Eek, it’s a steek!

So, I’ve written before about my fear of steeking. For those of you who are not knitters, let me explain. Steeking is a process wherein you take a pair of scissors to a knitted garment to change its shape. If you’ve ever seen a pair of nylons run, you will understand why people fear the steek. That said, done properly and with the right precautions, steeking is much easier than it looks.

This vest is one of the projects that I entered in the WIP (Works-In-Progress) Wrestling event for the Ravellenic Games, which is the knitting community’s way to participate in the Olympics. It’s been sitting in the unfinished pile for over a year waiting for me to get back to it and entering it in the event forced my hand. In the end, that was a great idea. I came home from our casting-on party, and fueled with excitement for the start of the games, began the steeking process the very next morning.

This is a milestone project for me in several ways. First, it involves steeking, which I had never done before and did not think I ever could do without someone holding my hand and/or passing me wine while I did it. Second, it’s  the first project that is made entirely with my own handspun other than felted dishcloths. It’s early handspun, so it’s not the prettiest yarn, but it’s mine and I like it. And finally, while it’s simple, the vest is entirely my own design, which I made up as I went with no pattern whatsoever. Whew, no wonder I had trouble getting it finished!! That’s a lot of firsts all in one project.

Here it is, complete. I may block it again, because I’m not quite satisfied with how the edges look.

The Elizabeth-Zimmerman inspired vest. My own design, my handspun, and steeked.

While I believe I’ve mentioned this before, I want to give credit for the inspiration for this vest. Elizabeth Zimmerman was a knitter in my grandmother’s day, and in fact even reminds me a bit of Grandma Eleanor. She was a no-nonsense type of lady in the 70’s who believed that every knitter should be the boss of his/her knitting. She believed that knitters are smart people and don’t need a pattern to make a useful garment. It was the encouragement that I found in her books that let me bust out of dependence on patterns and go my own way.  Thanks to her inspiration (and some others), I feel I’ve really made a personal breakthrough on this.

So for the knitter-readers, here’s a view into the steeking process.

This vest started life as a knitted tube. I figured out my gauge and measured to see what size I needed. (Then I took a brief lie-down. Knowing one’s measurements can be traumatic some days). I multiplied the number of inches by the stitches per inch, cast on, and began knitting. I also added a cable to make it less boring to knit. That’s a lot of stockinette stitch.

Where I planned to put the steek, I inserted a column of purl stitches to make it easy to cut straight. Also, the purls will roll back after cutting so it makes a smooth edge and it is easy to pick up the knit stitches on the front. Here it is as a tube, with the beige handspun that I thought would be the edging. I changed my mind later. That’s the benefit of your own design. You can make it up as you go and do what seems to fit the project as it’s progressing.

The knitted tube. Step one.

This is where I got stuck for about a year. Knitting the tube was easy, but the next step involved steeking and that was very scary. But, once I dove in, it wasn’t bad at all.

To start the steeking process, I put it on the sewing machine and ran a line of stitching up each side of the purl stitch column to stabilize the stitching. Use a short stitch length. The instructions I read said to use a zero stitch length but that doesn’t work, at least on my sewing machine, because it would literally not move at all. In the photo, it looks like mine is set at about 1. (Your mileage may vary).

Sewing machine stabilization prior to cutting. Use a short stitch length to make sure you catch all the rows.

Here you can see the line of stitching on the left. There’s a matching row on the right side.

To decide what size to make the armholes, I pulled a favorite vest out of my closet, laid it on top of the new vest, and used pins to outline where to sew.

Sample vest is on top, vest under construction is on the bottom. I outlined the stitching line with sewing pins so I could see where to cut and then transferred that to the other side so they would be identical.

Outlined stitching with pins. Make sure you remove them as you sew so you don’t hit them with the sewing machine. Some people don’t do this but if you hit a pin head, you can throw off the timing on the machine which basically makes it a very expensive paperweight.

When everything had been stabilized by the sewing machine, I began to cut. In this photo, I’m cutting an armhole.

Here’s the scary part. I would recommend wine to help you relax but in this case, maybe not. When they say ‘knife edge’ shears, they mean it. You can buy special scissors for steeking but I didn’t find that I needed them. Just watch what you do with those points, they are sharp and can snag your knitting if you’re not careful.

Post-steeking, the armhole looks like this.

After steeking, it looks like an armhole! Well, sort of. It still needs a shoulder seam but that happens later.

The front steek (center line) is also open.

The front, post-steeking. Ready for finishing.

To finish, I started with shoulder seams. (I didn’t take photos of that, sorry. I’m crap at it but once I get better perhaps I’ll do a blog post about seaming). Then, I picked up and knit the armholes with some 2 x 2 rib. I also added 2 x 2 rib along the bottom, and then picked up the whole front and neckline (including the edge of the bottom rib) as a single piece and added 2 x 2 rib for a border and collar.

All, in all I think this came out pretty well for a project with so many firsts but I did learn some things for next time:

1) Steeking is super-easy once you get over your fear of taking scissors to knitted garments. Really.

2) Sewing machines are your friends. If you don’t have one, borrow one or get a crafty friend to help you. The sewing took about 10 minutes including the time to set up the machine, although I wasn’t used to sewing on knitted fabric so that took a bit of getting used to.

3) If you’re going to put a project in hiberation that is not still on the needles, write down the needle size you used. Trying to guess a year later isn’t much fun.

4) Next time, I would add some decreases or use a smaller needle size for the ribbing on the armholes because they’re a little floppy. I am hopeful that will even out in re-blocking but it could have had a cleaner look if I had thought to do it earlier.

5) EZ was right, you CAN be the boss of your knitting.

Thanks for sticking with me all the way through this photo-heavy post. I’m a beginner at so many of these things but hopefully you will benefit from my experience. In the end, this was a pretty cool project and  I would definitely do it again. In fact, I’m thinking Fair Isle for the next one!

Tomorrow: WIP Wrestling with the Icarus Shawl. I won!

Later this week: Stitches Midwest and some fan-girl geekiness from me about knitting celebrities and how nice they are.

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4 thoughts on “Eek, it’s a steek!

  1. Jean says:

    Yikes.. I am totally panicked just reading the post…. not ready to cut my knitting!~!!!!!!!!

    • mardeeknits says:

      Yeah, I felt that way too but I was a little shocked at how easy it was and there was no threat of unraveling at any point. (Except in the person holding the scissors, perhaps…)

  2. Dana says:

    I’m so proud of you!! That you designed your own sweater/vest; that you used your own homespun yarn; that you steeked it. This is a milestone and you should celebrate it! I will be with you in spirit! Good job!

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