Like it or not, Fair Isle is gaining ground in the knitting community. And, with it, come a whole slew of techniques a knitter will need to complete many Fair Isle projects successfully. The one technique that seems to cause the most anxiety among knitters is the Dreaded Steek.
As most knit pieces are knit with one strand of continuous yarn (looped together), it is counter-intuitive and a little frightening to take a pair of scissors and cut into your knitting. But, with so many beautiful stranded colorwork patterns now available, it’s a good idea for knitters to come to terms with this intimidating concept.
Our sample for this tutorial was knit by Kristin (our resident Fair Isle guru) with Shetland Spindrift. A nice toothy (or sticky) yarn, many Shetland patterns recommend simply cutting into the project without any preparation. Well, not for us! We’re going to walk you through the simple and easy way of steeking using this cool tea cozy. We’ll actually use this same sample next week to create a tutorial on duplicate stitch.
Now, our method of stress-free steeking uses a sewing machine. If you do not have access to a sewing machine, you can hand sew your piece, but we recommend trying to find a machine first.
Text Instructions (each step has a corresponding photo):
- Set up the sewing machine (it had to be said) for running/ straight stitch. We recommend you use a high-contrast thread so you’ll be able to see it against the knitting more easily. In our sample we used pale grey thread against green, pink, and purple yarns. The stitch length and tension should be relatively low. As with any sewing project, TEST the machine settings on a scrap of fabric before sewing on your project.
- Position the foot and needle for the first line of stitching – the line should be 0.25″ from the cutting line and, if possible, 0.25″ from the area the edging will later be picked up from. Should you have less than 1″ to work with, always make sure the lines of stitching are 0.25″ from the cutting line. If necessary, draw guidelines with chalk or water-soluble ink before sewing.
- Start the machine slowly then, after a couple of stitches, backstitch over them to secure the thread.
- Continue stitching to the end of the piece and be sure to backstitch over the last couple of stitches.
- You’ll now have one line of running stitch.
- Reposition your piece with the foot and needle over where the second line of stitching will go.
- Repeat Steps 3 – 4, being sure to backstitch over the first and last stitches of the line.
- Now you’ll have two lines of stitching that should be 0.50″ apart – both 0.25″ from where the steek will be cut.
- Before cutting the steek, snip the thread tails.
- Brace yourself and pull out your scissors.
- Cut very carefully down the center between the two lines of stitches you just sewed. If necessary, draw a guideline with chalk or water-soluble ink to cut along.
- Rejoice! You have just cut a steek. If you flip the knitting over, you will see that the lines of machine stitching are holding the yarn floats and knit stitches in place. This will help stabilize your knitting as you pick up stitches for the border, button band, sleeve, or hem.
Now, isn’t that a lot less scary than just plain cutting into your knitting?
A couple of extra Obsessive-Compulsive tips from me (Sara M.) to make your steeking experience even less frightening:
- Test your sewing-on-handknits skills by practicing with a swatch before sewing the actual project. An alternative (offered by Kristin) is to use an old sweater for practice, if you don’t have a swatch.
- Ziz-zag stitch over the straight stitch lines before cutting.
- If you have access to a serger, serge the edges of the steak after cutting the fabric.
I especially recommend these tricks if you’re going to be steeking something less toothy than Shetland wool (the sample above), such as cotton or superwash wool.
Next week I shall endeavor to corner Sandy Kay and whip up a duplicate stitch tutorial – you never know when you’ll need it!