steeks 2: reinforcing and cutting

In this post I’m going to show you my preferred method for reinforcing a steek before cutting. My favourite method is the crocheted steek. Other methods are available, and I’m definitely not saying that this one is the “best” or the most “valid” or anything — it is simply the method that I like, and that I happen to use. I like it most because it creates a neat and flexible edge that remains at the same tension as the knitted fabric. I also like this method because the crocheted chain seems to ‘grab’ and contain the cut edges of the steek, squirrelling them away in a very pleasing fashion. Done well, there should be no “raw” edges, no loose ends of fraying yarn. All very reassuring for the nervous, novice steeker – and hopefully you’ll see what I mean in a moment.

Here’s a close-up of the swatch, which uses the Peerie Flooers motif. (This motif also features on a new (steeked) cardigan pattern which will be released in a week or so).

On the swatch above, you can see the steek stitches worked in stripes, sitting in the middle of the picture. A crocheted steek is always worked over an odd number of stitches — here, I’ve used five — and it is generally worked in a stripe or a checkerboard pattern. I like to work the five stitches in a striped sequence of background, contrast, background, contrast, background. That way you can see the central and two flanking stitches relatively easily. Your crocheted reinforcement will be worked over these three stitches.

Before you begin, weave in all your loose yarn ends to the back of the work. Place all of your weave-ends a few stitches to the left or right of your steek – that is – don’t weave in the ends to the back of the steek itself. This is to ensure that all potentially-fraying bits of yarn are sitting well-away from where you are going to cut.

Here are the steek stitches again. If you click on the picture below, you’ll see that I’ve numbered them 1 to 5 — stitch 1 to the right, and stitch 5 to the left, following the right-to-left direction of the knitting.

Here are charts that show the steek in the same colour pattern as the swatch, with the stitches numbered underneath, 1 through 5. Chart B has an arrow pointing to the centre stitch – stitch number 3. You are going to cut down the centre of this stitch later (as illustrated by the pink cutting line in chart D). Chart C has arrows pointing to stitches 2, 3, and 4. These three stitches are where you are going to work two chains of double (American single) crochet: the first chain will be worked between the front (left-hand) leg of stitch 2 and the back (right-hand) leg of stitch 3; and the second chain will be worked between the back (right-hand) leg of stitch 4 and the front (left-hand) leg of stitch 3.

I like to use a crochet hook a size or two smaller than the needle I used for knitting (here I’m using a 3mm crochet hook on a 3.25mm swatch). I also like to use a yarn that won’t break when working the crocheted reinforcement. Here I’m using a good strong sock yarn.

Now, make a slip-knot and place it on your hook.

Take your hook and push it through the bound-off edge at the top of the swatch, right through the centre of stitch 2.

Pull a loop through (2 loops on hook)

Pull the yarn through again, this time bringing it through both loops, securing your sock yarn to the bound-off edge of the swatch (1 loop on hook).

Now it is time to start reinforcing.
A) Working into the first row down from the bound-off edge, push your hook under the front leg of stitch 2 and the back leg of stitch 3 (3 loops on hook: 2 knitted ‘legs’ and 1 crocheted loop)

B) Now pull the working yarn through the two stitch-legs (2 loops on hook)

C) Pull the working yarn through both loops one more time. (1 loop on hook). You have now made one reinforcement stitch.

Continue in this manner, repeating steps A through C for every row of the swatch, pushing your hook under the front leg of stitch 2 and the back leg of stitch 3 each time. When you get to the bottom, secure your crochet chain to the cast-on edge of the swatch through the centre of stitch 2, and fasten off. If you look at your swatch from the side, this is what you see.

The loops of the crocheted reinforcement run through stitch 3, pulling it away from the centre of the steek and connecting it to stitch 2. You can also see the other leg of stitch 3 sitting next to stitch 4. This is where you are now going to work your second reinforcement.

Turn your swatch 180 degrees.
You are now going to work another chain in the opposite direction — from the cast-on edge to the bound-off one.
Push your hook through the centre of stitch 4, and fasten your sock yarn to the cast-on edge.
Working through the back leg of stitch 4, and the front leg of stitch 3, repeat steps A through C above, for every row of the swatch.

Here you see the second reinforcing chain beginning to emerge.

. . . and here are the two complete chains, lying parallel to one another.

For ease of cutting and neatness of finish, I have two top tips.
1) Do not work your crocheted reinforcement more than once into the same pair of stitches. It is tempting to do this, as logic would seem to suggest that more reinforcing is better, and should make the cut edge stronger. But, the opposite is actually the case. If you work more than one crocheted stitch into the knitted ones you produce a curiously rippling crocheted chain that refuses to sit flat and flush against the knitted fabric. With more crocheted stitches, the cut edge becomes flappy and difficult to deal with, rather than remaining neat and easily contained.
2) Make sure you turn your work 180 degrees before working the second reinforcing chain. That is: the first chain should be worked from top to bottom, and the second from bottom to top. This ensures that the front and back legs of stitch 3 are both pulled away from the centre of the steek, making it much easier for you to see where to cut. . .

. . . thus.


If you carefully pull the two crocheted reinforcements away from each other (as in the photo above), you will see a ladder of knitted strands running up the centre of stitch 3.

Take a small, sharp pair of scissors and cut each strand of this ladder, taking care not to cut the crocheted reinforcement.

Here is the steek with a few strands cut. . .

. . . here are the two edges beginning to divide from one another. . .

. . . and here’s what it looks like from the reverse. Can you see any raw ends? No, nor can I. That is because the crocheted reinforcement has magically squirrelled them away.

You just cut up your knitting!

From the top, the reinforcement looks like a normal crochet chain.

From underneath you can see how it grabs the edge of the steek.

The edge is clean, secure, flexible and very stable.


Right then, steekers, I think that’s all for today.

In the final installment of this series, I’m going to show you how to further secure and contain the cut edges of your steek using a technique that I’ve called the “steek sandwich”. This technique features on my forthcoming cardigan pattern, where it is used to create neat facings at the front edge openings. Until tomorrow, then!