steeks and swants

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 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.



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.


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.


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 . . .


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!


Ok, before I begin, allow me a moment: I think that this is probably the best photograph I have seen of myself in ages. I like it because I look comfortable and physically capable — concepts which, a couple of years ago seemed totally unimaginable. Few people seem to talk about just how bloody uncomfortable it is living in a body that has had a stroke. I am happy to say that this discomfort abates somewhat as time goes on . . . Anyway, for a multitude of reasons, I would heartily recommend a trike to anyone with neurological weakness or balance problems. I love it as you can see . . .

Now I have got that shot of me, wildly gurning, out of the way, I can tell you about the cardigan.

It uses the same motifs as the Peerie Flooers designs, and its name is Bláithín, which means, in Irish “little flower.”

It is knit Donegal yarns, “Soft Donegal” – a squooshy, nubbly, and richly saturated tweed.

It is knit in one piece, and then steeked up the centre. Design features include inset pockets, steek sandwich facings, and i-cord buttonholes.

If you look carefully at the centre right of the photograph above, you’ll see a buttonhole. You’ll also note that there is i-cord around the cuffs and pocket tops. Yes, I do like my i-cord . . .

The i-cord edging is added after all the knitting is complete; it is worked all in one piece, all the way around the cardigan. Here is a shot of the edging worked along the “steek sandwich” buttonband. . .

Here is the edging on the inside of the cardigan, so that you can see the sandwich from the reverse, together with a buttonhole . . .

. . .and here is a buttonhole in action.

One of my aims with this design was for it to be as accessible as possible not only to those knitters who were cautious about steeking, but those who were afraid of colourwork. The yoke design is very simple.

It is also easily-customisable for the more adventurous knitter who would prefer to insert their own yoke design. The pattern repeats are short, and the decreases are worked over a number of plain rows.

Bláithín comes in nine sizes, covering a 30 to a 50 inch bust. The cardigan has a gentle A-line shape and is designed to be worn with 1-2 inches of positive ease. It is soft, warm, and very easy to wear.

Ideal for the novice tricyclist!

The Bláithín pattern is now available, and you’ll find it here or here!

I’ve also designed a wee Bláithín, in babies and girl’s sizes. This pattern will be available very shortly.

That’s all for now – I’m off up North today to look at some wool. See you later!

steeks 1: introduction

This is the first of three posts looking at steeks and how to reinforce, cut, and finish them.

I thought I’d start right at the beginning: what is a steek?

Put simply, a steek is a small bridge of knitted stitches that are additional to the main pattern. This bridge enables the knitter to work seamlessly, and continuously, in the round. (Most knitters find that colourwork is generally much easier to execute in the round because there are no purl rows, and the pace and flow of the work is smoother.) On a design like my Rams and Yowes blanket, the steek bridge means that, instead of knit / purling back and forth, the knitter works the blanket as one large tube. When the knitting is complete, the steek bridge is reinforced, cut down the middle, and the tube is thereby transformed into a flat piece of fabric. Stitches are then picked up around the edges, and an envelope facing is created which contains the cut edges of the steek.

(Helen Stout of Busta, Shetland, knitting a Fairisle gansey).

On garments, steeks can be used to create armscyes, neck openings, pockets, or cardigan fronts. In the photo above, you can see that Helen Stout has steeked the armscyes of this gansey. Later, she will cut the steek , and pick up stitches around the armscye in order to work the sleeves (or edgings, if it is a vest) top-down.

My Tortoise and Hare sweater uses steeks in a similar manner. The knitter works the whole sweater in the round, adding steek bridges for the neck and armscye openings. These are reinforced and cut, sleeves and edgings are added, and the steek facings are turned to the inside of the garment.

Over time the facings felt and merge into the fabric, and the steeks simply become one with the rest of the garment. This works particularly well if the garment has been knitted in a nice woolly wool, like a Shetland. You may remember a post I wrote a while ago about this Shetland cardigan, which is steeked at the front opening and armscyes, and has seen many years of wear.

Inside the armscyes, the steek has become one with the rest of the fabric and is now virtually invisible. Magic!

Steeks are easy and tremendously enabling to work, yet for many knitters, it seems that they represent some sort of final frontier. I have met accomplished knitters – the kind who would not bat an eye before tackling some fiendish Orenburg lace – but who are terrified of steeking. This is not because steeks are in any way complex or difficult to execute, but simply that they involve taking scissors to your knitting. Horrors!

