When I was a new knitter, I would have gasped if you told me to cut apart my knitting. No way, no ma'am.
I distinctly remember a red Aran sweater my mother had - full of bobbles, cables, and knit at such a tight gauge it makes my fingers hurt just thinking about it. But she never wore it because it was too big on her. So she cut it apart and incorporated parts of the sweater into a lovely fitted jacket.
I was shocked. Won't it unravel? Who would cut into a knitted garment that someone had clearly spent so much time on?
The truth is, that while knitting does unravel, there are lots of ways to cut knitted fabric. Steeking is perhaps my favorite and most-used method, and this sweater does indeed have a steek running down the front.
Some design and fit issues left me less than thrilled with the finished product. That's the thing about experiments - they don't always work. My problems with this sweater were:
I'd already woven in lots of ends, which makes unraveling difficult. Plus, the yarns (mostly handspun Icelandic thel and Shetland Spindrift) don't unravel so easily. Which makes them great for steeking, but not for correcting my mistakes.
So I decided to try something I haven't tried before. I cut the yoke right off, and picked up the live stitches onto my knitting needles, and the sweater is ready for yoke attempt #2. It was easier than I could have imagined.
It's also possible to do it the other way - say I had knit the sweater top-down and wanted to replace only the yoke. I'd cut just like I did, but then I'd need to graft the new yoke to the old one. This sometimes leaves a bit of a line, but it's definitely doable.
I'd hoped that the end of January would mean that I have a new sweater to wear, but ultimately I want a sweater that is actually wearable, and that I like, so I'm willing to have it take more time.
My handspun sweater is at that stage of doneness where it is wearable as a garment, but still needs a few finishing touches – sewing up those faux seams, adding some handwoven ribbon to keep the steeked edges covered, and there might still be a couple of ends that need weaving in. But we managed to get out to the park for a walk in the sunshine, and it was the perfect layer for a spring-like day (in January!).
Last week I filmed myself cutting the steek down the center front. Traditionally, steeks are cut in colorwork – a way to speed up the knitting, since colorwork is easier done in the round than worked flat.
Really though, you can use a steek just about anywhere – as long as you’re using a yarn that’s not too slippery.
Knitting the sweater in the round and then steeking it let me accomplish a couple of things. First, I was using handspun, which has more variety in thickness and color from skein to skein than commercial yarn. Knitting the sweater in the round meant that it would be visually even – no need to try to juggle matching left front to right front. Second, it meant I could knit a stockinette sweater with very little purling.
Actually I did purl – the center front has one purl stitch, and each side has a purl stitch where the seam will be. The purl in the center front made for an easy visual for where to steek, and the side purls are there for a faux seam and to add a little bit of structure. But that’s it!
Steeking intimidates a lot of people because it seems so dangerous! Won’t the knitting unravel? Interestingly, knit stitches don’t really want to unravel in the direction a steek is normally cut, which helps soothe most people’s fears.
When you cut a steek, there are a couple of different ways to reinforce it to keep all your hard work from unraveling. The two main techniques I’ve seen are using a sewing machine and crocheted reinforcement.
Using a Sewing Machine to Reinforce a Steek
The idea is simple: sew a couple of rows of stitches just outside the cut. The machine-sewn stitches are strong and disappear into the fabric. You do have to be careful not to stretch the knitting as it goes through the sewing machine, or else risk a “ruffly” edge, but this technique is great for yarns that might not traditionally be steeked, like cotton or acrylic. You can find a bunch of great tips about machine sewn steeks here.
Reinforcing a Steek With Crochet Stitches
This technique uses two columns of crocheted stitches just outside the column of stitches to be cut. The crocheted stitches pull away from each other, leaving you a clear cutting path. Once cut, they roll under whatever edging you add, giving you a nice edge. This is my go-to tutorial for the crocheted method.
This second technique is the one I used for my sweater, partially because I like it, and partially because I didn’t want to haul out the sewing machine. Then it was just snip, snip, snip, and I had a cardigan instead of a pullover.
I’ve heard a lot over on Instagram about how daunting steeks can seem, but they’re really useful in a lot of situations. Maybe I’m a little obsessed, but I think every knitter should try steeking at least once!
Do you have any experience with steeking? I’d love to hear about it – or any questions you might have about the process. I’m all ears!
Ever since I saw it, I wanted a cardigan like Velvet Morning. It checks all the boxes for me - gorgeous, cozy-looking, simple but with lovely colorwork details, and of course, it's a cardigan, which is my favorite kind of sweater.
I'd make a few changes though. I'd knit it in a lighter weight yarn, since I don't live in Canada like the pattern designer. I'd give it some V-neck shaping, because that's my neckline of choice, and I'd knit it in the round and steek it instead of knitting it flat and seaming it. Oh, and I'd make my own colorwork patterns inspired by my travels.
Basically, I'd design a whole new sweater with Velvet Morning as the inspiration.
