The Steeking Chronicles: The Crocheted Steek
Introduction; Setting Up Steeks; Handling Color Changes Planning and Placing Steeks; Handling Decreases in Fair Isle Knitting The Traditional, Unreinforced Steek The Hand-Sewn Steek The Crocheted Steek Putting It All Together; Working Sleeves; Blocking; Finishing A Word On Norwegian Steeks
Oil and water. Seafood and cheese. Poprocks and Coke. Crochet and I - yeah, we shouldn't really be mixed, except with full knowledge of the high probability of disaster. Isn't it peculiar, then, that the crocheted steek (described further in Meg Swansen's Sweaters From Camp) is my favorite one?
(That's the swatch o' the day, and the most successful one so far, I think. If I just reverse the gradient of the background to make it run from light to dark to light again, and fuss with the edge treatments a little to make the border bleed into the white background, I think we might have a winner. That's the last you'll be seeing of it today, incidentally - wave! It was, indeed, worked with crochet finishing, but it proved impossible to get a picture that showed the stitches under all that hairy fuzziness. Little swatch, we hardly knew ye.)
For the sake of all our eyeballs and my (rapidly diminishing and therefore increasingly precious) sanity, I'm going to show you the crocheted steek in a smooth, DK-weight Merino that shows stitches clearly. The crochet method, in fact, is eminently suitable for smooth animal fibers like this one - as with the hand-sewn steek, the real work is done by the natural cling of the yarn, but extra security is provided by the applied binding. Again, this isn't particularly appropriate for superwash wools, plant yarns, or synthetics, or for anything at a large gauge. Without tightly woven floats or a firm base fabric, the tightest crochet won't guarantee hold.
This is one of those very intuitive processes that take a thousand words to describe properly. In an attempt to keep this post pithy, I'm going to rely on poorly-drawn graphics and color-coding to clarify where my words fall short (everything's a tradeoff these days, you know. Take it up with management).
A crochet steek is worked over the center three stitches of the bridge - meaning that, for the first time, we'll be using an odd number of steek stitches, and the cutting will be done up the centerline of a whole stitch, rather than between two stitches. The basic idea here is to bind the right half of the first of three stitches together with the left half of the center stitch, and the right half of the center stitch to the left half of the third stitch, all before cutting up the middle of the center stitch.
Oh, dear. See what I mean about the wordiness thing? This graphic explains it a lot better.
The blue stitch in the center of both drawings represents the center stitch of your steek, and the black line up its middle the line along which you'll cut. The pink represents the stitches on either side. Every knit stitch forms a distinct "V" shape, with a right side and a left side - the second drawing shows, in red, the pairs that need to be joined with a single crochet chain - the first pair is made up of the adjoining parts of the leftmost and center stitch, and the second pair is made up of the adjoining parts of the center and rightmost stitch.
I've heard about people working a steek of the three stitches needed - and only those three stitches, plus one border stitch on either side for picking up. Since I'm not as brave as that (I hate the idea of putting that stress directly on the cut edge), I've allowed a generous bridge of seven stitches, plus the two border stitches (meaning the whole thing takes up the first five and last four stitches of the round). You can see them here, with the center stitch marked in blue, the two adjoining stitches marked with big pink arrows, and the border stitches marked with smaller pink arrows. I've worked the steek in stripes again, to guide me in crocheting.
As long as we're here, it would be worthwile to address the issue of changing colors in an odd-numbered steek. While an even-numbered steek allows for a convenient switch smack in the middle, right along the cutting line, that's clearly not possible when the centerline falls in the middle of a stitch. I've worked the sample with only two colors for simplicity, but it's important to understand that colors need to be changed in this steek in a way that keeps ends and knots away from the center three stitches. This is most easily accomplished with a spit-spliced or felted join, or by introducing new colors at the beginning of the steek, weaving them until the beginning of the round, and then weaving the old color behind the work for a few stitches. The hanging tails will, of course, need to be darned in or otherwise dealt with later - better to just spit on them, already.
One more variation would be to work an even numbered steek, change colors as usual in the center, and work the crochet reinforcements at least one stitch away on either side of the centerline (that is, the new or last stitch with any color should NOT be incorporated into the crochet). This works fine, too, but the resulting edge will need to be trimmed carefully after cutting.
Phew! Okay, down to the actual method. This is written so a knitter with no crochet experience can follow it - huzzah for exhaustive detail! You'll want a crochet hook smaller in diameter than the knitting needles you were using, and a working yarn of matching or finer weight wool to create a tight, hard-wearing edge that felts together over time. Use the smallest hook you can without actually distorting the gauge of the knit stitches - I'm using a 3mm hook for work done on 3.5mm needles.
Turn your work so what would be the left side of the steek is closest to you. You'll be working this side first - the center stitch is marked again with blue, and the adjoining stitch marked with pink.
Starting at the far right side (the bottom of your steek), pick up the far side of the adjoining stitch and the near near of the center stitch with your crochet hook. If things were right side up, you'd be picking up the right half of the first stitch and the left half of the center stitch, just as in the diagram. Be careful to pick up only those two loops and not the floats behind the work.
Lay your crochet yarn over the hook so the working (skein) side runs to the left and the short tail to the right. Catch it with the hook, and pull it through the two loops on the needle.
Catch the working yarn with the hook once more...
And pull it through the loop on your needle. That's one stitch of single crochet.
Keep going by picking up the pair of stitch halves directly to the left (the next row, were things oriented - which stitch is which is noted, again, with blue for center and pink for adjoining):
Pull a new loop of yarn through the picked-up stitches, but not the loop of working yarn. You should have two loops of working yarn on the hook.
Catch the yarn with the hook one more time:
And pull it through both loops of working yarn on the needle to end with one loop.
Continue this way until you reach the last stitch pair on the left (the top row of the steek). Work those stitches as described, cut the yarn, and pull it through the last stitch on the needle to end.
Turn the work 180 degrees, so the right side of the steek is nearest you. Starting from the far right side again (the top of the steek), work just as you did before until you reach the far left, or bottom. Cut the yarn and pull it through.
The finished crochet should look something like this - the visible loops should slant neatly away from the center, rather like a book laid open. It's important to note that the tension should be firm, but should not pucker the knitting - go up or down in hook size or adjust the yarn weight if the crochet looks too loose or is gathering the steek in.
If you gently pull the two lines of crochet apart, you'll see a ladder of the base knitting. These are the purl bumps of the center stitch - what you'll be cutting in a couple seconds.
More cutting trauma for everyone:
Don't be like me - buy some small, sharp scissors for this endeavor. It's very, very easy to snip the crochet by accident - for this reason, it's smart to 1) do the crochet in a highly contrasting color (it'll be folded under and hidden, anyway); and 2) cut very carefully, one ladder and the accompanying float at a time.
Believe it or not, this is a straight-on photo of the cut edge. Hopefully, you can see the neat, tidy criscross of threads that holds the thing together.
This is why I love this method - the edge is so clean it needs practically no finishing, but it still matches the knitted fabric itself in flexibility and stretch. It works beautifully on smooth yarns, without the sloppiness of hand-sewing; sure, it's a bit fiddly, but it's worth it. I plan to use it on all the openings of the argyle vest - you should be seeing it in action in the next week or so.
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