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Filtering by Tag: cardigan

First Time Steeking: An Epilogue



Since I wrote in an earlier post about my first steeking experience, I wanted to follow up now that the cardigan is done and I've had some distance from the process!

To sum up what happened: Eager to experiment with steeking, I knitted the initial version of my Ripple and Bloom cardigan in the round. I did a crochet steek, following instructions carefully. It seemed to go well at first. But as I picked up stitches for the button band, my steeks started coming undone in places, the frayed edges popping out of the crochet chains. Trying not to panic, I re-secured the steeks by hand-sewing over them in blanket stitch. That did the trick and the steeks remained stable after that. However, I was disappointed with the untidy look and with the seams they added to the underside of the button bands.

Okay. So since all that happened, more than anything I began to question whether I'd done the steeks incorrectly after all. Perhaps I did the wrong crochet stitch? Or maybe I was meant to leave more stitches between the chains?  So I consulted a couple of experienced steekers, and showed them my sweater, bracing for being told I had f*ed up and ruined it. Instead I was assured that this is exactly what steeks are supposed to look like. 'You cover them up with ribbon if you want them tidier than that.'


Not entirely satisfied, I did some more digging/ pestering of steekers. And to the best of my understanding the situation is this: Steeking is a technique originally designed for Shetland wool - which has a coarse/sticky quality to it that makes it stay in place after you cut it. But other yarns (notably, merino) can be more 'slippery,' and might indeed be prone to popping out of the crochet chains. So if you suspect the yarn you are working with might behave this way, basically allow for a couple of additional stitches in between the crochet chains (1 extra stitch to each side of the cut). Makes sense?

But regardless, apparently my steeks are just fine as they are. An application of grosgrain ribbon to the underside of both button bands has hidden them completely and has actually added a nice finishing touch to the cardigan. However I am still not a fan of the bulk and the overall fussiness of the whole steeking process. As I wrote in the previous post, I will reserve this technique for cardigans that absolutely must be knitted in the round due to colourwork.

As for the Ripple and Bloom cardigan - I re-wrote the pattern for working it in the flat, and could practically hear the future sweaters that will be knitted from it sighing with relief. Steeking may save time at the initial stage by letting you knit in the round. But let me tell you, it more than makes up for that with all the crocheting, and cutting, and securing, and hand-sewing you will need to do after! 


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


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. 


Off the Needles: Ada



I have mentioned earlier that I've embarked on a series of collaborations with Jennifer Leinhard of Woolfinch Studio. Basically, I am designing some patterns using Woolfinch Studio yarns, and it is a tremendously satisfying project. One of the things I find uncanny about working with Jennifer, is that we have a similar design aesthetic - to the point that a few times we have emailed each other sketches simultaneously, and the sketches looked nearly identical. 

When designing a pattern for her merino Pastel Twist yarn, we both had the idea for a scoop neck top with 3/4 sleeves. Mine included ruffles and a flared hem. Hers was a more basic cropped top. But at the core, it seemed to me, they were really the same garment.

Inspired perhaps by my recent dealigns with sewing patterns, I then decided to design two versions of the same top. 

The result is 'Ada and Ardor.' Whether the literary reference makes you smile or cringe, the names feel apt to me. The Woolfinch Studio Pastel Twist is a soft, ethereal-looking yarn that has a sense of wistfulness and nostalgia about it. It makes me think of 'Old Europe.' Long summer nights. Walks through abandoned, overgrown gardens... It's a yarn that shows restraint, but also a hidden splendor. 

Ada is an elegantly modest cropped scoopneck pullover with 3/4 sleeves and subtle shaping through the bodice. Ardor is an exuberant cardigan with a deep ruffled neckline, dramatic waist shaping, and flared hem. 

The designs are essentially each other's alter egos.


Whether I can communicate all this in the finished pieces remains to be seen. But at any rate, I now have Ada mostly done, and the result looks pleasingly as-intended. After it's blocked and properly photographed, I will undo the neckband, cuffs and hem, and re-knit them, transforming the sweater into Ardor. 

As steeking will be involved to turn the pullover into a cardigan, the process will be irreversible and Ardor she shall remain from that point on... which I think is all right with me. 

I am not yet sure whether Ada and Ardor will be written as two separate patterns, or as one pattern with two options. But most likely the latter - allowing the knitter to make their way through a good chunk of the garment before deciding which version feels right. 

With Ada now laying out flat to dry, I look forward to completing this project and sharing the final result.