1. So, while I didn’t finish two sweaters and a scarf last week, as was my original plan/fantasy, I did finish one sweater and seventy-five percent of a scarf.
2. I would still really rather be wearing the scarf than knitting the scarf, but I persevere.
3. The Noro striped scarves always turn out so nicely that I can forgive the gods of random-Noro-stripe-combinations for tossing out the occasional bit of olive green sludge. The bright red and blue stripes will look yet awesomer in contrast.
4. The second sweater is done enough that I have very high hopes for it and my three hours of transit knitting time later today, when I shall be whisked away to sunny exotic Peterborough for some visiting with knitting friends and general pre-holiday relaxation. (There is talk of a ‘Love Actually’ viewing and eating of cheese, both of which I can get on board with).
5. The sweater that I did finish, got finished with the help of some steek reinforcement, cutting, and finishing, which I haven’t done in a while and every time I do it I remember how much fun it is.
6. It’s especially fun to do the reinforcing and finishing in a fabulously outlandish contrasting colour that nobody in the outside world will ever see.
7. This in combination with the colour-work class I taught yesterday makes me want to knit all the colour-work things, and then steek all the things.
8. Clearly the knitter in my head has ambitious plans for the week to come – I sure hope I catch up to her!
I don’t know if it’s the impending spring, or the crazy up-and-down-by-15C-every-3-days temperatures, or just a little bit of March Madness, but I’m starting to feel a bit of Start-itis coming on. I know it’s not just me – knitters in the Twitter-verse have been saying the same thing all week, which makes me feel a little bit better about rounding up big piles of pink, red, green, and orange yarn earmarked for various projects which, apparently, are all about to be “next.” Of course, they can’t all be next, but the knitter in my head has always had a rich fantasy life, and she never fails to provide the ambition.
I’ve been resisting (so far – i make no promises about the coming weekend) casting on All The Things in favour of making progress on the things already on the needles. The knitter in my head had sort of hoped that I would be done with my Velvet Morning cardigan already by now, but then I reminded her that it’s only been a week since I started it, and that perhaps having almost the entire body completed in that time is really nothing to sneeze at.
I mentioned in my post about this last weekend that I’m modifying this cardigan to include a steek, so that I may work it in the round. A few of you had some questions about that and how it’s going to work. If you’re just tuning in here and haven’t heard me wax on about steeks before, or if you’ve never encountered this technique before or even heard the word ‘steek’ until you happened by my post the other day, I’m very happy to tell you more about it. As I work through this project I’ll be sure to keep you posted on what I’m doing, but here’s the basic gist of it.
In modifying Velvet Morning for work in the round, all I did was cast on as-written for the size that I wanted, in the appropriate needle size to get gauge, and add enough stitches to create a steek panel where the cardigan gap will be located at the front of the body. The rest of it will proceed as normal, with the exception that the body will be done in the round except for flat or ‘back-and-forth’.
The steek is a relatively old technique (exactly how hold, I’m not sure, but…a long while, let’s say. Norwegian knitters and Shetland knitters have been all over this for a long time), and all it is is a panel of stitches located in a spot where you want to have a gap, but avoid putting the gap in to begin with because you want to be able to work in the round. The steek stitches are not at all involved with the pattern stitches for the actual garment, except in the sense that you need to know where they are.
So, essentially, this is a technique that allows you to only work “Right Side” rows by working continuously in the round, without turning back to do the “Wrong Side.” The times when you want to use this technique are the times when working in the round and later cutting a steek is a preferable option to working “Wrong Side” rows. The most obvious and frequent application of this is for stranded colour-work, and the place where you’re most likely to encounter this technique is for things like Fair Isle sweaters (where you want gaps for armholes, cardigan fronts, etc), colour-work blankets (where you want to make a square but knit a tube first, then cut it up one side), or intricately cabled cardigans (where the cable twists occur every round or 2/3 rounds, rather than neatly alternating between RS and WS rows).
There are many different ways to work with steeks, and to reinforce them (which is something I get into when I teach this ), but it always involves cutting. It’s a bit scary the first time you do it, but generally everyone still lives to tell the tale afterward.
I’ll be sure to keep you posted as progress occurs, dear knitters – I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the final cutting and sewing up! Tomorrow I’m off to Collingwood to spend a day with knitters at Grey Heron Yarns’ Knit Fest, and teach some classes (no steeking, but there will be colour-work!). I’m sure it’ll be a great time.
