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!
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies