What a Mis-Steek!

Okay, this happened a few weeks ago but I’ve been unable to talk about it until now. The sweater in question has been sitting in a basket in a corner since I threw it there and stormed off. I think I have cooled down enough and my head is fully level again so it is time to revisit the disaster that was my first foray into steeking.

Steeking is a technique used when knitting stranded colour-work in the round. Since it can be difficult to purl while knitting with two colours, many knitters prefer to work in the round when doing stranded colour work. But, working in the round means you are making a tube when sometimes you’d rather have a flat piece. In the case of my sweater, I wanted to make a cardigan so I needed it to be flat. In order to turn this tube into a flat piece you do something very scary… you cut your knitting right down the middle! Oh the horrors!

Before you cut your work you reinforce the column of stitches on either side of where you are about to cut. This is where the people are a little divided, and where I guess I didn’t do enough research. In theory, if you use a true Shetland wool (which is traditional for this style of knitting) then the catchy wool can grab onto itself and not unravel when cut, even if you don’t reinforce it. Other kinds of grabby wool will be fine with a crocheted reinforcement, the crochet chain running down either side of the steek “hugs” the yarn and holds everything in place after it is cut. Other wools that are more slippery, like merinos and superwash, really need to be reinforced by a couple of lines of sewing machine stitching running down either side of the steek.

I went wrong was in thinking that my project would be okay with a crochet reinforcement. It was not okay. I also should have taken the time to test it out on my swatch before taking the scissors to my sweater, but I did not. This disaster was avoidable, which makes it all that much more horrific. I’m going to chalk these mistakes up to lessons learned and move on.

Since this was for a pattern I was designing, and I had planned on adding a little picture tutorial on steeking (yes, I appreciate the ridiculousness of that), I have thorough photo documentation of the disaster as it unfolded. Warning: the following pictures portray unwanted unraveling, viewer discretion is advised.

First you crochet a chain through the column of stitches to one side of the steek.
Then do the same to the column on the other side of the steek.
Then you cut down the steek column between the two reinforced columns. Remember, you spent countless hours knitting the piece up to this point.
And then, if you’re yarn is too slippery, it will pull out of its crochet “hug” and unravel when you try to pick up stitches for the button band.

So the moral of the story is, always machine reinforce your steeks or you could end up with unwanted unraveling. I think I have a solution to the problem so stay tuned for updates on the steeking saga.

14 thoughts on “What a Mis-Steek!

  1. thethingaboutjoan

    I always thought crocheting was sufficient to hold in those ends! I’m so sorry about your steek, but thanks for sharing such a cautionary tale. I will take the time to drag out my sewing machine before cutting from here on out….


  2. Connynordlight

    Hi, dear,
    once I had the same failure and l learned the following: When l crochet a steek which isn’t Shetland wool, l have to fix the steek with a crocheted line which is, in minimum, 1,5 NS less than my needle l used knitting my project. After trying this method l was successful!
    Please first try at a piece of yarn knitted only for to test the steek! But you’ll see it works! Perhaps you can crochet two rows and then make some buttons with decorative button holes tho save your project. I wish you the very best!


    • katebostwick

      I would try reinforcing again on either side of where you cut, either with another crochet steek or machine sewing it. You will lose a bit of width by moving back farther, but you could compensate with a longer edging I suppose.
      Does that help?


      • Pat Lockwood

        I don’t think my last post posted. I need to replace a piece 3 stitches across 5 rows high. It needs to be stable enough to add the button band to. It is the bottom. I keep think about 5 rows of short rows. Or trying to use fusible facing to the down the fraying. Right now it is in timeout while I think.


  3. Stephanie Franklin

    I bought a kit when I was visiting Iceland and am not sure Im going to be able to cut it when it is done. Were you ever able to fix yours? Could you just knit the band on at the time and go back and forth so you dont have to cut it?


    • katebostwick

      Hi Stephanie,
      The reason that you need to steek the garment is because the stranded style of knitting is most easily done in the round, rather than back and forth. It can be done back and forth, but it’s a much trickier prospect.
      I’ve learned a lot since this unfortunate incident. The biggest problem I had was that the yarn I was using was far too slippery for that technique. Traditional Shetland or Icelandic yarns are going to have much more grip and won’t tend to unravel nearly as much/at all. If your kit is made of and Icelandic yarn then you have little to fear! Give it a shot!


  4. Mandy

    I found your blog when I searched for “the steek that went wrong”. So, I will be doing some sewing then… when I work up the courage. Note to self, next time (if there is one) be more careful what yarn you use for the steek. All those YouTubers out there saying how easy steeking is, should come with a warning. Thanks for sharing!


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