Kidsknits - How To: Steeks

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How should I finish the raw cut edges of my steek?

There are a few options for tidying up the raw cut edges of a steek. The most common, most traditional method involves overcasting the raw edge by hand with overcasting or crossed stitches. Some will go so far as to wrap their yarn around their needles to create long strands in the middle of each row of steek stitches. Once the long strands are cut in the middle to open the steek and the nearby stitches are picked up for the edgings or sleeves, the long strands are individually woven into the body of the garment. (Personally, I'm not sure the average human life expectancy really allows for such a painstaking process.) Some use a combination of the overcasting and weaving methods, weaving in only in spots where it's particularly beneficial to reduce bulk, such as at the base of the armhole and at the shoulder seam. In some cases, the button bands are folded back and sewn down over the raw edges of a cardigan steek. I often prefer to use my covered steek method which is faster, neater and avoids sewing.

My Covered Steek Method
fig. 7fig. 8

Fig. 7 is a close-up of my Tiger Lily Jacket. Notice the crisp, raised white edging on the right side. That's the outside covering for my steek. Inside on the left, I decided a bronze steek cover would look interesting. It almost looks like seam binding, but it's not. It's a knit-as-you-go covering for the raw cut edge of the steek. There's no sewing or overcasting involved. It's great for cardigan openings, necklines, side vents and vest armholes (see fig 8). It can even be used for both dropped and set-in armholes, as long as you're knitting the sleeves from the top down.

fig. 9

I use machine-sewn reinforcements with my covered steek method. Theoretically, you could use a covered steek on hand sewn, crocheted or raw cut steeks, but I haven't tried that yet and I'd be extra cautious with those types of steeks. At the point where stitches are picked up for the edging, collar or sleeve, since you're picking up from both sides at the same point, you'll have more than the usual amount of stress on the fabric. I think it really pays to have well-reinforced steek stitches that will keep the cut ends from slipping through and unraveling precious body stitches. Certainly, machine sewing with a minute stitch length will most reliably lock down each strand at multiple points. In fact, I use 2 rows of machine stitches right next to each other.
fig. 10

As you can see in fig. 9, I use 6 steek stitches and knit them into a striped pattern. I machine sew 2 straight lines of very short stitch length right next to each other over both the 2nd and the 5th (orange) columns of stitches. I cut right up the middle. (See fig. 10)  Thus far, it's a pretty standard process.  But wait!

You'll need a total of 4 long circular needles for this method: 3 in the same size you used for the body and 1 that's 3 (that's right, three) sizes larger. On the outside/right side, I use the needle three sizes larger than the one I used for the body just to pick up stitches all along the vertical edge. (I need a generously sized row of picked-up stitches because the same loops will be shared by both the front and the back pickups.) My yarn is in the back of my work. I insert my needle from the front through to the back, right on the borderline in between the first/last steek stitch and the last/first body stitch. As always, I pick the same # of stitches per inch that I used as my horizontal gauge on the body. (Example: With the Heilo yarn I used, my gauge was 6 sts/in, 7 rows/in. Although there are 7 sts to each vertical inch along the edge of the body, I'll be knitting my trim along that edge horizontally, so I'll use the horizontal gauge I used on the body and only pick-up 6 sts/in. In other words, I'll *pick up 6 sts, skip 7th st, repeat from * to end.) That's it for the big needle.

For a standard steek, you'd probably pick up just outside your column of reinforcement stitches. Here, I've left an extra (white) column of stitches in between for two good reasons: I'll not only have less tug on the fragile cut edge, I'll also gain a bit more padding for the trim. Quilters out there might see this as a "trapunto" effect.

Using the usual/smaller needle size from now on, I purl 1 row, then knit 1 row to get a total of 3 rows of stockinette stitch trim on the outstide. There's no rule for the width of this trim, but you'll want at least the 3 rows, i.e., the pick-up plus 2 stockinette rows, to make room for tucking your steek inside. If you use too many rows, you won't get as distinct a raised.effect.

fig. 11

Now, to the inside! Feel free to use a contrasting color for added interest. I chose bronze. When the stitches were picked up on the front, the process created horizontal bars across the back. (See fig. 11) I now pick up 1 stitch just through each horizontal bar, without going through to the front. Since these bars result from the space in between the front stitches, not the stitches themselves, if I do the inside pick-up correctly through every loop, I'll still need to cast on 1 more stitch to match the # I picked up on the front. I work the same number of rows in stockinette stitch so that both covers are the same length. I usually cut away the top row of stitches on the raw edge. In the photos above, that would mean that I remove the center white stitches, #3 & #4. Yes, theoretically you could get away with just 4 steek stitches if you leave out this raw edge trimming. However I do this for 2 reasons:
1) This way, it's not the end of the world if there's a slight bit of stitch slippage while I'm doing the pick-ups.
2) By trimming the often-raggedy edge, I get even padding for inside my covered steek.

Now, at one end of the steek, it's time to start joining the 2 steek covers. They're knit together, just as you would knit 2 shoulders together with a 3-needle bind-off, except nothing is being passed over and bound off. To do so, insert your right needle front to back through the center of the first stitch on each needle, pull the yarn back through the center of each stitch to knit the 2 stitches together. Knit all the stitches in the row together in this manner to unite the 2 covers. Work the rest of your trim as you normally would. Steam press everything. Smile at your perfect finish!

fig. 12

I hope you've found this information helpful. Remember, there are very few absolutes in knitting. There's no need to stick with one tradition or the other. Learn from every tradition, put your favorite aspects together and come up with your own masterpiece. You can contact me, Mary Ann Stephens, through my sites, or with any questions or comments.


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