Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Steeks! BETA, part 2: the basic method for a faced steek

The first post of this series laid out background considerations about 3 things: what steeks are, what a facing is, and what yarn is best to use.
Later posts will show further variations--steeking sleeve openings and color knitting, how to add buttonholes and zippers, etc.

But for today, this (LONG!!) post shows the basic method.  It is step-by step tutorial for a faced steek. There is no sewing machine or hand-sewing involved.  Instead the garment edges are stabilized with a crocheted slip-stitch, then cut, then covered with a previously-prepared knitted facing.

The basic version of this steek--the version shown today--is the sort of steek you might put into a striped or one-color sweater.  If you choose to try this method on a garment, proceed with the warning that this is a new trick, not yet fully garment-tested.

Everything about this trick--from the order of operations to the final result--is driven by this truth: once a piece of knitted fabric is cut, the cut-edge is liable to disintegrate. Although long-fiber and "rustic-type" wools can take a certain amount of handling after cutting, the more common soft and lofty "Germantown-type" wools are more delicate.  And with any kind of yarn, over-handling or pulling can turn that cut-edge into a truly terrifying mess of loose ends.

Preventing any chance of a mess means minimizing the amount of time during which the cut-edge is exposed. Therefore, a lot of this method involves steps to set the stage BEFORE doing the cut, followed by steps to quickly seal the cut-edge under the facing AFTERWARD.

Once you've run through the entire  process, it'll be obvious how the operations fit together. Yet, the preparation steps might be mysterious: confusing on first try. To tame confusion, this post features a lot of color-coding, schematics, diagrams and photos--as stated above, this is a LONG post! So, if you' are willing, here we go with a step-by-step tutorial for creating a faced steek on a swatch.

  • Main color (mc): a half-ounce of a soft and lofty multiple-ply wool yarn in worsted weight--the kind of yarn usually knit at 5st/inch.  Some common brand names of this type of yarn are: Ella Rae Classic, Cascade 220, Pattons Classic Wool.* The sample swatch is knit in an mc of Cascade 220 in green.........
  • Contrast color (cc): a quarter ounce of a lighter weight yarn in a contrasting color for the facing. The sample cc is a sport-weight lavender ........ wool of unknown origin.
  • knitting needles correctly sized for the mc yarn
  • another set of knitting needles three sizes smaller than the one used for the mc, as well as a small crochet hook
  • bright-colored waste yarn, a few yards, in a color unlike mc or cc. The sample uses a single strand of blue ........ needlepoint wool.
  • scissors
Order of the work 
  • Using mc and larger needles, knit the fabric swatch, color coded in this post in green ........
  • Using crochet hook and smaller knitting needles, locate the purl columns (also color-coded green ........)  which act as an anchor for the facing.  Use that column to pick up the stitches for one long edge of the facing ........ then knit the facing, but do not bind off.  Repeat for the second facing.
  • Using the crochet hook and the waste yarn ........ we'll fold and stabilize the garment edge.  Once the garment edge has been created by the folding, it is shown in bright green ........ 
  • Cut the steek--the scissors!  In the illustrations the cut is signified in red ........
  • With the crochet hook, immediately attach the unbound long edge of the facing ........ to the garment edge ......... This step--the grand finale--is a nifty three-in one trick which  binds off the facing ........ PLUS permanently stabilizes the garment edge ........  PLUS hides way forever, the cut edge. Note that the two columns either side of the cut are called the "cut-edges" and are symbolized in light gray .........
One last thing before we start:  If you click any chart, schematic, diagram or photo, it will become a lot bigger.

Knit a swatch
Rather than make you take the time to knit a tube, this tutorial shows the steek on an ordinary square of flat-knit fabric.  Once steeked, this swatch winds up in two separate pieces.   I think you can imagine that steeking a tube by the same method would leave the slit tube opened flat into a single rectangle featuring two faced edges.

We'll set up the square swatch like this:
Using the green mc, cast on 22 sts.
Row 1: k5, p1, k10, p1, k 5, turn work.
Row 2: p5, k1, p10, k1, p5, (Row 2 is actually just another way of saying "purl the purls and knit the knits.")

Below is a chart for those who prefer one. (If the color coding and column numbering on the chart is distracting, just ignore it: we'll come back to them later.)  Below the chart is a schematic of the fabric, showing the concept of the swatch.

