Rite of passage – the steek

In the end, after all my worries, steeking turned out to be rather anticlimactic. For those who haven’t been following, I have been knitting a birthday project for my daughter, Leah, which is a panel with the transcription from the One Ring (from The Lord of the Rings) knitted into it:5-20131219_102204I am knitting it in the round using two-handed stranded knitting with transcription charts provided for free on Ravelry by Diana Stafford.  In the above photo, taken a few weeks ago, the fabric on the left is intended to be used as a backing for the pillow (more on that below).

I used the method provided by Kate Davies in her wonderful steeking tutorial, which involves using a crochet reinforcement.  First, I crocheted up one side of the cut line (using a brown yarn for the reinforcing):

01-20131226134628Then, I turned the piece around and crocheted back up the other side of the cut line.


Here is the piece with the reinforcing done, just before cutting:

03-20131226155810I must confess here to a few minutes of panic at this point.  I wavered between the part of me who had faith in Kate’s directions and in the thousands of knitters calmly steeking garments for centuries, and the part of me convinced that the reinforcements wouldn’t hold and that the whole thing would unravel.  Emma, while in the midst of a terrible flu, provided both photographic services and calm advice (“Just cut the damn thing already, so that I can go to bed!”)

The two rows of crochet lean away from each other and when pulled slightly apart, reveal a line of ladders which are the bits actually cut.  OK, here goes nothing:

05-2013122616134506-2013122616141707-20131226162014It was fairly dark and rainy in Vancouver that day so the photos are not so great, but perhaps you can tell how intensely I was concentrating on the task:

08-20131226162058And, voila, steek done!  And not a hint of unravelling:

09-20131226162148I then popped this baby into a sink and gave it a good soak, pressed it between layers of towels and stomped on it, stretched it out, pinned it and let it dry, and still not a hint of unravelling.  Ain’t steeking grand!

And, behold, the blocked piece:

12-20131228_134013Isn’t it just fabulous?  I really love this.

It is worth every bit of trouble it took to knit.  (Mostly, just that it demands you pay attention to what you are doing.  It is not a TV knit.)  Here is a small portion of one page of the chart:

04-20131226160717There are 6 full-size pages.  You can see that I annotated all of the background areas by counting out the number of stitches in advance.  It still took lots of concentration to knit.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that problems set in.  My initial plan was to use the fabric to both make the pillow slightly wider (by sewing long strips above and below the knitted piece) and then to back it.  The blocked knitted piece measures about 13″x41″ (which makes it pretty long for a pillow; definitely not a standard size).  I had planned on aiming for a completed pillow size of about 25″x40″.  I am not a seamstress and have little sewing experience.  I was on holiday in Vancouver, and my sewing machine back home in England, so I had hoped to borrow both a sewing machine and some sewing expertise.  I talked to a number of people who had more knowledge of sewing than I do, and each of them thought that sewing the knitted fabric to the silk fabric would not be an easy task, and that the different tensions between them would lead to problems with pulling and stretching.  Each of them had the same advice:  knit the pillow back.  As Teresa put it: “You know how to knit.  You feel comfortable knitting.  Sewing this makes you uncomfortable. Stick with what you are good at.”

I have lots of extra yarn, plenty to knit the pillow back (of course, the extra yarn was at home in England).  In the end, I decided to stew on the matter for a bit.  This means that Leah did not get her birthday present.   I brought it back home with me, and am now busily debating how I should finish it.  Should I risk sewing these two fabrics together?  Should I consult a seamstress and pay to have a professional do it?  Should I admit that the different tensions will likely lead to the knitted side stretching over time even if I can solve the sewing problem?  Or should I just knit the back?  And if I do that, how should I do it?  Should I still knit panels to make it wider? (13″x40″ is too long and narrow.)  Should I knit a border panel?  And how to fasten it?  Zipper, buttons, envelope closing?  Too many questions, lots of indecision on my part.  (I would welcome advice.)