I have been thinking a lot lately about running. This is partly because it’s spring now (officially, at least, even if the weather is still catching up one step at a time), and also because I go through periods (like now-ish) of latching onto new challenges and projects for goal-setting. This is also one of the many reasons I love knitting – it gives me projects to work on and finish. I may not know for sure what my employment situation will be in a few months, but by gar I know what knitting I’d like to work on, and I know races I’ll be running in the spring and fall. (Toronto Sportinglife 10k on May 1st, Wellington women’s half marathon in June, Edmonton half-marathon in August, and the MCM 10k in DC in October, for anyone curious. Ah-yep, that’ll be a fun year to train for). It’s also one of the best kinds of stress relief I’ve got at my disposal. It’s a lot harder to work up the energy to be stressed if you’ve just come back from an hour or more of running.
I’ve also reached a point with my running where I can start to re-define my own version of crazy. Last year, my first half marathon was just crazy enough. This year, one is not enough, I need more crazy than that. This weekend I also started reading this book by this guy. and realized that actually, my version of crazy is is truly on my own scale. When you read about a guy who ran 50 marathons in 50 days and not only lived to tell the tale but finished #50 faster and healthier than #1, well. That’ll make you stop and think a bit about what qualifies as “too hard” or “impossible”.
Reading him explain about his running and why challenges like running long distances is something people sign up for voluntarily actually resonates a lot with why I love knitting and challenging myself with yarnly mediums. Nobody’s forcing us to do this, we take it on ourselves because it speaks to us in a way that other hobbies or mindful pursuits don’t, and like running, it’s hard to ever see the bottom of it. There is always more of it out there to do. And i often struggle with running the same way I struggle with knitting – going through periods of reminding myself why I like it, finding new technique or new ways of balancing it into my life, reminding myself to compete only with myself instead of against others.
And if you stick with running long enough, you realize that yes, it does get hard, but that’s OK because even when it’s hard it can still feel good. I often desperately wish I was a faster runner, but that’s the same thing that makes me feel better when I try a harder run and do a bit better than I did the week before.
So, anyhow, on the weekend I taught another class on steeking, and had an awesome time with it as usual, and found myself thinking a lot of these same things. Yes, colour-work can be a challenging technique to learn. And yes, steeking (cutting up your knitting on purpose), can be a challenging concept to wrap your brain around and can require a leap of faith that it will actually work out. But that doesn’t mean these things aren’t fun. If you ask me, they’re some of the most fun you can have with your knitting. Steeking is one of the few knitting techniques that appears impressive to both knitters and non-knitters – one of the times when you can say “SEE LOOK WHAT I DID!” and non-knitters will be just as impressed with it as you are.
Not everyone is going to feel called to sign up for a bunch of running races and train for them (but if you do, kudos, and let’s be buds), but if you’re a knitter you can’t deny that this is a leisure pursuit that will give you as many challenges as you want, and reward you just as often as you try them. I was once a person who didn’t think she could run a half-marathon. I was once a person who was intimidated by cables and didn’t understand how they worked. I can’t say either of these things any more. I wonder what new things I’ll be able to say about my knitting in the coming year? I’m going to do my best to keep it not boring, that’s for sure.
I hope you find some new knitting challenges this week! And I hope your yarn is waiting for you at the end of the day.
This is about the point when I should really be showing off my finished fair isle yoke sweater, because it’s done and I’ve worn it and it’s lovely and comfortable. But of course, I still haven’t managed to get some finished object shots of it, so I’m a bit behind. I also need to do a proper 2010 projects-roundup, but I’ll get there soon.
In the mean time, I wanted to go back to the whole ‘steek’ thing, because I mentioned cutting the steek back in my last post before Christmas, and realized after a few of you commented about it, that I didn’t actually fully explain what a steek is and there may be some of you wondering what the heck it is, or who do know what it is but haven’t done one. Steeking, or cutting a steek, is, when all is said and done, the act of cutting up your knitting on purpose. You do this when you want to create a gap or opening in a piece of knitting that you have worked in the round, and the steek is the part of the knitting where you anticipate the cutting will happen. This is instead of what one might normally do in a styled garment, which is to work flat and turn the work at the point where these gaps normally appear – the cardigan front, the armholes, the neckline, etc. One inserts a few ‘extra’ stitches where the gap will appear, and carries on in the round.
It’s pretty common to do this in stranded colour-work garments, because it means you only have to ever work the Right Side of the work while knitting in two colours at a time, and that saves you the trouble of trying to purl in two colours on the Wrong Side of the work. (Having said that, there are people – my mother included – who choose to simply work the Wrong Side anyway and omit the steek, because they prefer two-colour purling to having to do the steeking thing. It’s whatever brand of crazy you prefer).
If you’re doing this in 100% non-superwash wool, you don’t even need to reinforce it if you don’t want to, because the wool stitches cling to their neighbours well enough that it will not unravel. Unless, you know, you’re planning to really manhandle it or throw it under traffic or something like that. But there are different ways of reinforcing steeks, and in this case I did a sewn reinforcement – running two lines of sewing down the edges of the steek stitches, which is the quickest and most versatile way to reinforce a steek. (You can see the lines of sewing in the picture, above).
