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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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!

steeks and swants

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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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!

Bláithín

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 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.

steeks 3: the sandwich

In this post, I’m going to show you how to further reinforce (and cover) the cut edges of your steek using a techique that I’ve called “the steek sandwich.” There are many other methods of binding / covering steek edges – but this one works well, I think, for a steeked cardigan. The front edges of a cardigan generally see a lot of strain because of the opening / closing action of buttons and button holes – and this method provides a strong facing as well as a stable edge where the garment needs it most.

Above, you can see the wrong side of the swatch where we left it yesterday, with the steek cut, and the crocheted reinforcement holding the cut edge. In the steps that follow, I’m just going to describe exactly what I’m doing, and provide a little more explanation at the end.

First, with the right side of the swatch facing, pick up and knit 3 stitches for every 4 rows, plus an extra 1 stitch each for the top and bottom edges. (I’m using yarn in a contrasting colour so you can see what I’m doing).

For the edging to sit 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 pattern. In the diagram below, there are two pattern stitches on either side, and five steek stitches in the middle. The pink lines show you where you should be picking up your stitches.

When picking up your stitches, 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 (this may sound obvious, but people do pick up stitches in quite different ways . . . ) So, when you have finished, you should be able to see the backs of your picked up stitches on the reverse of the fabric.

The backs of your stitches should resemble a line of sewn running stitch. And just as a running stitch would, these stitches are further securing and holding the cut edge of your steek. That steek is going nowhere!

Now, beginning with a purl row, work in stockinette for four rows.
Keep these stitches live on the needle: don’t break yarn.
Here are these four rows from the right side.

And here they are from the wrong side, with stitches 1 and 2 of the steek, and the chain of the crocheted reinforcement visible behind them.

Sitting underneath the steek, you’ll see the back loops of your previously picked up stitches.

Now without knitting, pick up each of these loops and place them on a second needle:

Bring the working yarn round from the right side, and work in stockinette for 3 rows, beginning with a knit row.

Keep these stitches live on your needle: don’t break yarn.

The sandwich is now forming: four rows of stockinette on the right side, three on the wrong side, and, in the middle, the steek stitches and their crocheted reinforcement.

This next step is a bit fiddly, so take your time.

Turn the work to the right side.
You have two sets of stitches running parallel to one another: one set on the front, and one on the back needle.
Bring the working yarn around from the back and, with a third needle, knit one stitch from the front needle together with one stitch from the back needle, covering and containing the steek stitches and the crochet chain. When you have knitted each front-needle stitch together with its corresponding back-needle stitch, you end up with this.

A neat stockinette facing!

And here’s what it looks like from the wrong side:

All that remains is to bind off the live stitches. Here, I’ve used an i-cord bind-off (knit 2; knit 2 together through-the-back-loops) (particularly useful if you are working a button / buttonhole band).

Here’s the finished sandwich from the right side . . .

. . . and the wrong side.

Voila! the steek sandwich.

I particularly like the fact that:
1) if you work an even number of rows from the right side, and an odd number from the wrong side, you never have to break yarn
2) Because you just pick up the reverse loops from the right-side stitches, you end up with two perfectly aligned stockinette flaps that can neatly be knitted together.
3) No need to worry about whether you’ve picked up the right number of stitches on either side: the number of stitches is always, inevitably the same!
4) You can weave in your ends by pulling them inside the sandwich.

Points of note:
:: You can of course, work more rows to create a deeper facing. I’ve worked the minimum here: just enough to fit the steek and and its reinforcement inside.
:: I worked the i-cord bind-off from the wrong side. Personally, I like the way this looks.
:: The ‘sandwich’ is formed from three layers of fabric and, as you’d imagine, has a solid, almost quilted appearance. I think this is great for the front openings of a cardigan, where a facing is often necessary anyway. It also works well as a blanket edging, but because it adds bulk, would probably not work so well elsewhere.

If this rain ever stops, I’ll soon be able to show you how the sandwich looks on a finished garment!

Also, I noticed that there were some good questions on my previous couple of posts. I thought I’d answer a few of these (those that I can!) in a final installment of this steek series tomorrow, so if there is anything you want to know that I’ve not covered, or that seems unclear, please say something below.

steeks 2: reinforcing and cutting

In this post I’m going to show you my preferred method for reinforcing a steek before cutting. My favourite method is the crocheted steek. Other methods are available, and I’m definitely not saying that this one is the “best” or the most “valid” or anything — it is simply the method that I like, and that I happen to use. I like it most because it creates a neat and flexible edge that remains at the same tension as the knitted fabric. I also like this method because the crocheted chain seems to ‘grab’ and contain the cut edges of the steek, squirrelling them away in a very pleasing fashion. Done well, there should be no “raw” edges, no loose ends of fraying yarn. All very reassuring for the nervous, novice steeker – and hopefully you’ll see what I mean in a moment.

Here’s a close-up of the swatch, which uses the Peerie Flooers motif. (This motif also features on a new (steeked) cardigan pattern which will be released in a week or so).

