Thursday, February 13, 2014

Adventure in Steeking. . .

 While I have steeked once before (this sweater -- in colours as different as can be from the rich neutrals below), I'm not yet at a point where I can be blasé about it. It still feels like a bold and risky move to make, the antithesis, really, to hours and hours and hours, countless hours, of adding stitch to stitch. Knitting is generally a relatively slow and absolutely incremental activity, a Slow Craft, a meditative one, good for relaxing.

Steeking? Cutting apart the piece of textile you have spent months creating? Not So Slow. Nor meditative. Nor relaxing. The opposition between the two fascinates me, and, as Kristin said in a comment on this post, steeking itself seems a metaphor for the leaps we sometimes have to take in life.

And many of you seemed curious about the process, so I took a few photos . . . .


Above is a photo of the Rams & Yowes blanket patterned section, finished and off the circular needle on which it was knit, in a tube. When I first showed it to my little granddaughter, Nola, some time ago, pointing out the sheep, she guessed that I was making myself a sheep skirt, thanks to that tubular construction. She would only have guessed a blanket, I suspect, if it had been knit flat, doubling that width and lying spread out as a small blanket should be.

Instead, some very clever early knitter realized that knitting on circular needles made colourwork easier as it could all be done in knit stitches on the front while the "floats" of the unused colours were neatly tucked away behind, out of the knitter's way.

And to solve the problem of turning a circularly knit item into a flat one? Why, just take a pair of scissors when it's done, and slice away! yikes!

To get around the fear and risk factor of losing all those hours of work, another clever knitter -- and honestly, these knitters were part engineer, as I recognized when knitting my first sock -- invented the idea of providing a margin of waste rows where an edge could be reinforced and where any unravelling of stitches would be unlikely to travel to the main body. You can see that margin above in the foreground, the long narrow checkered strip that interrupts the main pattern, running from left to right.

The crudely heavy black line that you see at the top of the checkerboard margin is the beginning of a crocheted reinforcement. Again, some practical inventive sort long ago put her mind to the problem of potentially unravelling stitches and thought of ways to bind these. Just as you might once have dabbed a bit of nail polish on the edges of a hole in your still-too-new pantihose to stop that hole from growing bigger, the stitches in a fairly "sticky" yarn -- not so much sticky from the residual lanolin as from the wooly fibres that grab each other and, eventually, felt themselves together lightly -- will resist unravelling once that "stickiness" sets in. Meanwhile, though, the unravelling has the potential to spread like a tiny flame, burning holes into the garment. Against that possibility, some ancient knitter grabbed her crochet hook and anchored each stitch up one side of that checkerboard and down the other.



A closer look, above
and below, I'm coming down the other side. . . .
This was all new to me. The last time I steeked, I opted for the modern way, using my sewing machine to zig-zag the reinforcement. This time, I thought I'd try a more traditional route. . .




Next
 holding my breath carefully, I start to cut, snipping stitch by stitch between those reinforcing crocheted rows
Until, with huge relief, I make it to the end without mishap and unroll the patterned centre of my future throw to see what I've wrought.
 Et voilà






















Now, I've only got to knit the edging. Of course, to do that, I've already spent approximately five hours (or 5-6 episodes of The Good Wife depending how you count evening time) picking up 780 stitches spread over 300 centimetres of circular needles. After that, I'll increase those stitches and knit outward to create a generous border. Many more hours of knitting, seasons and seasons of The Good Wife, Call the Midwife, Sherlock. . .A Labour of Love. Slow Labour. Slow Love. There's definitely a wealth of metaphors here. Slow Love after a Leap of Faith after a Foundation of Countless Hours and Patient, Meditative Work. Oh yeah.

If you're a non-knitter, you may very well have left the building long ago.
And if you're a knitter, this may be old-hat to you.
But if you skimmed to here, I'd be curious to hear from you. Had you heard of steeking before? Have you ever thought about the amazing ingenuity of those ancestors who engineered simple improvements to domestic tasks? And managed to make room for beauty in the practical?
And if you've steeked, did you find the process as cool as I did?
I'd love to know what you think. . .

22 comments:

  1. I'd be "having kittens" trying to do this ! No wonder it is stressful...but the finished product is amazing. I agree about knitting being meditative. I am not sure how you manage to follow such complicated patterns and still relax though, I need to use markers for pattern changes and a counter for the rows so i can never let myself "go" completely!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have different kinds of knitting on the go at once -- some for just vegging out and some that take more concentration. But I've been knitting since I was 5 or 6, and I can do quite a bit on automatic pilot. Patterns become intuitive after a while, although I need to track for some things as well. You turn out some very nice items, so whatever you're doing works!

