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Dear Kay,

It was an exhilarating moment last night, watching you chop away at the felted tube of your Kiki Mariko Rug on our Zoom call with other like-minded steekfolk.

Some folks may be new to the concept of a steek, so I thought I’d provide a little overview of what this steek stuff is all about.

What Is a Steek?

Here’s an excellent explanation from Wikipedia:

In knitting, steeking is a shortcut used to knit garments such as sweaters in the round without interruption for openings or sleeves until the end. After completing a tube, a straight line is cut along the center of a column of stitches, in order to make room for an opening or place to attach another piece. The steek itself is a bridge of extra stitches, in which the cut is made, and is usually 6-10 stitches wide.

A checkerboard is the classic way to work a steek.

This technique was developed by the knitters of the Shetland archipelago and is particularly associated with Fair Isle sweaters, although it can be used for solid colors as well.

How Is a Steek Finished?

Wikipedia lays it all out for us.

After the steek is cut, the edges are tacked down on the wrong side of the fabric in order to create a neat finishing, or the adjacent stitches are sewn or crocheted together to prevent unraveling. The stitches can also be picked up and knit from, for example, to create a sleeve. Alternatively, a sleeve can be made separately and sewn onto the steek. After the garment with a steek has been worn and washed a few times, the facings will felt and become durable finishes on the inside of the garment.

Why It’s a Good Technique

Again, Wikipedia explains.

Steeks can be used for front openings (such as on a cardigan), armholes, or necklines.

Once cut, this will become the SHAPED neckline. wow!

It has several advantages: Many knitters are faster at the knit stitch than the purl stitch, it goes faster, and allows one to work with the right side of the fabric facing the knitter all the time, and thus follow an intricate pattern more easily. It is also easier to maintain an even tension and, as the color changes can be hidden, there are fewer ends to weave in.

Why Doesn’t It Fall Apart?

The fiber used and the method of securing the open stitches are key components.

Woolly yarn keeps the cut steek from unravelling.

Wikipedia writes:

In general, there is little risk of unravelling the sweater with a steek cut if the sewn or crocheted line has been done with wool yarn that is not superwash. They can be further strengthened by using a sticky hairy animal yarn (Shetland wool, the traditional choice, is a good example), and using frequent color changes (such as a 1×1 rib or a check pattern) to secure the yarn. In addition, the sides of the steek can be reinforced by crocheting or sewing.

Why It’s Fun

Until I cut my first steek, I fixated on the danger of sharp shears next to something I’d spent a long time knitting.

But I got a handle on the thinking behind it, and it made such sense.

Things that helped: Knowing that generations of knitters had been regularly and successfully cutting holes into their work. Learning that are any number of ways to secure those loose stitches after the fact. Using yarn with the right woolly fiber.

Videos from a Master Steeker

I learned to steek from a book by Alice Starmore, the Scottish designer whose career spans more than 35 years.

Now, this genius has created a series of videos that show her talking us through one of her stunning designs, the Damselfly Cardigan.

Most of us are not going to get to make our own Damselfly Cardigan, so these videos give us the chance to live vicariously and get an up-close look at intricate construction, amazing colorwork, and yes, some fine steeking.

I hope you’ll have fun watching Alice Starmore make it all look so easy.

Love,

Ann

 

Wikipedia content is shared here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, summary of which is here.

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28 Comments

  • My first steek was around 1989 — I knit the Wave Cardigan from Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting. Had no idea about steeking before then, but if Alice said it was okay, that was good enough for me! That first steek stood the test of time and I’ve been happily steeking for over 30 years!

    • Awesome, I’ve yet to be a steeker, just trying to figure out what pattern to start with!

  • Steeks can also be needle felted before cutting, eliminating the need for crocheting or sewing.

  • Thank you for recommending The Damselfly cardigan site. What amazing work! So Couture!!
    This will be on my short term goal list!! MDK has done it again for me. Thank you

  • Loved yesterday’s zoom! I have a steek question. If I want a Kiki Mariko to be a blanket not a rug, could I just felt it less? And then I’d need to bind the cut edges?

    • Alt: if you crochet: use crochet chaining in the knit stitches to secure steek and be the base for a crochet edge.

      If you don’t crochet, just keep walking, pretend you couldn’t hear me behind my corona-mask 🙂

      • Maybe it’s time I learned how to crochet!

