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Steeking Strokkur

April 04, 2014

Like most people who have been knitting for years I have noticed things about myself as a knitter. I gravitate toward certain colors, I often match my nail polish to my knitting, and I find myself wearing my hand knit cardigans WAY more often than I wear hand knit pullovers.

So when I decided I wanted to knit Strokkur there was no question for me that I would prefer it as a cardi. Since working stranded knitting with right- and wrong-side rows is needlessly complicated, the best solution seemed to steek it.

If you’ve never done a steek it can be a little intimidating. So many times I’ve heard “Wait… you’re going to CUT your KNITTING!?!” accompanied by a shocked or horrified face. But steeks have been the best solution to a stranded cardigan for hundreds of years. And if you remember to follow the steps and prepare your knitting properly it’s totally painless (although some yoga breathing and a sip of wine to steady your nerves might not be a bad idea your first time out).

My first time I forgot to stitch the steak to reinforce it (which wouldn’t have been so important if the gauge hadn’t been a little loose) and cut a half-stitch off from where I should have cut (because I didn’t mark it properly). But the sweater still turned out beautifully and gets lots of wear.

Add extra stitches for the steek 

When you’re converting a pattern like Strokkur to be steeked, there are a couple of things you have to remember.

1.  You need to add extra stitches for the steek. I used 5 stitches (which would give me 2.5 sts on each side of the cut). I like to do an odd number because it makes it very easy for me to find the center. Pick a number appropriate to your gauge. For instance, if I were converting a sweater knit at 8 spi, 2.5 stitches on each side of the steek is TINY. But with Strokkur, 2.5 sts was fine.

Cast on your extra stitches, and mark them clearly. During the ribbing portion, work the steek stitches in stockinette instead so they will lay flat once they’re cut. When you get to the colorwork, alternate both of your working yarns so your steek stitches look like a little multi-colored checkerboard.

2.  The beginning of the round isn’t necessarily where you want it. For the single-color body portion having the marker at the side of the body is fine. With Strokkur, the marker then moves to the center front when you join in the sleeves. When you get to the colorwork section, you’re instructed to reposition the End of Round marker. But if you’re steeking it, the EOR marker is already in the perfect position at center front. Just work one more row finishing your short rows and removing sleeve decrease markers and start your colorwork at the center front just after your steek stitches.

It will be helpful later when you lower the front neck to have a marker where the non-steeked EOR marker WOULD have gone. So stick a marker there and then slip it until you need it. When you get to the section marked “WORK SHORT ROWS TO LOWER FRONT NECK”, just knit to your previously-ignored EOR marker, then follow the directions as written until you reach the neckband, at which point you will revert to your normal EOR marker.

Prepare the steek for cutting

Once you’re done with the knitting of the sweater…. but you’re not really done.  Here’s the breakdown of the steek.

1.  Mark where you want to cut. I like to do this with a contrasting bit of thread or fine yarn. I used a running stitch and some red yarn to make it REALLY obvious where I intended to cut. I didn’t want to repeat my first-timer error

2.  Stitch your steek. You can do this with a sewing machine, but I love handsewing and I wanted the extra measure of control. Use a thread with a similar color so it won’t stand out too much, and stitch on both side of the cutting line. Use a backstitch and try as much as you can to run your needle THROUGH strands of yarn. You want to encourage the yarn to stay in place and not unravel. Lopi is pretty sticky yarn (meaning it likes to stick to itself), so you could probably avoid this step if you have steeked before, but I’m a worrier and I find the extra time spent stitching the steek makes me feel better even if it isn’t strictly necessary

3.  You’re ready to cut. Take a deep breath, remove the contrasting strand that marked the cut line, and start to cut. Cut carefully and evenly, right in the ditch in the center of that center stitch. The whole round piece will now be an open sweater. But you’re still not done.

Knit the Button Bands

4.  Pick up for your front bands. Pick up your stitches through the fabric right in the ditch where steek stitches meet sweater body stitches. Since our steek was 2.5 sts wide on each side, this ditch will be 2.5 sts in from the cut edge. It can be a little tricky to see it at the bottom of the sweater, but pretty clear when you look at the color work.

If you want to be really precise, you can check your row gauge against your stitch gauge to figure out a reasonable rate of increase (Say your gauge is 6 sts & 8 rows per square inch, then 6/8 = ¾, pick up 3 sts every 4 rows), or you can just pick up 3 stitches for every 4 rows to start with. It usually works out. Make sure both buttonbands have the same number of stitches.

I worked my bands in garter stitch (to match the neckband), with a contrast color bind off, but if you prefer ribbed button bands you could do that. Decide which side you want the buttonholes on (we could have endless debates about which way is “correct” and Ysolda and I have discussed it at length) and use a buttonhole calculator, to figure out your buttonhole placement. I like LOTS of buttons so I did 9 buttonholes, but I knew that the bands were going to be pretty narrow (they’re just shy of ¾”) so I chose small buttons and did my buttonholes with 2 stitches each.

5. Sew on your buttons, weave in your ends, and block it. Enjoy your new cardigan!

When your bands are done, the cut edges flip toward the inside and lay flat against the wrong side of the body. You can see here that my half-stitch unraveled but the other 2 stitches have remained intact snug  inside the stitching line. If having these ends bugs you (or you’re using a less sticky yarn) you can always cover the raw edge with a pretty ribbon, or tack the flap to the body of the sweater for extra security.

With the aforementioned first steeked sweater, since the cut edges were uneven and not reinforced I sewed a grosgrain ribbon over them and haven’t had to worry. The ribbon protects them from snags and extra wear that might help them to unravel. 

My Strokkur is a great replacement for my coat in the variable Utah spring weather. It will be cold and blustery in the morning, but warm by the afternoon, so I just remove my scarf and unbutton my sweater. Perfect!

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