finishing a steek

threadandribbon

I have recently been designing and knitting a thing with steeks, which required finishing. This project is part of an exciting collaboration, and I’ll be able to tell you (and show you) more about it in a couple of weeks. When working on the steeks, it occurred to me how many different ways there are to finish them, so I thought I’d describe exactly what I did with this project, and show you some different finishes I’ve seen, in different contexts.

I generally swatch in the round, and this project was no different. When working a swatch, I always add a few extra steek stitches to enable me to cut the swatch open, and block it flat, before measuring my gauge. Because I’d tested the yarn in this way, I knew from my swatch that the fabric was “sticky” enough to bear cutting without reinforcement so – shock horror – that is what I did when cutting the steeks on this project. I then picked up ribbing around the steeked edges, and washed and blocked the project to the required dimensions.

steektrimmings

When the project was blocked, I returned to the steeks and trimmed them right back so that only a narrow raw edge remained.

pins

I then cut a length of narrow grosgrain ribbon, and positioned it over the top of the raw yarn edges. I pinned it down, easing the binding around the project’s curves, in the same way you’d do when preparing to machine sew.

stitchedsteek
. . . I then hand-stitched the ribbon down, securing the raw edges with my stitches, again taking care to ease the binding around the curve. The end result is very stable, and gives a neat, bulk-free finish to the inside of the project. It should also mean that this project will stand up to wear for quite a while.

I am very fond of using ribbon, in both a decorative and a functional way, for finishing a steek edge. Here is the inside of the front button band of my Ursula cardigan. In this instance, the steek edges were reinforced with a crocheted chain, which was then carefully unpicked, before being stitched down.

ursula

I didn’t trim the steeks back in this instance, but I think it makes a kind of sense to do so when reduction of bulk is crucial to the line and structure of a garment, such as around an armhole edge.

You can see how, in this vintage cardigan in my collection, the steek has been trimmed right back and the edges stitched down to the inside.

myoldcardi

. . . and here, in this garment in the collection of the Shetland Museum and Archives, the steek edges have been trimmed back and blanket-stitched in quite an attractive way.

blanketstitch

I recall, when I handled the following garment, that I was very impressed with the method that had been used to finish its buttonband steeks . . .

ribbonreinforcement

It is a 1930s Fairisle cardigan in the collections of the Shetland Museum and Archives. The grosgrain ribbon has been machine stitched to the buttonband, then buttonholes have been cut through both band and ribbon, and reinforced with hand-stitching. . .

unstitchedsteeks

On the inside, the steek edges have not been trimmed, or even stitched down, but have simply been allowed to wear and felt-in to the inside of the garment. The result is very neat, and very strong – even 80 years later!

Finally, here is my steek sandwich – in which two separate layers of stockinette conceal and contain the raw steek edges.

steeksandwich

Finished with i-cord buttonholes, the steek sandwich is a self-contained and neat way to finish the opening of cardigans like my Bláithín design. I would say, though, that because it creates a raised corded edge, it is not a finish that would work on a garment where a sleeker, more tailored look is required. (I seem to be having a buttonband thing at the moment, and really want to try double-knitting one with integral buttonholes. If anyone knows of a good book or web tutorial for me to have a look at please do let me know!)

I hope these different steek finishes have inspired you to chop up and stitch down your knitting without fear!

covered button tutorial

redrose

Here is a tutorial to make the covered buttons, used in designs such as my Richard the Roundhead Tam, and Scatness Tunic. (These instructions can also be found in my book Colours of Shetland.)
You will need: a plain button with a 1 in / 2.5cm diameter; thin cardboard (eg cereal box), sharp scissors, sharp needle, tapestry needle and a small amount of your choice of yarn.