Back in December before Christmas, I had the wherewithal to get my sister to take a video clip while I was cutting the cardigan steek on the sweater. Because let’s face it, this is a one-shot opportunity. There’s no do-over on cutting up your knitting. I was hurriedly trying to finish my sweater alongside gift-wrapping, baking, visiting, etc – which probably explains my slightly frenetic tone of voice in the vid, heh – and honestly, the cutting up took less than a minute. If you haven’t had the good fortune to cut up a sweater of your own and want to know how it goes, well. This is how it goes.
Seriously, this is one of the best things ever. You can try it at home any time you want. Knit up a swatch – or even better, just go and find an old swatch in wool yarn, and make a vertical cut in it, and carry the bits around in your handbag for a while and see how it holds up. It’s awesome.
As for the post-steeking work, a couple of people asked how I was going to finish the steek after it had been cut, and I took a couple of shots here as well. There are naturally different options for finishing a steek, depending on what you want to do with the sweater. Elinor, who has done a yet awesomer job than me of explaining all of this, has a nice photo tutorial on the subject of reinforcing and finishing. In this case, I knew I was going to work a ribbed buttonband along the cardigan fronts. So, I mostly just wanted everything to look tidy on the inside.
Nobody would fault you for simply trimming the sewn edge evenly and leaving it as-is, but I decided to go one step above that. I folded down the edges towards the inside of the work, and neatly stitched them flat.
And then, you have a finished sweater. It’s pretty great. The only problem is that it’s entirely possible that once you’ve cut one steek, you’ll have the bloodlust and will want to cut up something else. Which means that you’ll have to go off and knit another project that requires steeking. But then, I suppose that’s not a problem after all, is it?
I have reached that stage of the holidays where, despite the fact that my load is relatively light compared to many others with enormous families, I have come to terms with the fact that not everything I wanted to get done is going to happen before Christmas, and I’ll just let finished things happen where they may. Some of the cookies will be post-Christmas cookies. I’ll finish up the Lord of the Rings re-viewing maybe on Boxing Day. I’ll be getting on a plane tomorrow and that’ll be some nice key knitting time right there.
My grandfather’s socks, the only knitted gift that is a real must on my list, are on the go and are likely going to be the only thing I’ll work on for the next few days. I started them yesterday (ahahaha yeah, I’m a bit behind) in between stirring the pot of caramel I had going while attempting to make caramel marshmallows. (You know, because I somehow burned half of the simple sugar cookie recipe, but managed to make caramel marshmallows just fine? Yeah, I don’t know either.) Needless to say, those took basically all afternoon yesterday, but they are delicious. And a few little bags of them will be gifted, which is extra awesome.
I’ve also been so close to finishing up my Elizabeth Zimmerman yoked sweater that have been letting myself spend time on it this week in the scant couple of days that I’m at the homestead in Hamilton, because there is a sewing machine and I’ve been mostly by myself (my parents are living abroad this year, in Australia, and my sister and I carry on to relatives in Edmonton for Christmas festivities), which means I get to do things like make caramels and cut steeks whenever I darned well please. And I’m really looking forward to a) having a new winter sweater to wear, as well as b) finally finishing one of the ongoing projects I’ve had lingering for a couple of months and being able to move on to a new sweater or something else according to my whims.
I picked this back up again a week or two ago after neglecting it for a bit, and it’s only just gotten interesting in the last few days with the addition of the fair isle patterns on the yoke. It’s been the sort of project that I haven’t displayed much of on the blog because it would have amounted, essentially, to a sequence of photos of more brown stockinette knitting. But then, suddenly, poof, the colour-work portion came up and I was buoyed to get it done. The buttonband and neckband are just going to be basic ribbing, which means the steek edge is going to be visible on the wrong side of the work (as compared to a folded-over facing), so I elected to do just a simple sewn reinforcement. I sewed a line of stitches down each side of the middle of the steek…
…and then cut right down the middle.
And that was that. Done and done. I tell you, steeking never gets old. And because this sweater is worked all at once in the round, all I have now is the ribbing for the buttonband, a few ends to sew in, and I’ll be done. Of course, there is the small matter that I forgot that I will need buttons, to sew onto the buttonband. But I’m sure that’s just a small matter, right? Buttons will magically materialize somehow? Um…maybe? I’ll be on the lookout. And will be sure to report back when it’s all done for good.
Whatever stage of holiday or non-holiday knitting, craziness, or both, you may be at right now, I wish you the best this week. And I’ll toast you all when I have a drink with my knitting later on tonight. And tomorrow. And probably Christmas Day and the day after that.