garment open between the sewn stitch lines.  It sounds quite scary, doesn't it!

There are two methods of stopping the thread ends fraying: you can crochet across a column of stitches - this is good with wool which will "stick" together but not at all satisfactory for any other yarn which will slip out from underneath crocheted loops. The other method is to use a sewing machine: reduce the stitch length a bit, then sew in a straight line up or down a row of steek stitches on either side of the line which is to be cut, about half a stitch's width from the cutting line.  It's a good idea to pick a colour that's not too much of a contrast to your yarn but it doesn't have to match a hundred percent either - these machine sewn stitching lines will be on the inside of the garment.

I chose to sew four lines in place of just two: the garment will be cut between the centre two lines.  Should the thread ends slip past the first, the second line of defence will definitely catch them!  I think that's a really good idea: the second stitching line does not show up in the finished garment and it provides a lot of peace of mind no matter how much wear the garment will get during its lifetime!

I was wary that machine stitching might distort my knitted fabric - it didn't.  I guess the trick is to allow the sewing machine to feed the fabric through by itself and not be tempted to start pulling or pushing.

Then it came time to make the first cut into my beautiful knitted cardie!  I thought I'd be more nervous, but I just wanted to get this done so I could start knitting the first sleeve!

My tip would be to only cut when you are able to fully concentrate on the task at hand.  I got distracted at some point and found that I had cut across my first sewn line!  Couldn't believe I'd done that.  Only for a little bit, but still.  That second sewn line I'd decided to put in came into its own there!  Good thing.

There is a disadvantage to steeking: your garment won't look anything like the finished article before you cut the steeks and that means that you can't try it on as you make it.  Holding the garment flat against you to check for size only works when you remember that you need to discount the steek stitches: the width of those will be become the two facings that get turned inside and sewn down, i.e. either side of the cut.

Norwegian jumpers and garments with a lot of colourwork or Fair Isle patterns are often steeked - for example if you wish to insert a zipper at the neck opening.  When knitting garments with lots of colours then using steeking means that you are able to knit the whole thing in the round: no purling involved!  It does make knitting a lot easier when you can see what you are doing on the right, stockinette side without getting confused by the strands of yarn carried on the purl side.

PS: I just thought of another advantage to using steeks: in three places my tension had been too loose - the stitches very much showed up for being way too big*.  The photograph still shows one of those lines (about two inches below the neck opening) and also two loops where I pulled the stitches into the right size while gradually transferring the excess to the centre of the garment.  I did the same to the loose row - then when I machine sewed the four lines down the centre, I made sure to leave the loops between the two middle lines.  When it gets time to cut the centre open I will be able to cut the excess thread off and no-one will ever know that my tension wasn't perfect in those three places!  I'm rather chuffed with my repair work here.

* Note: I just found a very insightful article by TechKnitting on the cause of uneven knitting: referred to here as 'rowing out'. I may have simply let my tension get much looser than at other times. If the loose stitches occur across just a few stitches then this may be due to taking too long to move your hands along while knitting off too many stitches. This is the most likely cause for these loose rows of stitches that show up way too clearly in the photo above. I can only recommend TechKnitting's blog - if you want to know why something works then this blog is wonderful. If you run into a problem that no amount of wondering and pondering can sort out, then checking this blog might just provide the answer and cause a positive leap forward in your progress as a knitter, if I can put it that way.
This is one of the things I like about knitting: there is always something new to learn no matter how much you know already. And picking up new tidbits of knowledge has got to be a very satisfying thing indeed.


  1. Hmmmm, I still fail to understand the construction... :D But good going for you with all the steeking, I'm really curious to see the final result!

  2. Thank you! I'm not far off: in terms of knitting only the neck facing still needs to be done once I've cut the front centre. Then all the steek facings need to be sewn done, button loops and buttons attaching - and that's it!
    I will post more photos of the work in progress, that should explain what I am blethering on about!