As seen from the smooth side of the stockinette fabric, columns 6 and 17 are purl columns.  From the reverse side, these are knit columns, per photos below.
Below are photos which translate the concept into the real world--photos of an actual sample swatch "in the wool," showing front (left photo) and back (right photo).  This swatch is around 30 rows high.  The green arrows point to the purl columns.  As you see, although purl columns are practically invisible from the front, they're quite prominent on the back, where they appear as knit columns on a reverse stockinette (purl fabric) background.

Knit the facings
The next step is to knit the two facings. Here is an entire post about how to pick up fabric for a facing through a purl column.  I'll wait here while you read that.

Back again?  Good!

The below photo shows the direction of picking up the stitches for the facing ........ through one of the purl columns ........ (either column 6 or column 17). Note that the swatch has been turned sideways, so that the outer edge of the swatch (either column 1 or 22) is at the top of the photo.  Stated otherwise, the stitches for the facing are picked up so that the live loops point towards the center, where the cut will soon be made.  The facing is worked on these loops.

The method of the work is to draw a lavender-colored loop through the purl column with a crochet hook, then immediately transfer it to the waiting smaller knitting needle.  In the below photo,  the crochet hook is in the act of grabbing the running yarn to draw a new loop though the purl column, while the previously-drawn through loops are parked on the smaller knitting needle stationed under the purl column.

Once you have the anchor loops for the facing drawn through along the entire length of the purl column, work 4 rows of stockinette, then transfer the live loops to a holder.  ("Work 4 rows" means four rows of knitting above pick-up loops, with the fourth row remaining on the stitch holder to await further action later.)  Repeat the entire pick-up-and-knit procedure on the second purl column.

The below schematic conceptualizes what the fabric looks like once both facings have been picked up and knit.
 Note how the facings are picked up through the purl columns.
The below photo translates the conceptualization to reality. In this photo, you can see the smooth stockinette side of each facing against the bumpy reverse stockinette of the swatch.
Back view of swatch, both facings finished and pointing towards the center

Again, in the schematic, as well as the photo of the sample, the facings point towards the center, and are not bound off.

Fold the garment edge and stabilize with waste yarn
By the bright green color-coding ........, the stitch chart at the beginning of this post shows columns 9 and 14 are going to become the garment edges once the steek is completed. Before we go further, let's figure out why these particular columns will be the garment edges. For simplicity, we'll only look at the right side of the eventual cut, but, of course, the identical situation applies on the left.

If you look at the chart, the cut ....... is made in the trough between columns 11 and 12. Counting center-wards from purl column 6  ........  you can see that after the cut, 5 columns of fabric will remain: columns 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.  Column 9 will therefore be the center column of the remaining fabric between the cut and the purl column.

Once the cut is made, it will run alongside column 11.  We will therefore call columns 11 and 10 the "cut-edge."  ........   Due to a happy accident of knitting (called "stockinette curl") this two-column-wide cut-edge is going to flip right under columns 8 and 7.   Stated otherwise, columns 8 and 7 are going to become the outer fabric, column 9 is going to become the edge of the garment, and the cut-edge columns 11 and 10 are going to become the stuffing in the sandwich, trapped between the outer fabric and the facing .........  

By isolating the garment edge (column 9) two whole columns away from the cut-edge,** and by covering up the isolated cut-edge with the facing, that cut-edge is never going to come under tension (that's the theory, anyhow!)

There is another factor, too, which works to isolate the cut-edge.  You see, Col. 9 runs along the top of a vertical fold.  That fold is going to be permanently locked shut via a line of crocheted slip stitch. Result?  Even if the cut edge could somehow come undone while sandwiched between the facing and the outer fabric, the resulting loose end of yarn would have to somehow wiggle through a locked-shut 180 degree fold.

The fold is the heart of the trick, and here's how it's done.  If you fold your swatch vertically, with column 9 (or 14) as a single column of knitting along the edge, it will resemble the bright green ........ single column in the diagram below.

Once you've got the fabric folded at the correct column, you want to slip stitch this fold into place, using the waste yarn, as shown in blue, below.

(For more information about how to slip stitch, go to this post, which shows how.  Although that post is about slip stitching along a garter-stitch edge, the actual slip-stitching is the identical process to that here.)

