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Steeking: My First Attempt (and Perhaps a Cautionary Tale)

LBHandknits

Since my return to knitting as an adult, I have made a few cardigans - maybe a half dozen? - all of them knitted seamlessly, but 'open' - in the flat on a long circular needle. To be perfectly honest, I had no complaints about this method. While I do prefer to knit pullovers and dresses in the round, this is mainly because I dislike assembly and prefer for my garments not to have seams - not because I dislike knitting back and forth, if that makes sense. I also do not have the aversion to purling the way some knitters do, so purling every alternative row when knitting stockinette in the flat is not a problem for me. Considering all of that, in hindsight, steeking for me was a solution in search of a problem! But sometimes, you know - you see a technique and it just looks so cool that you want to explore it.

In case some of you reading this have not heard of it before, steeking is a cardigan construction technique, Scandinavian and/or Scottish in origin. Instead of knitting a cardigan open, you knit it in the round, as if it were a pullover. You then cut it along the centre front vertically, and pick up stitches for the button band along the newly created edges.  It's a method that makes the most sense when you are knitting a sweater with stranded colourwork - which is easier to execute in the round than in the flat. Some lace and cable patterns can similarly benefit. However, it seems that a good portion of knitters simply prefer steeking as their go-to method of cardigan construction even if there isn't any colourwork, lace, or cables to contend with - the reasoning being that it is faster/easier/pleasanter to knit in the round, and afterward steek, a cardigan, than to knit it open. After reading lots of this type of feedback, it occurred to me that I too might be such a knitter. And so I decided to steek - starting with a simple cardigan design I was working on, with a circular Old Shale lace yoke. It's a stitch pattern that can be knitted in the flat without issue, but admittedly it was easier in the round.  

There are several approaches to steeking out there. After studying all the ones I could find I decided to go with the one described by Kate Davis and Ysolda Teague, which involves re-inforicng the steeked edges with slip stitch crochet before cutting. After reading about this method and looking at the diagrams, it all made complete sense to me. And so unlike many, who report being terrified to try steeking, I approached it pretty calmly and casually. 

I knitted the sweater top down, with 5 steek stitches in the centre (interrupting the lace pattern in the yoke and hem). For the crochet reinforcement I used sock yarn in a complimentary, but distinguishable colour to the sweater yarn, then slipped stitched in straight columns according to the diagram in the Ysolda post linked above. Doing this part was fun, although it did take forever as my cardigan is on the long side - maybe a half hour for each edge?   

Then, once the crochet reinforcements were in place, I took a pair of embroidery scissors and snipped right through the middle steek stitch - in between the crochet columns.  

At this stage, everything looked fine and I was well pleased with the result. So I proceeded to fold the left steeked edge back and picked up stitches for the button band.

Here again, all was going smoothly. And it was only when I had knitted a few rows of the button band that I noticed bits of frayed yarn were starting to pop out of the crochet reinforcements - which was definitely not supposed to happen, as far as I understood! 

You will forgive me, but I did not snap pictures at this point - I was too busy panicking and trying not to throw up/ faint. After dropping my knitting and pacing the room for a few minutes, I was finally able to get my hands to stop shaking and think clearly. I do not know why stitches were coming out of the crochet chain. But they were. And it was obvious that I needed to immediately re-reinforce the steeks to stop them unraveling - which I did, with a darning needle and the same sock yarn I used for the crochet reinforcements, using blanket stitch. 

The result isn't exactly pretty. But at least the edges are secured now to my satisfaction, and they have not frayed any further even after I hand-washed the sweater and laid it out to block.

After the cardigan dries, I will cover these 'scars' with grossgrain ribbon and hopefully the end result will look presentable. Unfortunately, even if things look gorgeously tidy, I am not happy with the bulk that has been added here. There are now very tangible seams along the button bands and this is at odds with the rest of the garment being perfectly seamless.  

Also? As someone prone to messing with her garments after wearing them for some time, it is driving me nuts to realise that I will not be able to alter this cardigan, now that it has been steeked and the button band added after. Another reason I am better suited to seamless knitting!... 

In summary: My first attempt at steeking did not go as well as I had hoped. I did manage to rescue the garment, but in retrospect I wish I had just knitted it open. While I agree that steeking is the logical choice when working with stranded colourwork and certain cable and lace motifs, there was no need for me to knit this particular cardigan in the round other than as an experiment. And well I guess this serves as a reminder that not all experiments have favorable outcomes!

All that being said, I do plan to steek again in future, if the nature of the garment calls for it. I will do more research next time to try and understand what went wrong for me here, and hopefully will have a smoother experience. Likewise, I do not mean to discourage others from giving steeking a try. By all means, give it a go - just be aware that things may not work out perfectly, and perhaps have a backup plan if you experience fraying the way I did. Learning after all, is about trial and error, and it is often these types of incidents that end up being valuable - or at least memorable! - learning experiences.