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How To Cut and Finish a Steek

What is a steek?

A steek is basically an additional piece of knitted fabric which allows an opening to be cut for armholes, necklines or centre front openings. It acts as a selvedge, preventing the knitting from unravelling. When working colourwork, you can change yarn at the centre of the steek, reducing the number of ends which need darning in.

If this is the first time you have steeked, you can practice cutting and reinforcing a swatch so you know how your knitting will behave before cutting your garment steek. You'll also feel more confident knowing your swatch won't unravel far after cutting.

Setting the Stitches

Steam pressing the steek area is an option to set the stitches in place before cutting. Use a steam iron set to the minimum temperature to produce steam, or hover the iron over a damp muslin pressing cloth.

Weaving in Ends

Where you have changed colour at the side of the steek, the ends will need darning in, either before or after you cut. To reduce bulk in any location, they can be woven into the steek and also the main body of the knitting as needed. Avoid sewing in ends past the line of reinforcement prior to cutting and trimming. In the knitting, weaving in close to the seam-line will mean the woven in ends will be covered by the steek and finishing ribbon.

If you changed colour in the centre of the steek, there is no need to weave these ends in. Simply trim them before reinforcing and cutting the steek.

Reinforcing Methods

Steeks can be reinforced in a number of ways. I prefer using a sewn reinforcement, using either a sewing machine or a firm hand-sewn back stitch. It is particularly important if using a sewing machine, to test sewing on your swatch and adjust stitch length as needed. Reinforcing a steek before cutting is preferable. If you need to cut before reinforcing, then have your sewing equipment ready so you can reinforce immediately after cutting.

Sew the reinforcement lines two stitches in from the edge of the steek, taking care to avoid catching any remaining yarn ends. On an eight-stitch steek, you will reinforce between the second and third stitches, and also between the sixth and seventh stitches.

If your project has been worked using a fine slippery yarn such as silk, the lightning stitch used for stretch fabrics can work well. This is a narrow stitch, so you can sew 2 reinforcing lines a stitch apart on either side of the cutting line if needed, instead of just one.

Placing a piece of tissue paper or tear-away stabiliser beneath the steek can prevent the yarn catching on sewing machine feed dogs. For easy removal, tear away after sewing a single line of stitching.

Cutting the Steek

If you look at a steek knitted following one of my patterns, you will notice that the centre two stitches are the same colour. The centre line between the centre two stitch columns is also marked on the steek charts to indicate cutting placement. For garments with sections knitted in a single colour, you can sew a contrasting thread along the line you need to cut. Using dressmaking shears or other sharp scissors, cut between these centre two stitch columns; start by cutting through the cast-on edge, then cut from bottom to top, and finish by cutting through the cast-off edge.

Pick Up Stitches

Before trimming back the steek, pick up any stitches required along either the first column of stitches in the main fabric, OR between the steek and main fabric stitches. The best way to pick up stitches for the bands or sleeves is to work with RS facing, right though your work with the yarn underneath. Push your needle through the 'V' gap in the middle of your stitch and hook the yarn from underneath with the point of your needle, drawing the new stitch through. Continue until you have the required number of stitches on the needle. Picking up stitches in this way holds the cut stitches firmly in place. Once you have completed knitting your band or sleeve, you can trim back the steek close to the line of reinforcement or to 2 stitches width.

Finishing a Sleeve Join

On your sleeve join, tidy the edges of the steek by stitching over the raw edges with strong yarn. Mending/darning wool is good for this purpose. Herringbone stitch can be used to hold the steek to the main fabric of the garment.

Neck Band Facing (Optional)

Commencing at the right front, pin ribbon into place up right front slope, around neck, and down left front slope, taking care not to extend beyond centre front steeks. Sew into place using a small slip stitch all around the ribbon.

Button and Button Hole Band Facings

A ribbon facing over front steeks should be placed to cover the steeked edge, so the raw edge runs centrally underneath the ribbon. When determining width, the ribbon shouldn't reach the buttonholes. Pin ribbon into place over right front steek, beginning at the bottom edge of the button band, turning under top and bottom edges to neaten, and overlapping neck band ribbon to finish. Sew into place using a small slip stitch all around the ribbon.

Repeat on left front.

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