Here is a photo, showing the slip-stitch process in the real world.

the column of stitches along the folded edge has been colorized bright green in this photo

This slip stitching is temporary, and will be replaced in the grand finale--the last step, right after the cut.

The below schematic  conceptualizes what the fabric will look like once both folds are locked down with waste yarn ......... Note the edge column of the bright green fold ......... Note also that the loop of fabric caught under/between the two lines of slip stitch is now colored light gray ........ showing that this will become the cut-edges of the fabric.

The below photo translates the conceptualization, showing what the actual swatch will look like at the end of this step. The bright green arrow points to the the folded edge ........ which has been colorized to be a brighter green than the surrounding columns. The blue arrow points to the line along which the waste yarn has been slip stitched ......... The fabric to become the cut-edges is visible through the slit, colorized gray.

top view of swatch showing both waste yarn folds 

The stage has been set: the facings are knit, live loops a-waiting.  The edge has been temporarily stabilized with waste yarn.  It's time for the cut .......  (the "eek" part of the steeking process).

As stated above, stockinette fabric wants to curl under. Our job in cutting is to preserve the stockinette structure as much as possible, so that the cut edge will curl the heck out of the way, to stay forever trapped in the facing-sandwich.

Therefore, the cut is made right up the trough between columns 11 and 12.  In other words, don't cut through the stitches in the columns, but rather, carefully separate the columns of stitches by putting the cut right up the middle.

Here's the schematic of the cut being made

Here's the photo:  you can see the curl is so strong that it actually follows the scissors: the instant you cut, the cut-edge wants to curl under.  On this photo, as well as the schematic above, the folded edge is colorized bright green and the cut-edge fabric colorized gray.

The natural curl of the cut-edge is reinforced by the waste-yarn fold.  That fold pins the curl tightly against the underside of columns 8 and 9.  In fact, this is one of the reasons the waste yarn is inserted in the first place--to control the location and tightness of the curl exhibited by the cut-edge.

Here's one more look at the cut edge curling under--a schematic side-view showing the sandwich surrounding the curled-under cut-edge.  The cut-edge is the stuffing, the facing is the bottom layer and the upper fabric (columns 8-9/15-16 on the chart) is the top layer.

The 3-in-1 trick:
trap the cut edge/bind off the facing/permanently stabilize the garment edge
We're now at the grand finale stage.  If you think about it, everything is done, except for sealing up the remaining long edge of the facing, thus forever trapping the cut edge inside the sandwich. This final seal is created using a crochet hook and a running yarn, creating a line of slip stitch right through the edge column, almost exactly the same way we did previously with the waste yarn.  This time, however, we're not only going to stabilize the folded garment-edge, but also catch the live loops of the facing at the same time, thus binding them off. Of course, the edge is already stabilized with waste yarn.  So, we have to remove the waste yarn, stitch by stitch, to make room for the permanent slip stitch along the same edge.  This is where the other purpose of the waste yarn appears:  removing the waste yarn stitch-by-stitch serves as an exact guide for which column to follow in this grand finale step.

As to how the work proceeds, if you look at the below schematic, you'll see the 3-in-1 trick in action.

On the both schematic and photo, you can see the waste yarn ........ (A on the schematic) coming out one stitch before the permanent yarn (B) goes in through the garment edge ........ and the facing .........

In both the schematic and the photo, the live loops of the facing are colorized red.  As the crochet hook passes by the knitting needle holding the waiting live (red) facing-loops, the hook catches the next loop in line.  It is then inserted upward through the folded edge column, there to catch the lavender running yarn. The photo shows a red loop already caught around the barrel of the hook and the hook already inserted through the edge, ready to draw down a new loop from the running yarn. When the running yarn is drawn down through both loops on the barrel of the crochet hook, the red loop simply disappears under the resulting slip-stitch at the edge. This attaches the facing to the edge, and binds off the facing at the same time, thus trapping the cut ends in between--a real 3-in-1 trick. A single stitch is left around the barrel of the crochet hook, and the whole process begins again by catching the next red loop from the waiting line.

Final result
Last but not least, here are photos of the finished result--a faced steek, with the cut edges forever tucked out of harm's way.