In the meantime, back here in the UK, it is stormy and rainy and flooding all over the place.  I have b-school this weekend, so very little knitting is likely to occur over the next week (or blogging for that matter).  I hope that all of my UK readers stay dry, and all in North America keep warm this week.

PS – I asked Doug for advice on what to name this post.  This is what he came up with:

  • Steek with me, baby!
  • Steeky fingers
  • It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp steek
  • Jose Jalapeno with a steek  (with apologies to Jeff Dunham)
  • Steek figures
  • Steek to your guns
  • Steek it to the man!
  • How to steek to a New Year’s Resolution
  • Just cut the damn thing already, so that I can go to bed!

Why do I bother to ask?

18 thoughts on “Rite of passage – the steek

  1. Your work is fabulous. I am sure the piece will speak to you and help you listen to your heart for the best answer. Beautiful work.

  2. Lovely work and now to finish it off properly. Something tells me this will be very beautiful by the time you finish. Thank you for sharing your steeking concerns. Someday I will tackle a project that requires steeking and remember your pictures showing that it actually works!

    • Actually, my original plan was to have this be the border for a coat or jacket, but it is much too wide for that, and I didn’t want to knit at a smaller gauge. This is the great thing about knitting; you can change your mind a million times.

  3. Hello! Here is a silent reader, who has found your blog from the Ravelry link and is reading it on a regular basis.
    I LOVE your project and would like to encourage you to finish it with a silk backing. Why? Because your project is so special, you invested so much time, love, patience and even fear to go through steeking… and now you want to finish with just a regular knitted backing? I like your chosen fabric, with the silk on the other side of your pillow will be gorgeous. And not so much with a regular one. Please, treat your project like a couture garment. – You never ever find a couture coat with a cheap synthetic lining – your coat always beautiful from lining to the buttons – from every possible angle.
    If you are not comfortable to do that job yourself, I would go to professional seamstress for help. You will never regret your decision. And I would make an invisible Zipper, not buttons.
    Just my 2 cents. 🙂
    PS: sorry for my possible mistakes. English is not my first language.

  4. Congratulations on this knitting rite of passage! See, it didn’t ravel! Beautiful, original work!

    From past experience with finishing needlepoint pillows, here is my 2 cents worth. I’d line the backing fabric with fusible interfacing to stiffen it up a bit. It’s hard to judge from your photo, but it looks a bit flimsy to accommodate your dimensions. Considering your width to length ratio, you need to mitigate (there’s that word again!) any warping. Don’t take my “flimsy” comment the wrong way – it’s nothing against your choice of fabric – but you’ll need a good, stiff backing to ensure you get a taut finish, or the end product will be too “floppy” and your work won’t hold it’s shape properly.

    I’d then sew a muslin pillow, fill it to my content, pinning the knit fabric to ensure a good fit, making sure your knit cover isn’t too taut, nor too slack. Only then would I attempt to sew fabric back to knit front. If you make an envelope closure (with buttons) on the back, the end result will be hand-washable. I would forgo this step, and opt instead for a fringe or cabled piping that will give your pillow a more professional finish. The fringe or cable can be whip-stitched in place once your back and front have been machine sewed. This option means your pillow can only be dry-cleaned (whatever is within your comfort zone, obviously). My biggest worry is how to marry the back to the front, and the fringe or cabled piping will hide a multitude of sins. (Ask me how I know).

    I hope those instructions are clear! Fire away if you need any clarification!

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    • Doug’s titles were definitely good ones; Emma liked them too. I agree that I should give the sewing a try, though at the moment I am thinking of seeking advice from a professional. My other option is to knit up a small swatch and try sewing it first.

  6. Your work is beautiful. To make the cushion, I would use a backing fabric (like a sturdy muslin) the same size as the blocked knit front, basting the 2 fabrics together to avoid the knit stretching and any “see through”. The silk fabric itself may need to be interfaced for durability and strength. I think a bias cord around the knit portion and the silk edging in the same silk or contrasting fabric (perhaps a knit icord) will give it that finished look. Sewing a straight line is not hard. Go slow. I’m sure you can do it.

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