STEP 1:

button1

Select a button with a 2.5cm/1in diameter.
On cardboard, draw a circle 5cm/2in in diameter (I drew round the lid of a spice jar).
Cut out your cardboard disc; measure and mark the centre point with a ruler, and, with a sharp needle, poke a hole through this point.
Mark numbers 1-12, around the edges of your disc, as if drawing a clock face.
With a pair of sharp scissors, cut shallow notches at each of the points 1-12 (notches should be no deeper than 5mm/0.2in)


STEP 2:

button2

Take your yarn, cut off a 3ft length, thread your needle, and draw up through the centre of the disc, leaving a short tail no longer than 1cm/0.3in

STEP 3:

button3

Draw the yarn across the front of the disc up to notch 1.

STEP 4:

button4

Draw the yarn across the back circumference of the disc to notch 12, secure it in the notch, then draw the yarn across the front diameter of the circle to notch 6.

STEP 5:

Continue securing the yarn into the notches by drawing it alternately across the back circumference, and the front diameter, in the following sequence:

6 ➝ 7
7 ➝ 1
1 ➝ 2
2 ➝ 8
8 ➝ 9
9 ➝ 3
3 ➝ 4
4 ➝ 10
10 ➝ 11
11 ➝ 5
5 ➝ 6
6 ➝ 12
12 ➝ 11
11 ➝ 5
5 ➝ 4
4 ➝ 10
10 ➝ 9
9 ➝ 3
3 ➝ 2
2 ➝ 8
8 ➝ 7

You have now created 12 front spokes, and 12 back loops.

button5

STEP 6:

button6

Draw the yarn from notch 7 to the centre, securing it around the centre of the spokes.
Bring your needle up between spokes 12 and 1 as close to the centre as possible.
Then take your needle backwards over spoke 1, turn forwards and travel under spokes 1 and 12.
Now take your needle backwards over spoke 12, turn forwards and travel under spokes 12 and 11.

STEP 7:
Continue weaving in this manner, working anti-clockwise, and drawing the yarn backward over 1 and forward under 2 spokes around the disc. This process wraps and defines the spokes, creating the ridged surface of the button covering. (If you run out of yarn, simply secure the old thread under the spokes, cut a new length, draw it up through the hole at the centre of the circle, and begin weaving where you left off)

button7

STEP 8:

When you reach the edge of the disc, turn it to the back, pass the needle under the loop between each notch, and lift it off the disc. Continue around the disc, lifting each loop off in turn, taking care not to let your yarn draw up too tightly.

button8

STEP 9:

Remove the button cover from the cardboard disc.

button9

STEP 10:

Place the button face down on the back of the button cover.

button10

STEP 11:

Carefully pull the yarn, drawing in the button-covering to conceal the back of the button. Make a few stitches across the back, securing, tightening, and neatening the button covering so that the button is completely concealed.

button11

STEP 12:
Ensure you retain a length of yarn long enough to secure your button.

button12

Buttons can be made in any size, using your choice of yarn or thread. Just make sure to cut your cardboard disc about 2.5cm/ 1in larger than your buttons. And watch out: once you start turning them out you may find yourself unable to stop . . .

buttoncollection

Have fun!

steeks and swants

anatolia
Anatolia by Marie Wallin

So, have you seen Rowan Magazine 54 yet? I finally got my hands on a copy yesterday and there are some wonderful designs in there. My two favourites are probably Anatolia by Marie Wallin – a beautifully luscious yoked sweater knit up in rich shades of Felted Tweed – and Sarah Hatton’s Melissa – a neat and eminently wearable wee gansey.

melissa
Melissa by Sarah Hatton

As previously mentioned, I have a design in the Magazine for the first time (woohoo!) and Rowan have also kindly included a profile of me and my work in this issue.

portrait

Me.

Additionally, I have written an editorial feature about knitting in the round and steeking, and produced a steeking how-to for this issue of the magazine. My tutorial includes instructions for crocheted and machine-sewn steeks, while my feature explores different technical aspects of chopping up your knitting, along with the history and etymology of the steek (did you know, for example that in Scots ‘to steek’ actually means to close or fasten, rather than to cut open?)