This is not that sweater. I meant for it to be, and then all of a sudden I had sailed right past the place where the colorwork needed to start. And being the type of person who would rather plow ahead instead of rip back, plow ahead is what I did.
As I knit the body, I was a little sad that I was making "another boring sweater" and wondered how I could spice it up. When I got to the ribbing, I had the bright idea to try cables. The classic cables were still too boring for my taste, so I pulled out the new Knitted Cable Sourcebook by Norah Gaughan. I ended up with cable pattern #112 "Fusion," which fit neatly into my stitch count and is based on a 2/2 rib. I'm hoping those ripples between the body and the ribbing block out - I do think they will, since the swatch stretched pretty considerably after I washed it.
Knitting the cables in dark brown wasn't quite as difficult as I thought it might be, and I'm happy that I'll have a subtle bit of texture on this sweater after all.
p.s. -- My Velvet Morning-inspired sweater is totally still in the queue!
Well, naturally, since I felt like everything was finally starting to go smoothly with my Noro Log Cabin blanket, that was when everything went wrong.
The first thing to go wrong actually happened a month or so ago, when I bought the rest of the yarn I needed. The store didn’t have exactly the color I wanted, so I figured that another color would do just fine. After all, Noro shades tend to go well with each other.
Well, they do go together, but not in the way I liked. The new colors were just a bit too neon and pastel for my taste, and I spent an awful lot of time looking at it and wondering whether I should rip it back.
It’s not usually my style to rip back, so instead I forged ahead and fretted about the colors. You can buy Noro online, I know, but I don’t have easy access to the mail these days.
Well, the problem of whether or not to rip back was solved for me. As I jumped up to go look at a stunning sunset, I put down my knitting in my chair. But when I came back to it, it was piled on top of the citronella candle I had been burning.
What could have been a disaster was really only localized to a small piece of knitting. One of the many excellent properties of wool is that it is self-extinguishing, so the hole you see here was the only major damage.
The way I had joined the squares, I had to rip back to solve the color problem – only I was almost out of all my other main colors. I found some Spincycle yarn at Sheep’s Clothing in Kennewick, Washington that was remarkably close to my main color, and alternated rows with Noro to get a close enough effect in the replacement square.
I figure that I got set back by about a week, and the nights have been getting cooler as we wend our way north. You’d think the answer would be to knit faster, but happily one of the stops along the way was the Pendleton Woolen Mill, where I bought two lovely wool blankets. More on that to come soon.
I've already apologized for being late (fashionably, I hope) to the party that is 2015 year-in-review blog posts. There's just so much that happened last year!
One of my most exciting accomplishments in 2015 was that I started to design my own sweaters - two with my own handspun! And, while I'd only knit a sweater a year from 2012-2014, in 2015 I made two sweaters and a vest. Not too shabby.
I still have a lot to learn about sweater design and fit, but I'm pretty exciting about what I have learned, and I'm loving that I'm taking a more active role in creating my own wardrobe.
How I designed it: This sweater is a mishmash of Elizabeth Zimmerman sweaters: the classic EPS, the Brooks, with a v-neck and a shawl collar thrown in. I also designed the colorwork pattern. I wanted subtly shifting colors, without big motifs.
What I learned:
This sweater quickly became one of my favorite sweaters - as soon as it was done (and cold enough), I've worn it almost every day. Rest assured, it does get washed, and while it's drying there is a serious hole in my wardrobe.
As I mentioned above, I did learn that stranded colorwork stretches vertically when washed and blocked. Of course, I didn't learn that until after knitting the entire sweater, and ended up having to do some surgery on the sleeves to make them shorter. But I do love the long length of the overall sweater because....
I made it too big. This is a roomy sweater, even though (I think) I intended for the result to be more fitted. As I discovered later on in the year, I tend to overestimate what size I need (even after I've measured myself).
The Key Takeaways:
How I designed it: I used an existing vest (like this one) for the initial measurements and worked from there. Added a cable detail at the edges. Pockets + zipper.
What I learned:
This vest is extra special to me because it is made from local Jacob wool that I handspun myself. Because there wasn't enough of one color to make a whole vest, I decided to go for an ombre effect.
The armholes are a little funky - they're a bit too deep, and at the same time they're too shallow for the edging I chose. I really didn't want to do a knitted-on edging, though that might have worked better.
Overall, the coolest thing about this vest are the finishing touches - the zipper and the pockets. They make it a much more wearable item, especially the way I use this vest - as an in-between weathers piece, particularly when hiking.
The Key Takeaways:
Old Man Corriedale
How I designed it: This is a mashup of EPS, the measurements of the Jacob vest, and some other sweater design basics. It's not quite done yet, but since all the main pieces were made in 2015, I'm counting it!
What I learned:
The body and sleeves of this sweater are made, and I'm almost done seaming the sleeves. The body was made in one piece, and that's where it's fitting a little large. Since it's destined to be a cardigan, I'm planning on lopping off a few inches at the center front before I pick up for the neck band. After that, all that's left are pockets!
The Key Takeaways:
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