Cutting the Steek, Step-by-Step

Jan 28, 2010

I did it.

I cut my knitting, and the sweater survived, and no one fainted, and in the end, it wasn't as big a deal as I thought it would be. (Two cups of coffee, max. No chocolate required, not even afterwards. No alcohol required. Strictly PG-13.)

I recommend Eunny Jang's article "Steeks–Cutting the Edge" ("Beyond the Basics," Interweave Knits Winter 2006) as a reference for learning the basics of steeking. I ended up having this article open on the table next to me for every stitch and snip.


Ready to cut!

 

I learned that cutting your knitting is all about the preparation; if you prepare the knitting properly, then the cutting itself is a bit of an anticlimax–a few snips and the deed is done!

Here are step-by-step photos of how I "steeked" the body of my Farmer's Market Cardigan. Just remember: The steek isn't in the original pattern; I put it there as an experiment in converting a flat pattern to knitting-in-the-round. (So far, so good!)



SHOWN HERE:

  • The green dotted line shows the cutting line.
  • The blue arrows point to the purl ridges marking the "foldover" for each edge.
  • You can see the columns of neck decreases off to the side of each purl turning ridge.
 

Step 1: First line of stitching (and materials)

To prepare a piece of knitting for cutting, you need to secure the stitches in the steek panel so they do not come undone when you cut them.

To secure my knitted stitches, I sewed VERTICALLY between columns of stitches, splitting the knitting yarn as I went.

Sewing materials: At first, I tried using embroidery floss and a sharp-pointed needle, as shown here. As I sewed, I noticed that the floss was slipping through the yarn really easily–but I didn't want something that slipped easily through the yarn, as the stitches might just slip on out! I switched to a somewhat sticky sock yarn, and that worked beautifully. (The sock yarn also shows up in the photos better.)

Method: I backstitched from bottom to top of the steek panel, between the two columns of stitches as shown.

Stitch placement: My first stitching line was one full stitch-width away from the cutting line.




 

Step 2: Second and third stitching lines

Next, I stitched two more vertical lines, each one-half column away from either side of the cutting line. I followed the middle of each column of stitches as shown here, again backstitching with sock yarn.

IMPORTANT HINT: As you stitch, pierce the yarn strands of the sweater with the sewing needle. Don't sew between the strands of your knitted stitches, pierce the strands themselves so that the yarn splits. The twist and stickiness of the knitting yarn will help hold the sewn stitches in place.



 

Step 3: Final line of stitching

I made a fourth line of vertical stitches, this time one full stitch-width to the left of the cutting line.

In the photo, you can see three of my four vertical lines of stitching. Remember that you can't see the first line of stitches, as the embroidery floss I used for the first try disappeared into the knitting.

And then I was ready to cut!



 

Step 4: Beginning to cut

Using a small, sharp pair of scissors, I made that first somewhat-scary cut...only to realize that I could Trust The Stitches and snip away happily (but slowly).

Why did I use a small (rather than large) pair of scissors? I found I could get better control and accuracy–it was easier to "aim" the blades so they cut exactly where I wanted them to cut.

TIPS:

  • Go slowly.
  • Snip no more than about two stitches at a time.
  • Place the tips of the scissors carefully between stitch columns, and check before you cut that only the horizontal bars are between the scissor blades.


  Here's a close-up of the scissor placement between two columns of stitches. Note the two stitching lines to the left of the scissors. You can make out one line of stitching to the right, but the other stitching line is hidden.


 

Here's what the knitting looked like as I cut into it.

What about the ragged edges? Remember, the steek panel itself will become a facing–the edges will be turned under at the purl ridge. Then I will whipstitch the raw edges down. The shawl collar and pockets will cover the front edges here so nothing will show.



  Almost there...no chocolate has been needed (yet)...


  And I'm done! The raw edges here are rolling under all by themselves at the purl ridge, eager and ready to become a neat little facing.


  I folded the edges under neatly at the purl ridge in this photo so you could see what it might look like after I have finished whipstitching the facing into place.


 

The fun part: Trying it on

Look: Waist shaping! And hip shaping! And a lovely armhole! The whole sweater body fits perfectly, so my math was a success. Whoo!

 



 

And a final shot of the graceful V-neck! Wait till I add the shawl collar–this sweater is going to be gorgeous.

Oh, and sleeves. Perhaps some sleeves would be nice, too. And don't you love the humble shot with my purple bath towel in the background? Cinema verite, right here in my bathroom.


So what do you think about steeks? Are you nervous about trying a steek for yourself? Or, if you've done them already, do you have any hints for future adventures in steeking? I love to hear from you, so leave a comment and let me know your tips and thoughts for cutting into one's knitting.

I'm do think a couple of sleeves would be good, so I have already cast on for a pair. To amuse myself, however, I might just have to try a pocket. Just for grins.

See you next Thursday!

Till then, I hope you have something truly satisfying on the needles. (What ARE you knitting, anyways? I'm curious to know!)

– Sandi



Sandi Wiseheart
is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits.