As part of my research for the feature, I had a chat with lovely Stephen West. I am a great admirer of Stephen’s approach to design, and really love his style, and I was blown away by the steeked sweater-pants that he began to make last year out of his Amsterdam thrift-shop finds.

swants2

For the feature, Stephen sent me some fabulous images of a pair of SWANTS (Sweater-Pants) that he’d whipped up from a vintage Setesdal sweater, but as these didn’t make Rowan’s final selection for the magazine, I can (with his permission) show them to you here.

swants4

For me, Stephen’s SWANTS really sum up the approach to steeking which I have tried to get across in the the feature – viz – to just go for it and have fun . . .

swants3

I love the SWANTS!

If you’d like to have a go at steeking and refashioning your own pair of SWANTS, Stephen tells me that a tutorial or two will be forthcoming on his blog this Autumn. Thanks, Stephen!

Digital Colours of Shetland!

p3

Today I’m very excited to announce the release of the digital edition of Colours of Shetland!
This means that those of you who wished to purchase a digital-only copy can now do so here, and that all of you who have already purchased the print edition can now use the ‘unique download code‘ in your copy to access your complementary digital edition of the book.

Here’s how to redeem your code.

First, open up the book. On the inside cover, you’ll find a sticker with your unique download code printed on it.

insidecover

Next, follow this link to the book’s Ravelry page. Click on the ‘buy it now’ button (highlighted below).

sourcepage

You are then directed to check out. Click on the ‘enter coupon code’ button (highlighted below).

purchasepage

Enter your code into the box, then click the “Apply” button.

codeshot

You’ll then see the checkout screen, letting you know that you’ve not been charged for the download. Click on the “Checkout Now” button.

checkoutshout

Finally, you’ll receive a receipt, and links to seven PDF files which contain the full content of Colours of Shetland. If you are a Ravelry member, these files are now stored in your library, and you’ll be automatically notified of any updates to future editions of the book. You can also download the files individually for reading on a device or computer.

receipt

A final few points:
1) Happily, we haven’t found many errata or typos (there’s a full list here), but those that there are have all been corrected in the digital edition.
2) Otherwise, the content of the print and digital editions is exactly the same (that is, all patterns, tutorials, essays and photographs are included identically in the digital edition)
3) The patterns will not be released as individual digital downloads.
4) The book has a single retail price of £14.99: that is, the digital-only version of the book costs exactly the same as the print+digital version — so, if you purchase the print edition, then, like the happy Shetland sheep on page four of the book, you’re laughing!

p4

If you have any other questions about this process, please feel free to add a comment to this post, and I’ll do my best to answer!

steeks 4: your questions answered

Why do you weave in your ends away from the steek centre?
This is just a personal thing: I know that many knitters recommend just leaving the ends in the middle of the steek (as everything will be trimmed later), but I personally don’t like to do this. I want the back of the work to be as clean and firm and stable as possible before I begin the crocheted reinforcement. When one is working the crochet, one is poking and re-poking one’s hook through the fabric, pulling up yarn from the back of the work. It is all too easy to catch one or more of the hanging ends, and get oneself in a wee bit of a tangle. Also, in the pattern I’ve just written, the start of the round is one stitch to the right of the five steek sts. I find that it makes things much easier and simpler to just weave in all the ends off to one side, away from the steek stitches, before I start to crochet and cut.

Would you recommend blocking before steeking?

I tend to give the front and back of the work a quick steam before steeking (with an iron on the wool setting, without touching the fabric) just to allow it to relax. I don’t recommend blocking any more vigorously than that – if the stitches are stretched significantly before you work the steek, then they will be more likely to want to pop out of the crocheted reinforcement. (I have seen this happen . . . AIGH!) You can give your garment the full blocking treatment when you have finished it completely, with the steeks properly secured. . .

How about working with heavier yarns?

