Machrihanish

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I was very excited to have the opportunity to design the Machrihanish vest for Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One, and always enjoy knitting for Tom, who is its recipient and model. Tom often bemoans the general lack of shaping, and poor fit of men’s garments, so I like to knit him things that are well-fitting.

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Men’s knitted vest patterns rarely include shaping, but one of the things I knew I wanted to do with this design was to taper it to the waist. Shaping of any kind can be tricky when designing with Fairisle patterns, but the trick here is simply to work the ribbing and the first few inches of colourwork on a small needle, before going up a needle size for the upper torso. When blocked, this straightforward manoeuvre creates a difference between waist and chest of 3.5-4 ins, which means the vest fits neatly to the body, without excess fabric.

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Though this vest is, in many ways, a classic garment, I think the waist shaping also makes it feel sharper and more contemporary. But if your shape is more rectangular than triangular, you can easily leave out the waist shaping when working the pattern for a looser, more casual fit. Whatever your body shape, you should knit it with a little positive ease to allow the wearing of layers underneath.

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Though I’ve followed standard sizing for men’s garments with this design, I’ve also tried to make the pattern straightforward and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of masculine body shapes. Because there is no ‘set’ place to divide for armholes, the main body of the pattern can be knit to whatever length is required to accommodate a shorter or longer torso. Equally, if the armhole depth is greater or less than that specified in the pattern, it can be increased or decreased as required. (A detailed sizing table and schematic is included in the pattern to help you achieve the fit that’s right for you). You also have the option of working the ribbing doubled around the armholes and hem for a firm and durable edge.

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The yarn I used for this design was Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage.

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This wonderful yarn was developed in consultation with the Shetland Museum and Archives, and is very close in handle, hue and character, to the yarns that were traditionally used to knit Fairisle garments in Shetland before the Second World War. It is a light fingering-weight – lighter than a standard 4 ply – and because it is worsted spun, feels much smoother than other “Shetland” yarns you may be used to. To give the garment its shaping, I worked the yarn at two different gauges of 8 and 9 sts to the inch, and at both gauges it gives a nice, light even fabric. Because of its unique characteristics, I would really recommend you use this yarn, but if substituting, please swatch carefully to ensure you achieve a fabric with which you are happy. You can find detailed information about shades and yardage here.

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The pattern is written to be knitted entirely in the round, with steeks worked at the armholes and neck.

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I personally love the speed and ease of working completely in the round, but if you are a determined purler, you could easily work the upper torso separately, back and forth.

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Tom is very happy with his vest.

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. . .and I am very pleased with the design!

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Now, about the name. We live in the West of Scotland, and Machrihanish is a village further West, on the picturesque Mull of Kintryre. Tom is a great admirer of the Fairisle knitwear Paul McCartney proudly sported after he moved to Scotland, but we felt that Mull of Kintyre might prove to be too much of an earworm to work as a pattern name . . . and Machrihanish is also one of our favourite locales from the UK shipping forecast. . . . so Machrihanish it is.

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We shot these photographs opposite Dumgoyne, a short walk from our house. The light and skies have been very dramatic here of late, and did not let us down that day. There is just something about the bright colours and high-contrast of a Fairisle vest that work perfectly with a highland landscape. Living out here often prompts me to think about colour and pattern . . . and these photographs of Tom make me want to get another bloke’s Fairisle design on the needles immediately!

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My Cross-Country comrade, Jen, has also been writing about her design for the Volume – the fabulous Bruton hoody – so if you’d like to read more about it just pop over to her blog. We have also set up a new website for the collaboration, where you can keep track of our Cross-Country design journey.

Cross Country Knitting Volume 1 is now available!

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Cross-Country Knitting is here!

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I am very excited to announce the publication of Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One!