      Delete
  2. Well done - and thank you for the really good explanation. I don't know if I'd have the courage to do this, though with good photos like this, I just might. I love the idea of a throw knit in one piece, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's such an ingenious technique -- I love thinking I'm guided by those clever knitters of long ago. Wonderful for sweaters, too -- you can knit a pullover on circular needles, so seamless, and then steek it to turn into a cardigan.

      Delete
  3. When you mentioned steeking the other day, I had no clue what you meant. I'm so glad you explained it. I'm a total beginner at knitting, so I won't be trying this any time soon. How interesting to learn about it, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't it cool, Lorrie? So many adventures yet ahead of you in knitting. What have you been working on so far?

      Delete
  4. I had to run away from this post because it felt like it might involve numbers:).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, and I've got the impression that knitting has no attraction for you at all, much as you might appreciate some of its products, right?

      Delete
  5. That all makes perfect sense, thank you for the explanation - something new to me!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love the design! I have never steeked anything and have never done a color work pattern. I may try the color work with a pair of mitts. The history of knitting intrigues me. Someone actually using two sticks to make fabric! Congratulations on a successful steek :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mitts are good -- or a hat (less finicky!) And I agree with you that knitting has a fascinating history. I'd love to take some time to read a few of the very good books on the subject. . . someday.

      Delete
  7. I wish I had been in the room when you let out a triumphant "!!woooohooooo!!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You could hear it over there, right? ;-)

      Delete
  8. EEEK. It doesn't get any less stressful to watch someone do this, even with all of the info about how reinforced the edges are. I don't know when I'll have this nerve but, since I've never done anything fair-isle yet, I think I have some time :-) What a gorgeous piece of fabric!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In fact, in one place, the reinforcement has wiggled free of the stitches, but since there's a 2-row border, very sticky yarn, I'm counting on that not becoming a problem, although I'm a bit nervous given how much work there is on the border (64 rows which go from 780 to 900-something and back to 780, yes, that's true.).
      The technique is useful beyond fair-isle, btw. It allows knitting a cardigan in one piece, in the round, and then slicing down the centre and picking up button bands or applying i-cord to edges. (of course, said cardigan could also be knit one piece, flat. . . )

      Delete
    2. I'm more likely to knit one colour flat, honestly. I don't mind purling...

      Delete
  9. I am a new knitter, just over a year, granny square blankets to date. My Mum bought me the Rams and Yowes kit for my bday in June and I started it last week, currently near the end of chart B1 first flock of sheep. The steek does not worry me as I tried it out on a piece of colour work from Vogue Stitchionary, I have added a few stitches to the steek just to be on the safe side knowing it will be hidden in the folded over border. However I am not looking forward to the picking up of the several hundred stitches for the border so may adapt that to something more relaxing, perhaps four separate sides and four small corner panels with sheep motif and then sew them together granny square style. I have read some have found the border as it is a little slack and tends to wrinkle, which would be a shame as the body is so lovely.

    Cornelius in France.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Cornelius, and thanks for commenting! Very impressive that you're knitting Rams and Yowes after only one year knitting -- it's a very motivational pattern, though, isn't it?! I'm so pleased with mine, but I can understand why you might decide to change the border. It's a big commitment, although I'd say I found it rather contemplative -- I love the texture of the garter stitch and the way the subtle colour palette unrolls over those inches. It's true that the border is a bit slack and wrinkles a bit -- blocking will help with that, but if I were doing it again, I'd do down at least one needle size, perhaps even two, for the border stitches.

      Delete
  10. Finished and very pleased. I did not in the end change the border but followed the pattern, it is a little wavy but it was satisfying to have completed the project as intended. The only change I made was to use five long circular needles not the suggested two, this meant each time a row was finished it would lay flat. I also blocked the central panel before picking up the stitches for the border, had I have been more experienced I would have realised I should pick up fewer stitches on the sides to minimize the waviness of the final border. I love this blanket and will treasure it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh and Happy New Year :0)

      Delete
    2. Bravo, Cornelius! I have much more experience as a knitter, yet didn't manage to pick up fewer stitches, but rather trusted the pattern. Were I to knit it again, I'd either use a considerably smaller needle for the border or pick up fewer stitches. But I doubt that's in my future and like you I love and treasure the one I made, slightly wavy border and all. (Impressed that you already have so many long circs in the right size, as such a relatively new knitter!) Happy New Year to you as well! Thanks for coming back to let me know how your Rams and Ewes turned out.

      Delete

I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...