But chopping up your knitting is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, I take scissors to my knitting on a daily basis. Some of you may be appalled at what I’m now going to show you . . .

Here are some swatches I knitted up last week. When designing, I knit up a lot of swatches, and because most of my patterns are worked in the round, the swatches are too. I generally cast on a wrist or head-sized number of stitches, work it in the round and then, when I’m done . . . I cut it up. This allows me to separate parts of the swatch from other parts. So, in this example, the green swatches are the beginning of an idea for a hat. The crown and edging I’d charted didn’t really work with the rest of the patten, so I just cut those bits away. I don’t steek or reinforce the fabric in any way at all before cutting – I simply chop it up with a pair of sharp scissors – and then I pin the bits of the swatch I remain interested in on my swatch board. Here is the cut edge of one swatch I remain interested in.

Please note that there is no unravelling, stitches are not popping out all over the place and nothing dreadful is happening.

One of the many interesting things I saw at Shetland Wool Week last year were some examples from the Shetland Museum’s collection of colourwork swatches. Some of these had been worked separately, but others had simply been cut from larger swatches, or, in some cases, from whole garments (from which the knitter wanted to preserve the pattern). As you can see, these swatches are completely stable pieces of knitted fabric. They are not unravelling or disintegrating in any way.

While I don’t suggest taking a pair of scissors and wantonly chopping up your knitting, I am saying that for any reasonably adept knitter, steeks should hold no fear.
If you are still unsure, remember that:
1) Steeks are reinforced before cutting, so the cut edge of the fabric is stable and secure.
2) Steeks are cut on the vertical and
3) knitted stitches really do not want to unravel along a vertical cut edge. (Stitches “like” to unravel horizontally).
4) Finally, stitches like to stick together.

This is especially the case when you are working with a grippy or a sticky yarn — of which a woollen-spun Shetland is an excellent example. So if you are in any way nervous about steeking, then I would suggest that you stick with a sticky yarn (choose a woollen -spun yarn with a ‘halo’) and avoid smooth, shiny yarns — ie, those that are superwash-treated, those that are worsted spun, or those with long smooth fibres, like Alpaca.


In the next post, we’ll get down to business, reinforcing and cutting a steek.

twenty two

Twenty two is . . .

. . . the circumference in inches of my new millinery block. I have been on the look out for one of these for a while and am extremely pleased to have finally found one. Score! Clearly I now need to make a hat for it.

The past few days have held their frustrations, but the fog of fatigue is finally lifting, and now the weekend is shaping up very nicely. Tomorrow I intend to write a couple of tutorials about steeking, so I will be back then to cut up this swatch with you. Hope you are enjoying your weekend!

rams and yowes

Hmmm . . . do I spy . . . some sheep?

. . . . many sheep?

. . . and many rams?

120 yowes and 48 rams?!!

Yes! It’s the rams and yowes lap blanket!

In case you were wondering, yowe means ewe in Shetland dialect and, just like the sheepheid design from which it emerged, the rams and yowes blanket is a celebration of the many-hued variety of Shetland sheep. The blanket uses all 9 natural shades of Jamieson & Smith Supreme jumper weight, and it is very simple to make: the body of the blanket is first knit up as a steeked, colourwork tube. When the colourwork is complete, the steek is cut, and stitches are picked up for the garter stitch edging. Increases and decreases create mitred corners, which fold to the back of the work, creating a neat facing inside which the steek is completely hidden. If you have never steeked before, this would be a good first project to try out the technique.

Here is the facing from the back with the steek hidden inside. To my mind, there are few things more lovely than graded shades of natural Shetland worked in garter stitch. So very pleasing!

Can you tell that I am stupidly happy with this design?

I love the way that the 120 yowes, worked in the graded Shetland shades, give the effect of a massive, ever-receding flock, and the rams lend a graphic, carpet-like aspect to the blanket’s centre

The finished blanket measures 3 feet square. It is just the right size for draping over your knees, or the back of the sofa, and can also be worn as a very cosy wrap or shawl.

The rams and yowes pattern has been expertly test-knitted by my friend Sarah (thankyou, Sarah!). If you’d like to make your own, the pattern is now up and available here, or here.

And in case you are wondering about my hand wear – yes, those are a pair of Muckle Mitts that I whipped up yesterday from a lovely free pattern – a new year’s treat from (who else?) Mary Jane Mucklestone – go and download yourself a copy!


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