Cross-Country knitting is a collaborative venture between myself and my lovely designer-comrade, Jen Arnall-Culliford. Jen and I live at opposite ends of the UK: she’s down there, in Somerset, and I’m up here, in Scotland. Yet the internet has enabled us to work with one another, and, as well as forming a friendship, has forged a bond between us about many knitterly things. Jen and I often talk about our design ideas, and about our general approach to design. Interestingly, both our design ideas, and our approaches to them, are really very different: in many respects, we have distinct styles, but they are styles that work very well together. Given this, it occurred to us that it might be fun to test our collaborative acumen with a joint design challenge: what would two very different designers come up with when working to the same general brief? The first challenge we set ourselves was to create a man’s garment that was functional, wearable, and would appeal to contemporary masculine tastes. It was an especially enjoyable challenge for me as, though I’ve knitted many sweaters for Tom, I had never actually produced a man’s design before. Well, this pair of garments – totally different, but distinctly complementary – is what we came up with!

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Jen designed the Bruton Hoody . . .

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. . . and I designed the Machrihanish Vest.

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I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you all about Machrihanish, (which knitted up in lovely Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage is of course, the garment whose steeks I was finishing off the other week), but for now I just wanted to announce the launch of Cross-Country Knitting, and the release of the e-book of Volume One!

In Cross-Country Knitting, Volume One, you will find patterns for both the Bruton Hoody and the Machrihanish Vest, plus a feature article by Jim Arnall-Culliford (aka, the inimitable Veuf Tricot) on the perils of giving and receiving hand-knits, as well as a cut-out-and-keep Cross-Country Knitting gift tag to attach to your finished knits. The e-book is now available via Ravelry, and the print booklet will very shortly be available via MagCloud.

illustrating knitting

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While I am ironing and packing up Tea Towels this morning, I thought you might be interested to read more about how they were created. I interviewed the amazing Felicity Ford about the process she goes through when producing illustrations of my designs.

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1. I know you have many artistic skillz in all kinds of fields, but had you ever drawn knitting before?

I often make rough sketches in my notebooks for potential garment ideas, but the first time I properly “drew” knitting was when working on the schematics for my own pattern, Layter. I drew a line drawing, scanned it, then started messing about with it on the computer. It wasn’t long before I realised the effect I was after would be much better achieved with an old fashioned set of pencils and paper. So Layter was the first proper drawing I did of knitting… though I can show you some earlier drawings if you’d like to see!

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(Above: sketching garment construction; below: pleasing hand-drawn diagrams illustrate the construction of Felicity Ford’s Layter and Blayter designs)


2. Does drawing knitted fabric present particular challenges for the artist?

Knitted fabric is 3D and highly structured; it’s not really flat at all when you start to examine it… there is what you see at the front, but also the whole architecture of that fabric, and the way it is comprised of different combinations of loops. Montse Stanley’s classic knitting book has some of the most beautiful drawings of knitted fabric that I can think of, but these are mostly very specific close-ups of different techniques. The challenge when drawing a knitted garment rather than a specific set of stitches, is knowing how much detail to go into. Representing every individual stitch is impractical and unnecessary, but I think specifics like the overall impression of a sleeve cuff or the way a cable travels should really be clear. A schematic has to be instructive, and so I am always thinking about the knitter who will refer to the drawing, and trying to make sure that everything I would want to see in that is there for them. Another challenge is to convey something of the presence and materiality of the end garment. In your designs, the materials are so important – you always explain the yarn you have used and the way it behaves when you release a new Kate Davies Design – and I think that this aspect is as essential to show as the shaping and patterning. I try to convey a little bit of that texture when I make the drawings, too, and this is achieved through varying degrees of pencil shading, which stands in for the halo that a nice woollen spun yarn produces, or the shadows created by a nice big chunky cable…

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(sketching a cable)


3. Can you describe your process when producing these illustrations?

I start by studying the set of photos you send across, and working out which parts of the garment I do not understand. How exactly is the neck shaped? What precisely is the slant in to the waist, how short or tall is the garment, how are the cables working? I usually make a big stack of sketches to work out these details before I am happy that I understand the shape properly, and that I have a strategy for dealing with all the details. I practice the difficult parts – colourwork; lace patterning; cables; – to make sure I have a way of representing them which I, as a knitter, would find useful to see. Then I confidently draw the schematic, trying as much as possible to only use a single, assertive line of black ink, with pencil to emphasise details.

