Steeking: What It Is, Why It’s Fun
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.
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.