What is it?
Steeking is a technique where you knit or crochet a flat piece in a tube and then (gasp!) cut a designated section of stitches in order to make the piece flat.
The technique comes from stranded knitting since it is much easier to knit colorwork in the round rather than back and forth. Steeks would be employed to make holes for the arms and neck (or cardigan front) in traditional sweaters. This technique can also be used in one-color knitting to preserve a pattern or for ease of knitting in the round, can be used to add heels to tube socks, and can even be applied to crochet!
How do you do it?
The basic idea is that you start knitting in the round, but you add a number of extra stitches in plain stockinette if knitting one color or in [*k1 (MC), k1 (CC)*] if knitting colorwork.
Or you can watch it in action!
Do you have to reinforce a steek? I keep seeing different ways, which one is best?
There are some knitters who do not reinforce their steeks because of the yarn they choose to knit with; however many knitters reinforce all of their steeks regardless of yarn choice. Reinforcement is a safeguard against raveling. If in doubt you can always add reinforcement, and you should try out several kinds to see which one you like the best. Which one is best is really a matter of personal preference and the tools you have at hand.
How do you steek without reinforcement?
Shetland wool used in traditional steeked garments is very ‘grabby’ and it sticks together. The friction of knitting with it causes it to felt together. If you were to frog a swatch of it, the loops would not want to come undone, and stick together. Because of this property in the yarn, steeks would resist raveling and very brave knitters would simply cut and forge forward trusting that the folded facing and the yarn quality would keep the piece from raveling. If you want to give it a try, I suggest testing it on a coffee cozy (not a sweater!) and see if you like the results.
What yarns are best for steeking?
For beginners, ‘sticky’ yarn is helpful in keeping your stitches together. Sticky meaning non-superwash wool fibers that grab onto themselves and like to stick together. Do a ‘swatch and frog’ test, and if the yarn pulls apart easily it’s probably not the best candidate. If it resists frogging, it’s likely a good candidate.
You can steek in slippery yarns such as cotton, but you need to carefully reinforce the edges before you cut. The heavier and ‘slinkier’ the yarn is the more difficult it will be to make the steek work and look good.
Any tips or tricks?
If you decide to reinforce your steek with machine stitching, run a test swatch through the machine first. Knitted fabric gets caught in the feed dogs of many machines. This can cause bunching, uneven stitching and can even damage your precious handknit fabric. You can try laying tissue paper under the knitted fabric to lessen this problem (and sew directly through the tissue paper).
How does steeking work in crochet?Instead of making a section of stockinette to cut through, the crocheter makes a section of chain stitches that will be the cutting area. Crochet steeks do not need to be reinforced, but the ends from the various sides will need to be worked in. There is a tutorial available as a free Ravelry download HERE
So, how about some free pattern suggestions for steeking?
If you are looking for a single-color steek, try looking at Objects in Space - a sideways knit scarf where the steek of dropped stitches becomes the fringe!
Or for doll and miniature lovers, check out the MiniatureMr. Rodgers Sweater - how cute is that? And what a great turn in story you could make relating it to a muggle childhood icon?
If you’re interested in stranded knitting, check out the following quick patterns:
Steek This Coffee Cozyis a stranded cozy that is cut and buttons up the side. Cute and a great ‘learn-to-steek’ pattern!
Slightly fancier is the Chain Mail Inspired French PressCozy which has a neat patterned stitch and buttons that go around the French press handle.
If you’d rather go for wearable, check out the super cute Mushroom Pulse Warmers! You can also knit only one at a larger gauge and turn it into a headband for a very quick steek project!
Slightly more involved is the beautiful Sweet Hex Child’sHood. With a little knitting and a steek, you can craft a gorgeous heirloom bonnet!
But what if you're a steeking pros? What if you already cut your way through a sweater or three and you want to blow your professors minds?
Have no fear; there is a pattern for you, too! Fronkensteek is a pattern by the Tsarina of Tsocks that is notorious for its unique construction that includes (*gasp!*) cutting your sock apart and sewing it back together into pieces! It’s not a free pattern, but it is certainly an impressive feat for anyone who can accomplish it.
Speaking of, for avid sock knitters looking for steeking credit, you can make an afterthought heel by cutting (carefully) into a tubesock and picking up stitches.
Go forth brave snakes, go and cut your knitting apart for the glory of Slytherin!