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Progress on Firth o’ Forth illustration


4. Did the process of producing the illustration teach you anything about the design and construction of the garments? Did you look at my designs with fresh eyes?

YES! For me the most exciting thing is that any decent drawing should contain a good search… a search gives a drawing its energy, and there is always a lot of discovery in the process. Where exactly is the edge of the thing? What exactly is happening with that lace texture? What I most enjoyed about drawing your designs was uncovering the level of precision and care which you take with the details of each one. I loved uncovering the care and precision with which you attached the hood to the body in “Get off my cloud”, for instance, and the mischievous pixie-esque hood with its naughty little peak. I also enjoyed the signature i-cord which you use in so many designs, and whenever I was carefully trying to render this, I remembered reading that you liked to make very solid outlines in your drawings when you were a child, and – indeed – some of my drawings return to that idea because the best way to show off the bold, tidy edges is with thick outlines… I’m thinking of “Blaithin” in particular with its tidy, precise i-cord outlines.

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Get off my Cloud

I had noticed your attention to detail before, but it became particularly apparent when I lined up all the designs together and started really examining each one. I love your photos very much – you often present your designs in a very rich context with links to landscape and place and materiality – but isolating the garments away from this rich context, stripping them back to construction, shape and texture, and rendering them in a reduced, monochrome palette definitely made me look at them all with fresh eyes. I was especially struck by the range of different neck shapings you have used throughout your oeuvre, and the different approaches to doing the ribbing at the edges of garments. It really became apparent that the shape of a neck or the way the edges are done can change the whole feeling of a garment.

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5. The primary purpose of schematic illustrations is to be . . . illustrative! That is, their function is to help knitters gain an accurate sense of a garment’s sizing, dimensions and construction.

Yes – it’s essential that the illustrations are functional and serve a useful purpose! I am fascinated by instruction diagrams and actually collect the wiring diagrams that come on the back of plugs, because I am so fascinated to see how different illustrators convey the same instructive information! Plug wiring diagrams assure you that you’re not going to blow up the fuse box as well as showing which wires should go where… With knitting I think there is a similar need to reassure the knitter that things are going right, or what to look out for in case things are going wrong!

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6. Are certain kinds of garments trickier to reproduce in this regard?

I think about what might confuse me in making a garment and try to reassure the knitter about the facts of that garment. My common errors in reading a pattern are that I don’t do enough rows of this or that; or that I accidentally skip a bit; or that I start decreasing too early or too late. I therefore try to show clearly in the schematic the proportions of each stage, and also things like whether you do the neck band or the button band first on a cardigan, so that the knitter has a kind of compass to help them navigate potential pitfalls. I also want my drawings to look like the knitting the knitter will be knitting, so they are a little bit more organic and softer in line than plug diagrams! The hardest things by far to deal with when working on these schematics are the cables. The easiest mistake I think to make when knitting cables is to end up with the stitches travelling over when they should be travelling under or vice versa, and I spend a long time studying the photos and making diagrams for myself to refer to so that the cables are nicely mapped for the knitter. I find this tricky and time-consuming, as it is very detailed and finicky and involves staring at photos of your sweaters for long periods of time! That said, it is always very pleasing to finally understand how the cable works and when I was working on “Port O’ Leith”, I found that thinking about the winding, sculptural cables there really made me want to knit them!

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Port o’ Leith cables


7. Which was your favourite garment to illustrate and why?

I can’t just say one! Manu and Deco were really pleasurable to draw. I have knitted Deco and love the rhythm of the slip-stitched ziggurat that defines that design. It was a pure pleasure to think about how to reproduce that in the drawing, and I loved the challenge of getting those horizontal lines properly proportioned, and revisiting the clever, neat shape of it with my pencils and pens. Manu I have not yet knitted, but the soft yarn it is made from, the lovely puffy quality of the pleated neckline, and the rounded pockets were all details which I really enjoyed studying and emphasising in my drawing. I had always appreciated the simple elegance and wearability of Manu, but drawing it made me really appreciate the sophisticated choices you made with the yarn, the shape of the pockets, the perfectly proportioned and flattering puffy neckline, and the length (which took me a while to properly understand!)
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8. And which proved the most vexing or tricky?

