She cuts you hard, she cuts you deep,
She's got so much skill
She's so fascinating that you're still there waiting
When she comes back for the kill.
--Billy Joel, Stiletto
Great song about sharp objects, no?
But you stand there pleadin',
With your insides bleedin',
'Cause you deep down want some more.
Yes, It's Steenkin' Steek Time in KC's Playhouse
I do love the torture some call finishing. I do. First, it takes every ounce of my skill.
Second, anyone can make a knit and a purl stitch. But the finishing is everything. If you can't finish decently, I don't care how wonderfully you knit. Because your garment's gonna look like shit.
So this post is devoted to the steek endgame. Yeah, plenty of people have written about this. And Eunny Jang wrote a decent article about it in IK. But there's more detail to it than appears in the article. So as I started playing with sharp objects last night while working the armhole of the Andean Treasures Fair Isle, I had the camera at the ready.
Are you ready? Ignition on.
It's Such a Clever Masquerade
I opted to try the crocheted steek reinforcement, simply because I hadn't done it before since I heretofore have only done Fair Isle in Shetland 2-ply, known for its Velcro-like propensity. This alpaca definitely needs to be reinforced prior to cutting the steek.
[OK, one thing that has me kinda bugged. Nowhere in Jang's article is there any mention of Amy Detjen, who, to the best of my knowledge, invented this technique. I first saw it in Sweaters From Camp and always thought it was a primo idea. So let's give credit where credit is due, eh? This book is still my favorite for Fair Isle technique info, no question.]
Most steeks are composed of either 8 or 10 stitches--sometimes you can get away with 6 if you're working in Shetland but 8 stitches is really optimum. The dead center, between stitches 4 (5) and 5 (6) is where you cut, right in the bar between them.
[Nota bene: In Kathi Taylor's pattern, she has you do the armhole and front decreases as dec 2 tog before and after the steek stitches. Well, this was no good. And here's where thinking through a pattern before you start it with an eye to the finishing, pays off. I decided to do right- and left-leaning decreases (k2tog and ssk), with an edge stitch, rather than just knit two together. So I lost 6 stitches in the body--two for each armhole and two for the front opening. Big deal, I lost an inch. I took that into consideration when I chose the size that I wanted to work. ]
I determined the midpoint channel of the steek and crocheted together the opposing legs of two stitches beginning at the cast-off edge where you begin the steek cast-on. Jang explains this very well in her article, so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel. Basically, you'll be leaving a half a stitch on either side of the channel. I used a very bright, visible color because I'm fucking blind.
You work single crochet up one side of the armhole to the neckline, end off, and then recommence the reinforcement crochet from the top back down to the armhole cast-off, as shown in the picture. Can you see the two halves between the crocheted lines? That's where you'll cut, in between those two halves.
You Know You Love the Knife
Sharp, small embroidery scissors. I'm not fucking around here. You need to cut slowly, inching your way up the steek.
Don't cut the crocheted edges, either. And don't think that you need to have a shot of Jagermeister or Valium or both prior to beginning the cut. That's such bullshit and every time somebody writes that about steeking, I want to hurl.
Machine knitters have been doing cut and sew for years, especially when doing double-bed jacquard or Fair Isle. I learned how to do this when I owned my Passap and was slashing left and right.
But I digress. Now that the steek is cut open, it's time to pick up the stitches for the armhole band.
She Says She Wants Affection While She Searches for the Vein
To ensure that I picked up the stitches in a straight line, I used my circular needle to provide a guide by weaving one end of it through the channel where I was going to pick up.
This helps enormously in staying on the beaten path. I retract the needlepoint as I go along. In addition, I always use locking markers to indicate where the halfway point of the edge is. In the case of a long edge to be picked up, I may divide and mark it into quarters or even eighths. So with 128 stitches to be picked up, with 8 of those part of the armhole cast-off, I knew that I needed 60 on each side of the armhole.
What's half of 60, gang? Right. So it was 30 to the marker and 30 after. And I pick up between the stitches rather than using a half a stitch or even a whole one.
You Don't Really Mind the Pain, You Don't Mind the Pain
Now it's five rows of 2/2 ribbing and that's one band done. Because the pickup is done on the right side, the steek lays flat on the wrong side. Why do you suppose that is? Yeah, Mar, fuck the Socratic method--give 'em the answer.
Nope, figure it out your own selves.
Now a shoulder seam to do before I start the next armhole band. All in all, about 3 hours worth of work, I would say.
No Jagermeister, no Valium, no nerves of steel. Just some coffee, some music and a job well done, I think.
Now that I've diddled away Saturday morning, it's time to get out of the sweatpants, take a shower and go look for a Christmas tree.
Because it's a rare and handy time of the year and your writer has done nothing, absolutely nothing about it.