On the swatch above, you can see the steek stitches worked in stripes, sitting in the middle of the picture. A crocheted steek is always worked over an odd number of stitches — here, I’ve used five — and it is generally worked in a stripe or a checkerboard pattern. I like to work the five stitches in a striped sequence of background, contrast, background, contrast, background. That way you can see the central and two flanking stitches relatively easily. Your crocheted reinforcement will be worked over these three stitches.

Before you begin, weave in all your loose yarn ends to the back of the work. Place all of your weave-ends a few stitches to the left or right of your steek – that is – don’t weave in the ends to the back of the steek itself. This is to ensure that all potentially-fraying bits of yarn are sitting well-away from where you are going to cut.

Here are the steek stitches again. If you click on the picture below, you’ll see that I’ve numbered them 1 to 5 — stitch 1 to the right, and stitch 5 to the left, following the right-to-left direction of the knitting.

Here are charts that show the steek in the same colour pattern as the swatch, with the stitches numbered underneath, 1 through 5. Chart B has an arrow pointing to the centre stitch – stitch number 3. You are going to cut down the centre of this stitch later (as illustrated by the pink cutting line in chart D). Chart C has arrows pointing to stitches 2, 3, and 4. These three stitches are where you are going to work two chains of double (American single) crochet: the first chain will be worked between the front (left-hand) leg of stitch 2 and the back (right-hand) leg of stitch 3; and the second chain will be worked between the back (right-hand) leg of stitch 4 and the front (left-hand) leg of stitch 3.

I like to use a crochet hook a size or two smaller than the needle I used for knitting (here I’m using a 3mm crochet hook on a 3.25mm swatch). I also like to use a yarn that won’t break when working the crocheted reinforcement. Here I’m using a good strong sock yarn.

Now, make a slip-knot and place it on your hook.

Take your hook and push it through the bound-off edge at the top of the swatch, right through the centre of stitch 2.

Pull a loop through (2 loops on hook)

Pull the yarn through again, this time bringing it through both loops, securing your sock yarn to the bound-off edge of the swatch (1 loop on hook).

Now it is time to start reinforcing.
A) Working into the first row down from the bound-off edge, push your hook under the front leg of stitch 2 and the back leg of stitch 3 (3 loops on hook: 2 knitted ‘legs’ and 1 crocheted loop)

B) Now pull the working yarn through the two stitch-legs (2 loops on hook)

C) Pull the working yarn through both loops one more time. (1 loop on hook). You have now made one reinforcement stitch.

Continue in this manner, repeating steps A through C for every row of the swatch, pushing your hook under the front leg of stitch 2 and the back leg of stitch 3 each time. When you get to the bottom, secure your crochet chain to the cast-on edge of the swatch through the centre of stitch 2, and fasten off. If you look at your swatch from the side, this is what you see.

The loops of the crocheted reinforcement run through stitch 3, pulling it away from the centre of the steek and connecting it to stitch 2. You can also see the other leg of stitch 3 sitting next to stitch 4. This is where you are now going to work your second reinforcement.

Turn your swatch 180 degrees.
You are now going to work another chain in the opposite direction — from the cast-on edge to the bound-off one.
Push your hook through the centre of stitch 4, and fasten your sock yarn to the cast-on edge.
Working through the back leg of stitch 4, and the front leg of stitch 3, repeat steps A through C above, for every row of the swatch.

Here you see the second reinforcing chain beginning to emerge.

. . . and here are the two complete chains, lying parallel to one another.

For ease of cutting and neatness of finish, I have two top tips.
1) Do not work your crocheted reinforcement more than once into the same pair of stitches. It is tempting to do this, as logic would seem to suggest that more reinforcing is better, and should make the cut edge stronger. But, the opposite is actually the case. If you work more than one crocheted stitch into the knitted ones you produce a curiously rippling crocheted chain that refuses to sit flat and flush against the knitted fabric. With more crocheted stitches, the cut edge becomes flappy and difficult to deal with, rather than remaining neat and easily contained.
2) Make sure you turn your work 180 degrees before working the second reinforcing chain. That is: the first chain should be worked from top to bottom, and the second from bottom to top. This ensures that the front and back legs of stitch 3 are both pulled away from the centre of the steek, making it much easier for you to see where to cut. . .

. . . thus.


NOW THE FUN BEGINS: CUTTING TIME!!!

If you carefully pull the two crocheted reinforcements away from each other (as in the photo above), you will see a ladder of knitted strands running up the centre of stitch 3.

Take a small, sharp pair of scissors and cut each strand of this ladder, taking care not to cut the crocheted reinforcement.

Here is the steek with a few strands cut. . .

. . . here are the two edges beginning to divide from one another. . .

. . . and here’s what it looks like from the reverse. Can you see any raw ends? No, nor can I. That is because the crocheted reinforcement has magically squirrelled them away.



WHOOT!
You just cut up your knitting!

From the top, the reinforcement looks like a normal crochet chain.

From underneath you can see how it grabs the edge of the steek.

The edge is clean, secure, flexible and very stable.

BINGO!

Right then, steekers, I think that’s all for today.

In the final installment of this series, I’m going to show you how to further secure and contain the cut edges of your steek using a technique that I’ve called the “steek sandwich”. This technique features on my forthcoming cardigan pattern, where it is used to create neat facings at the front edge openings. Until tomorrow, then!

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.


(AVOID ME!)

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!

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