Firth o’ Forth with that lovely all-over lace texture was quite tricksome, as I really couldn’t work out how the sleeves worked, and was uncertain about how much detail to go into with the oyster pattern in my schematic. I made a lot of drawings for that one, to try and exactly show the construction, and to figure out how best to render the texture, but in the end it was also one of my mot favourite schematics, because it had been difficult to do, and because I enjoyed discovering the nature of the lace and the drape and handle of that lovely yarn you used. I felt triumphant when it was finished!

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Firth o’Forth illustration.

After Felix has completed an illustration, I often find myself seeing my designs totally anew, or thinking about them differently. I love her drawings, and am so happy to have been able to join with her the collaborative enterprise of our jolly tea towel! Felix currently finds herself at something of a crossroads, as her job at Reading University is coming to an end. Happily, she has a number of new exciting woolly, artistic, and sonic projects in the pipeline, and you can read / hear more about these here.


Kate Davies Designs Tea Towels are now available!

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We made a Tea Towel!

The time has come to reveal something I’ve been extremely excited about for some time. The Kate Davies Designs tea towel!

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My pal Felix (AKA KnitSonik artiste extraordinaire, Felicity Ford) has been hand-drawing schematic illustrations for me for a while. Now, I may be able to design a sweater, but I really am totally rubbish at drawing them in any context. There is a reason why I have never shown you one of my preliminary sketches for my designs . . . and this is because they are so bad that Tom and Mel have, on, occasion, howled with laughter upon observing them. Happily, after producing a design, I am perfectly capable of drafting up a schematic on my Mac in Illustrator or Photoshop, but I do find there is something incredibly pleasing about a hand-drawn illustration of a hand-knitted item. And Felix’s drawings are particularly pleasing. She is good at drawing knitting, I think, because she is a knitter.

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Quite apart from their excellence and use as schematic illustrations in my patterns, I just loved Felix’s drawings, and there was just something so jolly about having all of my sweaters gathered together in illustrated form. It occurred to me how amazing such a gathering would look printed up on that most humble but necessary of textiles . . . the kitchen tea towel! When I suggested this to Felix, she jumped at the idea and got to work drawing more sweaters. After some help from Nic with the towel’s design and layout, we had a screen made up, and some nice folk in London printed and stitched them up for us! I have been very excited about their arrival, and now they are finally here I am even more excited, because they really are lovely.

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The tea towels are made from a good quality 100% Fair Trade cotton. They feature 11 of Felix’s illustrations of my sweater designs – perhaps one you knitted is there?

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So, if you fancy a nice new tea towel, you can find them in my shop here.

two new books

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It is always lovely to be sent copies of new books – particularly when they are inspirational tomes from folk I like and admire. Here are two I’ve recently received.

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This is Windswept by Marie Wallin. You’ll all know Marie from being, until last year, Rowan’s creative director. While continuing to work with Rowan as their head designer, last year Marie went freelance, and established her own business and brand. This book is her first independent book of hand-knit designs, and it is very beautiful indeed.

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Marie has an immediately recognisable style as a designer, and the whole book to me seems very her. There are 12 designs – 8 garments and 4 accessories. Some involve cables, and some colour, but all feature interesting details, classic shapes and gorgeous styling. Lovage – the yoked jumper above – is a case in point. It is knit up in 9 rich shades of Rowan Fine Tweed, and includes the intriguing detail of an optional crocheted trim along the sleeves. Lovage is worked in the round, using traditional Fairisle techniques.

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. . as are the Mint wrap and Camomile tam, which also showcase Marie’s distinctive sense of colour.

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My favourite design in the collection is the Sage tunic / dress.

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Knit in 13 shades of Rowan Felted Tweed, I think this is an absolutely stunning piece. For me it strikes that truly enviable design-balance of being both incredibly striking, and eminently wearable. And who can argue with those corrugated-rib-topped pockets?

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Dill – the jumper which appears on the book’s front cover – is another glorious design. This is worked in cushy, hazy Rowan Cocoon, and features interlaced cables and optional scallop-lace crocheted trim around the neckline.

The designs were shot over the course of a day in picturesque Whitstable (and you can read more about the place and shoot on Marie’s blog). The location, the light, the styling, and the photography are all absolutely lovely, and really add, I think, to the coherent feel of this collection.

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In short, this is a truly beautiful and inspirational collection of which my only criticism is that the charts are not reproduced in colour (I find monochrome charts with symbols used in place of colour a real bear to read . . . but this may be just me.) It is particularly exciting to see Marie designing using a range of different techniques and skills, and I’m already looking forward to seeing where her freelance adventure takes her next.

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Toasty (I keep wanting to say Tasty) has just been published by lovely Rachel Coopey. It is a book of ten accessory designs: 6 hats, a pair of mitts, a pair of mittens, a scarf and a cowl. All the designs are knit up in baa ram ewe‘s Titus – a yarn of which I am inordinately fond, and which Rachel has used to superb effect in her designs in this book.

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mmm . . . tasty/toasty parkin-coloured Titus, and tasty/toasty undulating cables. This design is called Ripon, and I think of it – with its nifty twists and decreases as a very Coopey-like design. But I am also very excited by what Rachel is doing with colour at the moment.

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Rachel brings the same poise and structure that is such a feature of her textured stitch patterns to her colourwork. These are the Aiskew hat and mittens, and, with their neat chevrons, they are my favourite designs in the book. Though the Bedale hat comes a very close second.

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I don’t know if you’ve worked with one of Rachel’s designs before, but I think that she is an exceptional pattern writer: really clear and precise. I reckon its hard to go wrong with a Coopey pattern.

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Rachel will be writing about the process of designing each one of the pieces in Toasty, so pop over to her blog to read more!

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This is a great contemporary accessory collection, from a talented designer, who continues her thoughtful exploration of stitch in ways that are always appealing. My single criticism of this book is that the photography perhaps isn’t as clear and sharp as as it should be to properly illustrate Rachel’s super designs at their best.

It is really nice to recommend the interesting work of other women, who, like me are working independently in hand-knit design. It occurred to me today, as it does on many days, what a lively and varied and talented milieu I now find myself among. You can purchase Windswept directly from Marie here, and Toasty directly from Rachel here.

some Spring weather

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It is a lovely time of year, and, as the weather starts to change I am really appreciating our new situation. Our house is in the middle of the photo above – one of five properties on a small steading, situated at about 250m above sea level. In front of the steading, to the South, the land dips away to a small lochan. To the North, East and West, we are surrounded by hills and woods. After living in a city, when one steps outside, the space here sometimes feels immense to me, but because of our location, there is also the interesting sensation of being cradled in the landscape, a dip in the earth sheltered by a canopy of sky. Yesterday I took a walk around the loch with Bruce, and felt this very distinctly. The arc of this rainbow shifted round the landscape with me, curving over the steading and seeming to somehow illuminate it.

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On my daily walks I see the landscape slowly coming back to life. Birds sing in the early hours, daffodils have taken the place of the snowdrops, and last week I saw the first caterpillars and frogs of the year.

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Golden flowers are appearing on the gorse, the ultimate sign of a Scottish spring for me.

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The Spring weather has almost made up for the fact that I spent last week at home, with a poorly Bruce, rather than in Shetland, where I was, in fact, supposed to be.

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Worry not, friends of Bruce: he is doing fine. The cone is a wee bit tiresome for everyone, but his snout is healing, and we will be back at the vets this afternoon.

The Spring light has also given me a chance to photograph the steeked design I mentioned in my last post. It is a garment for a man, and will be released as part of a new collaboration with my good friend and colleague Jen Arnall-Culliford. I’m very much looking forward to telling you all about it next week! It is a time for new releases all round, in fact, as various things are due to arrive next Monday which I’ve been keeping under my hat for some months, but am very keen to show you. (Apologies for all of the mystery, but soon all will be revealed.)

Right, the sun has come out and it is time for another walk with Bruce. Enjoy your Monday, everyone!

finishing a steek

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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.

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

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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.

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. . . 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.

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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.

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. . . 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.

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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 . . .

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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. . .

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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.

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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!

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