14) Using crochet to reinforce steeks

Last night, J took one look at my poor, neglected Moor, lying all crumpled up next to the sofa, and said, "Haven't you cut that thing up yet?  You wuss!"  Of course, I tried to explain that I need to photograph the steeks for the blog before I cut them, but he just gave me The Look.

So I took the photographs (badly, as usual).  But I haven't cut into it yet.

So!  I have chosen to use crochet to reinforce the steeks1.  I learned this over at Eunny Jang's blog, and no-one (no-one!) is likely to beat her comprehensive survey of steek methods, so I'm not even going to try.  What I can do, though, is give a quick explanation of how this method works, and show you what I've done.

Thing the first

This is about the only steek method done over an odd number of stitches.  I didn't do my research when setting up the steeks, so mine are done over an even number.  It doesn't really matter, but it does mean that the folded-in bits of fabric won't all be the same width.

Thing the second

I didn't think too hard about where to change colours relative to the steek.  This is only important for the steek that will go up the left hand armhole, because that's the point in the round where the colours change.  I'm still not sure what the best answers are, or even if it really matters (Eunny says it does, but I think that – well – you are cutting the yarn anyway.  As long as the steek edge is firm, and the yarn is well worked in at its head and tail ends, I don't think it should matter how short the bit between them is.  But I'm still keeping my fingers crossed!)

How crocheted steeks work

OK, I just said that this kind of steek works across an odd number of stitches, yes?  Well, that's because you are cutting up the middle of the centre stitch.  Incidentally, it doesn't matter if you work your steek as vertical rows of colour or in a checkerboard pattern, but for this, vertical rows are easier to keep your eye on (guess which one I used for my sweater?  Yeah!)

Each stitch is a 'V' of colour.  Assuming your yarn is solid and not too tweedy(!), both legs of the 'V' will be the same colour, and the 'V' in one row is pointing to the row below.  Here's the virtual swatch we will be working on:


Crochet is used to reinforce the cut edges by binding each leg of the central 'V' to the nearest leg of its neighbouring stitch. Essentially, you work one row of double crochet (for UK readers; if you've learned American crochet terms, it's single crochet!) up one side of the steek, and another one down the other.  I don't propose to teach you crochet here, but that means:

  • (*) pull a loop of yarn through from behind the two stitch legs (just the legs on the surface of the fabric; avoid floats or other bits of yarn);
  • pull another loop through that loop;
  • repeat from (*) for each row of knitting in the steek.
  • When you get to the end of the steek, break off your yarn and pull it all the way through the last loop.

You want to use a yarn you can see against your work, one that is fine enough not to distort the stitches, and preferably one that will felt in to the other yarns, too, for maximum strengthening.  You will probably want to use a crochet hook one or two sizes smaller than the knitting needles you used.

Looking at your knitting with the top away from you and right side up, you want to start with the bottom left hand side of the steek, and work your way up.  This graphic shows you the first two stitch 'legs' that you will be binding together:


Work your way up the steek, binding the legs of neighbouring stitches together in turn.  When you're done, it'll look a little like this:


Finish off that row of crochet, break off the yarn, then turn the work around.  Start with what was the top-right stitch in the steek and do it all again, working your way back down the other side.  You will find that the crochet stitches naturally want to fall away from each other, so the steek now looks a bit like an open book (if they don't, you might have done your crochet in the wrong direction).  If you pull gently on each side of the steek, opening it up, you will see a ladder of yarn between your crochet columns:


These horizontal strands are the tops of our central blue stitches, where they wrap around the legs of the stitch above, and they are the bits you are to cut!  Carefully.  And slowly.  Your crochet reinforcement should hold the rest of the stitches tight and firm, and prevent ravelling.  Whew!

So what do they look like in real life?

Well, I can only show you this on the world's shortest steek.  My Moor has four steeks: two armholes, one front neck and one back neck.  The back neckline involves no colourwork, and is only about six rows deep.  But it's worth showing because the fabric is brown and the reinforcing crochet is white. The crochet shows up much, much better in this context than on the patterned bits.

Here is the finished crochet.  See how the stitches lean away from each other?


And here it is, stretched apart.  See the horizontal strands, all ready for cutting?


Now I have no excuse not to slice up my knitting.

1 Steeks, for anyone who doesn't knit and is still reading, are places where you cut into a knitted piece to create openings, usually for sleeves.  They're really handy if you're knitting in the round, because you don't suddenly have to switch to knitting back-and-forth once the body divides for the armholes, or the neckline.  You just decrease as normal, and knit a 'bridge' of several stitches that join the two armhole edges (or neckline edges, or whatever) together.  When you're ready, you cut down the middle of the bridge, and pray like anything that it's going to hold together.  It's scary! Having said that:

  • Knitting tends to unravel up-and-down.  It's quite resistant to unravelling side-to-side, so the steek edges are less unstable than you might think.
  • This is normally done with sticky, woolly wools which tend to felt a little bit, and are quite hard to unravel anyway.
  • You can reinforce the steek edges if you wish, either with hand sewing, machine sewing, or crochet, which I've done here.

Once you've cut your steeks open, you can fold the extra fabric to the inside of the garment.  Then you can pick up stitches round the folded edge for the neck band, armhole bands etc. Then, it's all over bar the finishing!


  • Good luck, you’re a braver woman than me…

    5th February 2010
  • You can do it!!! I steeked my first item just last fall and.. it’s still holding together! Amazing stuff this wool.
    I HAD to steek as the sweater I made was too ginormous to fit and cutting the sides was the only solution. I zigzagged the “selvedges” before cutting. It really did go quickly and was less painful than I’d feared. And it really is holding fine.
    Go for it.

    11th February 2010

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