My new cardigan pattern is actually knitted in a worsted / light aran weight (can you guess which yarn I’ve used?!) My samples (and those of the test knitters) used sock yarn and a 3mm hook to crochet the steek reinforcement, and this worked really well. With all yarn weights I would definitely recommend using a finer, strong yarn that won’t snap, and a smaller hook for your crocheted reinforcement.

Does it matter what colour yarn I use for the crocheted reinforcement?

I used yarn in a contrasting colour for illustration purposes. I would say that, just as if you were sewing an invisible hem on a skirt with needle and thread, that it is probably best to use a yarn that is quite close in hue to the main colour of your garment. If (for example) you were knitting a white cardigan, and used black sock yarn for the crocheted reinforcement, then you would definitely run the risk of the reinforcement showing through between the stitches of the sandwich edging.

Where precisely do you pick up the stitches to work the edging from the right side?

I’ve worked quite a few of these ‘sandwiches’ now, and I would say that for the neatest result (ie, for the edging to sit properly flush against the main pattern), you should pick up your stitches in the gap between the outermost steek stitch and the first stitch of the main pattern. See the diagram below: there are two pattern stitches on either side, and five steek stitches in the middle. You pick up the stitches along the pink lines.

Several of you asked this question, so I’ll add this diagram to yesterday’s sandwich tutorial, to clarify things.

In relation to picking up the stitches from the right side, and my instruction to “make sure you push your needle all the way through to the back of the work, and draw the yarn through from the wrong side,” Donna asked: “are you creating new stitches thru the knitting rather than picking up stitch from the front ie the already knitted stitches?” The answer is: YES. It is is necessary to pick up through the fabric to get this effect on the back of the work.

This is the usual way in which I pick up stitches and it is clearly not everybody’s way (which is why I mentioned it). And in relation to the moot “fence post” issue Lynn raised in her question, logic would indeed suggest that there should be one less loop on the back of the work than the front but . . . having made multiple sandwiches, I have honestly never noticed this. I always check that the number of stitches is the same for back and front needles before beginning to knit them together and it always is… I have been told by my knitting buddies that I pick up stitches in an “odd” way, and I generally begin the process by attaching a slip-knot loop to the back of the work before starting to pull the yarn through. . . perhaps this provides me with an extra stitch? Your thoughts are welcome.

How do you work an i-cord bind off?
This is a very simple (albeit time-consuming and yarn-greedy) bind off. It is probably my favourite finish for a cardigan edge.
Here is how it goes:

Cast on 3 stitches using cable cast on. *k2, k2tog tbl. Slip 3 stitches from rh needle to lh needle. Pull the working yarn across the back * Repeat from * to *. At final 3 sts, finish by k1, k2tog tbl, slip 2 sts to left hand needle, k2tog, pull yarn through.

The result is a neat, raised, corded edge.

How does the sandwich facing relate to the button bands?

The beauty of this method is that the sandwich is the button band! You’ll see precisely how when I show you some photos of my new cardigan (hopefully tomorrow). Another fantastic thing about the i-cord bind off is that it allows you to create neat, integral buttonholes (by binding off a couple of stitches in the normal fashion, and working a couple of rows of plain i-cord over the top of the gap). It is (of course) an EZ method, and I use it on my Manu design, as well as on the new cardigan. It is by far my favourite buttonhole.

Could I use a different bind off?

Yes, of course. Use any method you like. For example, you could simply complete the sandwich by grafting or working a three-needle bind off when you are knitting the back and front stitches together. I am intrigued by the Dale-of-Norway three-needle bind off / picot facing method that Lisa mentioned in her comment. It sounds lovely – I will have to try it.

Could I knit the loops of the crochet reinforcement together with the back and front stitches?

I’d say not. You do not want to put any strain at all on that reinforcing chain. If you tug or pull at it in any way then you run the risk of the cut edges popping out. Don’t do it!

Thanks for all your questions and comments! I hope I’ve covered all your queries.

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