 



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Comments

Andibeth wrote
on Feb 5, 2011 2:47 PM

I'm a busy working  mom of 3 with a passion for, and long to-make list of, knitting. When I needed a cardigan for an outfit I bemoaned the fact I didn't have time to bump it up on the priority list. Then I found a cute, pre-made sweater at a retail store. Once steeked and adorned with buttons on one side ( for appearances only, no button holes) I was set! Not the pattern I wanted but perfectly suitable until I have time to knit for myself! Thanks for the steeking instructions!)

Daniela@4 wrote
on Jan 31, 2010 2:07 AM

My first steek was on a sweater for my daughter. She wanted a rainbow-coloured garment, and as I vaguely had read that steeking was about knitting in the round and cutting afterwards, I did just that. I knit the body in the round, had not too much ends to weave in, secured the part where I wanted to put the sleeves with a sewing machine, and cut. I knit the sleeves and put them in, finding it slightly wonky, but it worked out well, and my daughter loved her sweater and wore it a lot.

Nothing unusual., but the fact that this was a COTTON-sweater, and I did not add any steek stitches, but just cut into the fabric. Nothing ever unravelled.

on Jan 30, 2010 7:09 AM

This post was mentioned on Twitter by alpacasandi: My tutorial on cutting your knitting is up: http://bit.ly/dkj0MU Fearless steeking! It wasn't that hard at all, I promise.

SBiswas wrote
on Jan 29, 2010 11:28 AM

I have got  a new idea Thank you

AliceB@33 wrote
on Jan 29, 2010 9:27 AM

Checking blogs or Ravelry will give you some ideas on neat facings for the steek edges and not just whipstitching the edges.

Sharon V wrote
on Jan 29, 2010 9:23 AM

Love it!  I'm going to print out this article and keep it open while I attempt (once again) to steek the fair isle sweater that is still in the bag out of sheer terror.

I'll let you know how it goes.

on Jan 28, 2010 7:37 PM

That is one beautiful piece of knitting!  The fit - right on!  I can't wait to see the rest!

I'm not knitting (don't hate me) - I'm crocheting - and in the midst of the butterfly cardigan by Jennifer Hansen.  It is coming along nicely - my first adult sized sweater ever.  :)  

buddhafly wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 5:58 PM

You are fearless!  I love it!  As I have never steeked before, I would like to see how you finish the edge.  You're planning on whip-stitching the raw edge to finish it right?  So, then are you going to sew the facing to the sweater also???  Thanks for the awesome how-tos!!!  I love the pics!

SharonC wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 5:39 PM

Way to go! I haven't tried steeks yet, but you made it look easier than it sounds. Thanks for the closeups.

MireilleT wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 4:20 PM

Congratulations on branching out!  I'm thoroughly enjoying you spelling out your thought processes as you personalize this pattern.  So far, I haven't been brave enough to do the same, but I've got a cardigan planned for my next project and I'm going to give some thought to whether or not the project will be improved by my making any adjustments to fit "me" instead of the the pattern.

Thanks for the inspiration!

LindaM@3 wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 3:21 PM

Sandi , You are very brave.  Maybe some day.

Kathy46 wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 12:48 PM

Wonderful photos!  I felt like I was right there with you watching the process.  A thought I just had about advantages of steeking. . .  With varigated yarn, less pooling of color appears.  The two fronts have a better blending of color than if they were knitted back and forth.  Is this true?

TraceyB wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 12:18 PM

I think I might just try that.  After reading this and many blogs before, I am branching out in what I can do.

I just finished a beautiful cardigan in a linen stitch with a varigated purple yarn - but attesting to how long it took me to knit it - the style was waaay too short.  But I am feeling brave enought to pick up stitchs and add 3 more inches - nothing is unfixable.  Plus my LYS - gave the idea a thumbs up and help to find the yarn needed.

KnitNoir wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 12:09 PM

Congratulations!

LindaM@15 wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 11:31 AM

Congrats on your first steek Sandi!! It's a great milestone. If you're like me, you'll never sew a cardi back and forth again :-)

When I've done mine, I sew side to side around each stitch on the way up, sewing the legs of the stitches together (actually, the legs of two neighbor stitches, as in a 3-legged-race). This leaves a nice tidy edge after you turn the flap back and an edge that I know will be hurricane-proof!

Since I am a massive klutz, I also put a piece of cardboard or slim book in the middle of the sweater, which gives me a firm (and contrasting) surface to cut against - looks like you did that too.

thanks, as always, for sharing your adventures with us all.

chris@59 wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 11:17 AM

It looks wonderful so far!   Go Sandy, go Sandy....   One day I will be fearless and try to knit a garment. Maybe it'll be this winter.

Helene RL wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 10:44 AM

I'm still not convinced, and it's not just fear that drives me. It just seems to me that the effort of:

1. remembering to add the extra number of steek stitches or wraps to each row

2. sewing all of those securing stitching lines

and especially

3. having to fold down and whipstitch all of the raw ends (and therefore ending up with a ridge, which adds bulk)

4. hoping that one has whipstitched adequately and that one's yarn is hairy enough to "lock" the knitted item together

outweighs the advantage of always working the piece from the right side. And I am one who always converts patterns to working fronts and back together to the armholes and loves circular needles.

MicheleB wrote
on Jan 28, 2010 10:34 AM

You are indeed a fearless knitter! Steeking is on my to-do list. You inspire me!