      • That’s very funny! I would be one of the ones that keep waking. I had a hard enough time learning to knit. I find ways to avoid crochet. Cheers to though.

        • I hate auto-correct. Should be walking and Cheers to you though.

    • Love the Kiki blanket idea!

      If you want to secure the steek without fully felting the blanket, I’d recommend needle-felting the steek. Ann and I were talking about it last night, as we both used it to steek our Kaffe Fassett blankets from Field Guide No. 13. Here is Gretchen Funk’s excellent tutorial on how to needle-felt a steek: https://www.moderndailyknitting.com/how-to-make-a-needle-felted-steek/

  • What is the name of the pattern in the first image? Its gorgeous.

    • It’s the Donagal celtic spiral sweater from the Alice Starmore book, The Celtic Collection.

      • Wow June, way to Name That Handknit! Excellent sweaterspotting!

  • I steeked a Norwegian cardigan, fair isle body and striped sleeves back in the early 80’s. I knit it out of alafoss lopi light. It was scary but successful. Still have the cardigan. Will have to challenge myself to steek another project.
    Thank you for your inspiration once again.

  • Such an amazing collection of articles, it’s so educational. I will need to research Alice Starmores work. It looks amazing . I’m new to color-work but it’s my new favorite knitting technique. I draw and paint so I see endless opportunities for creativity. The Zoom meeting was fabulous. Watch the video if you missed out. Be warm and safe everyone.

  • The first time I cut a steek I had to also cut the neck shaping because I had just learned to knit

  • The videos are fantastic not just for the content but for her amazing voice and accent: Balm to my Western NY ears.

  • Wonderful article! A technical note on Anne and Kay’s steek party Monday, which I missed: I watched the recording, which is wonderful, but had one glitch which might be worth mentioning. The recording was in speaker mode, so while Kay cut and Anne chatted, we only got to see Kay when she was actually talking. Otherwise it switched back to Anne. I noticed that viewers had been urged to use gallery view, and while that might not have been the right choice for the recording (too small to see the action?) you might experiment with recording in “pin video” mode next time, so you can control what the viewer of the recording is seeing. But this is a minor point at best. Thanks for the fun project!

  • You guys are KILLING me! Now I have a Henry VIII kit in my shopping cart! I’ve wanted one for years, but the worry with punching the purchase button is sizing – I generally knit large size, but by her measurements medium should be big enough. Opinions on sizing? Normally with a kit I order large, fiddle the pattern, and don’t worry about extra yarn, but I’m not sure my brain is up to fiddling with that pattern….

  • I am making a pima cotton top, steeking the neck opening and sleeves, since knit stitches were so much more even. A steek, to me, is similar to sewing, when one would use a facing. Just need to secure the steek before cutting, which is also similar to reinforcing a sewn steek. This Wednesday is steek cutting day!

  • This is brilliant, Ann! I hope I can advance to steeking eventually. In the mean time, it’s more socks and an occasional lacey scarf.

  • What a great article – which I could not find despite searching for “steek” or “steeking. I have never steeked as Fair Isle is still beyond me despite taking private lessons. But I always thought “what’s the problem?” You are not cutting into your actual knitting!! Plus like Nancy I have a sewing background. We sewers wield our scissors on every project. Often into expensive fabric. Looking forward to both those videos!

  • P.S. For anyone who has access to it there was an article in the Style section about the new editor of Harper ‘s Bazaar with a photo of her wearing a black KNITTED vest. Her all-black outfit had a certain amount of dressy, high-fashion bling to it like she could wear it to a cocktail party. I was thrilled. My favorite thing to knit is a vest (no sleeves) and Harper’s Bazaar approves!

  • Whoops, the Style section of the Washington Post. And the vest was your standard sporty kind with ribbed trim at the armholes and neckline, but seemed to have a bit of sparkle to the black yarn. Doubt there was any steeking though.

  • Thank you for this steeking overview. What is that lovely sweater in the photos?

  • I did my first (and only, so far) steek last July in Kate Davies’s Dathan pullover. I needle-felted it. Cutting it was such a rush!

  • Yikes! Ready to start this and have never done color stranding. And I knit European style. Practicing I end up with tangles and confusion. Have tried holding yarn in two hands and just one also Just hope I can eventually get to where I need to steak! Any advise on instructional videos would be a godsend!

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