The back, showing the completed facing (Hmmm--looking at this photo, it seems the lavender wool was splittier than I thought!)
Above: back.  Below: front

The front. If you enlarge, you can see the "stitched" appearance of the lavender yarn along the garment edge. However, the purl anchor-column remains hidden, almost invisible.

In real life, you might make a facing a different color than the sweater: a scarlet facing on a plain gray sweater would be a fantastic design element, for example.  However, it would probably be more common to use a thinner yarn in the same color.  The lavender-on-green theme of this post was more for demonstration purposes.
* * *
Whew.  Such a long post. Buttonholes, zippers, sleeve openings, color knitting and other real world adaptations of this basic steek must await further postings.   Until then, good knitting!
* * *
Addendum, 2016.  Not so beta anymore.  Here is a link to a Ravelry page where this trick was used with modifications to (beautifully!) install a zipper on a Henley-neck. 
 * * *

* IMHO, of the three common brand names of wool listed, the Patton's Classic Wool is the grabbiest, the Ella Rae Classic the least grabby and the Cascade 220--the green mc yarn used for the sample swatch--of intermediate grabbiness.  The cc I used, the lavender sports weight wool of unknown origin, was both grabby and splitty (sports weight = a weight of yarn, thinner than DK weight, which is normally knit up at 6 or 6.5 st/inch).

** Separating the fabric edge from the garment edge--as we are doing here--is a long-time theme here at TECHknitting blog.   This series explains further (link goes to part 1).

You have been reading TECHknitting blog about steeks.


heavenlyevil said...

Yay! Been waiting for this. I won't be able to try it until Friday but I'll let you know how it goes.

Clair St. Michel said...

This is like a jigsaw puzzle, lot of parts but they all seem to fit together. Can't wait to try it! And, as ever, superb illustrations. Thank you TK, you are amazing!

Anjela said...

This is amazing! I've always been afraid to try steeking because I could never figure out what on earth I'm meant to do with all the loose yarn ends. Now I really want to try this!

Carly said...

Interesting! I might have to try this next time steeks are called for!

I've only ever done one steek before, using Kate Davies' steek-sandwich method. It's similar to this one (crochet reinforcement, steek tucked away inside a facing) but without the fold. Instead, you pick up stitches and knit the facing perpendicular to the main knitting on both sides rather than just the wrong-side.

She describes it in three parts, which you can find here: (you'll have to scroll down a bit)

I think your method might be a bit stronger for edges that get a lot of pull, like a cardigan.

Melissa said...

Thank you so much for your beautifully illustrated guide to your steeking method. Next time I steek I will have to try it. Compared to Kate Davies method it appears to be less bulky.
The stitch line of the lavendar yarn on the right side provides a nice guide for picking up yarn for a a button band.

Ruth Chow said...

Thanks for the great and detailed tutorial! I am interested to see how you will adapt it for fairisle or other color work.

Erika said...

Interesting technique, and excellent diagrams as usual. Thanks for this!

Calico laine said...

The diagram made it easier for me to follow the steps, I've been looking for such kind of tutorial since I am having a problem finishing the current project I started.

needleandspindle said...

Genius! Thank you for such a thorough explanation of this steeking technique. I have never liked the back of steeking and this method would give a very professional finish.

Sharon said...

I've not steeked before, and I like the purity of not using a sewing machine. Still, on my first steek, I think I would use this method, and still run lines of zig-zag up 12-13 and 10-11. The next time around, I might be braver. ; )

Pamela said...

Wow! This makes me want to try a steek. Perhaps a sweater with a zipper installed in the front. Looks so cool, professional and not scarey at all. Thanks for making me a better knitter!

Nyx Pheee said...

I used this method to secure the steeks on a sweater to which I added a zipper. The facings were a little fiddly to knit at first, and grew some with blocking, but I neglected to swatch for them, so that's my fault for poor planning.

I like the look, and while it does add bulk it's not too much. Picking the stitches for the facings up on the correct side of the knit column would have cut down on the bulk immensely.

I haven't washed it yet, but I anticipate it will hold up well, as long as my sewing also holds up.

Here's a link to the project page if anyone is curious.

TECHknitter said...

Somehow, the link in the previous post did not come through, but by hunting through Ravelry, I believe I have found it? I believe the correct link is


James said...

Thank you so much - I'm sure all the illustrations and sample photos are a pain, but as a reader I can say that's what really helps make things clear!
To avoid the "stitched" appearance of the lavender yarn along the edge for a different-colored facing, could you just use the original green yarn to pick up the stitches, and then switch to lavender?

TECHknitter said...

Hi James,and thanks for writing. You are quite right--, switching to the mc and knitting a row, whether on the pick up or the last row, will avoid a cc "stitched" appearance, because the smooth stockinette hides the "stitched" appearance on the back, which is hidden in this application. I did it this way for illustration purposes only!

Petrikke said...

Thank you so much! I just steeked for the first time ever by following your beautifully made and clear as crystal instructions. Your descriptions and illustrations are worth gold, and your homepage has helped me resolve almost all the issues and problems I have encountered throughout the years, in addition to opening so many new doors for me what knitting-techniques are concerned, thereby enabling me to venture onto projects I previously would not have dared to begin.

Again - thank you so much!!!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Petrikke--thank you so much for your kind words! I'm so glad you are finding the blog useful. Best regards, TK

Gem said...

I'm terrified to try this, but I've knit the body of my first ever adult sized sweater. Just working on the hood. Not sure if I should steek the hood as well -your thoughts? My second question is, with this method can I still pick up stitches to knit a k2p2 ribbing zipper band that will go around the hood and both sides of the steek. Thanks again for the amazing tutorial!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Gem--I never heard of anyone steeking a hood, but maybe?? The problem with a hood is that the steeked edges would be right against your face, in plain view, not tucked away inside the garment. It is true that a facing will help, yes, but I said, I never heard to anyone doing it. Maybe knit a tiny little one first to see how the shaping will work out?

As far as the steek method for the sweater body, perhaps you will try it on a scrap of knitting, first? This will reduce the fear quotient, as well as give you a chance to make absolutely certain that the method will work with your yarn.

Best, TK

Jane Campbell. said...

Great tutorial and the illustrations followed by real photos made it really easy to understand.
Is there a way to use this on a curve?I was given a load of stockinette knitted cashmere and told to cut out hats with a bend at the top and ear flaps. I ended up cutting out the shape bigger than necessary and using the french seam method on a sewing machine. The result was neat but bulky. Is there another way I could have approached this?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Jane--you'd have to have KNIT a curve first to use this method, so I think the answer is no. For cut-outs in knitted fabric, I would try turning the work inside out and serging the cut edge to a very thin lining layer of polar fleece, then turning the whole business right-side out again, with the lining on the inside and the seam tucked inside, away from prying eyes, at the edge where the knitting and lining meet. I'd work a headband-type lining for the earflaps and forehead portion, which had a straight-across top, maybe several inches high (so it would hit onthe inside of the hat just above the ears, then I'd hand-tack the top of the lining to the inside of the hat. Polar fleece needs no hemming, so your only seam would be the serged seam where the lining and the hat meet, around the bottom part of the hat.I assume you have a back seam also? I would install the lining on the flat-laid hat, then serge the backseam of the lining and hat in one fell swoop. --TK

PS: here is a post about polar fleece (vut and paste URL into browser window)

New York Built said...

I confess, Dear Techknitter, I could not wait for you...I made a leap of faith and followed your Beta directions on the Oliver hoodie pattern. The pockets were steeked...angled correctly for a hoodie, sealed as per your method...worked very well there...I knit in the pocket using your pickup technique on the edges of the pocket interior as I knit it in, seamlessly. But could I install the zipper on my own?

In my size of XL, the edges of the faced steeks were immaculate...two side-by-side stacked straight-edged crocheted purl rows, two facings prepared, one zipper. Your directions were spot-on...but the zipper! How?

That saucy hoodie stared up at me in wide-eyed wonder...and I could read between it's stitch columns. "What would he do next?"

A knit picker zipper installation! Your technique made it easy...and I used your knit picker tool idea to pull the yarn through the stitch edge, the zipper fabric and the facing live stitch. I was able to simultaneously seal the cut steek yarns, finish the facing edge, creat a straight and gorgeous zipper edging and install the zipper...a Four-In-One move!

Thanks again for all your good work.

TECHknitter said...

Hi NYB--hahahahaha! Combo tricks, I love 'em. How great that you found the tricks useful. Thanks for writing! Best, TK.