The Art Of Steeking

water-bottle
Turning a kid’s knit into a water bottle cover. Photo by Maude Farrugia

Steeking may not only revolutionise the way you knit, but it also offers a great way to upcycle or reconstruct knitted garments, tailor them to your needs, and save them from landfill or eternal damnation in your darning pile.

What does ‘steek’ mean exactly? If you’re a knitter, you may have seen the word ‘steek’ used in patterns. The technique of steeking garments is not commonly practised in Australia. So it’s not surprising if Australian knitters feel a little bamboozled about its actual meaning.

Steeking is a very old tradition. It is believed to be the original way of putting knitted garments together; and it is still practised around the world, from Estonia to the Shetland Islands and many other places with a strong knitting culture.

What Is Steeking?

In modern knitting, steeking is the act of cutting a piece of knitting and then sewing it back together. Garments are knitted in the round – one tube for the body and two for the sleeves. Because there are no purl rows when you knit in the round, it is a fast and easy technique to create a garment. It also enables the knitter to create an even tension when doing colourwork, and to carry a second colour doing Fair Isle knitting.

In a knitted steeked garment, the areas to be cut (armholes, necklines and button bands) are reinforced using a line of sewing – zigzag and straight stitches – or traditionally crochet, placed a few rows in from where you intend to cut. This holds your knitted stitches in place and prevents them from unravelling. You then sew facing along the cut edge to neaten it.

Even if you’re not a habitual knitter, steeking can be a great crafty skill to pick up, as it just requires a simple bit of sewing and a good pair of scissors. You don’t need to knit a garment from scratch to practise steeking; you can use steeking to remodel old jumpers.

Project 1: Steeked Patches

Turn some knitted scraps into durable patches. In this project we’ll be using two techniques, felting and steeking, to create durable natural patches that are still soft and pliable. Note: this won’t work on superwash wools which are woollen garments that don’t shrink in a normal washing machine cycle – the yarns used in these garments have been coated in plastic or acid-bathed to ensure they won’t felt.

  • Step one: Use tailors’ chalk or a fabric marker to mark the perimeter of where you will be cutting the patch.
  • Step two: With your sewing machine on the loose stitch setting, zig-zag stitch around the inside edge of your line.
  • Step three: Cut around line. You now have a fabric patch.
  • Step four: To felt the patch, use the non-wool cycle on your washing machine – this may take a few wash cycles, depending on the wool type. Or felt it in a basin of hot soapy water and rub your fingernails over the woollen patch in the soapy water until it has a felted quality.
  • Step five: Your patch is now ready to use! You can hand-stitch it in place over a hole, or use an iron-on adhesive and reinforce the patch by oversewing. It’s a great idea to have a bunch of these patches in your darning stash, ready to use. Refer to Pip issue 15 for tips about stitches to use

Clockwise from left: Steeked patches bring your favourite jumper back to life; Combining two worn-out garments to make a new and improved one. Photo by Maude Farrugia

Project 2: Steeked Hot Water Bottle Cover

Turn a child’s jumper into a hot water bottle cover.

Kid’s handknits are cute, but they grow out of them so quickly! Turn a favourite jumper into a special memento, or upcycle an imperfect one into something new and wonderful.

  • Step one: Place hot water bottle inside jumper to check how much of the garment you will need to trim away.
  • Step two: Use tailors’ chalk or a fabric marker to mark lines to be cut. You will need to make two cuts to trim off arms and one to trim the base of the cover. These cutting lines should be at least 2.5 cm from the edge of the hot water bottle.
  • Step three: Run a line of zig-zag stitches approximately one cm inside your cutting line, using your sewing machine’s loose setting. Repeat with a line of straight stitches, also on a loose setting. Ensure you are stitching over both sides of the garment, (i.e. stitching them together).
  • Step four: Cut garment along the lines marked.
  • Step five: Turn inside out.
  • Step six: Sew a French seam on the inside, around one cm from the edge. To sew a French seam, sew a narrow seam with the wrong sides facing together. Trim along raw edge. Turn seam inside out. Sew a wider seam with right sides facing together. Your raw edge is now enclosed and your French seam is done!
  • Step seven: Turn right side out.

Project 3: Steeked Cardigan Renovation

Re-model holed, unwearable woollens into a cosy, draughtfree cardigan. In this project we merged a cardigan that had been sitting in our darning pile for years, with a favourite possum jumper that had been shrunk in the wash and had a few holes. Because the possum jumper and cardigan were fine, tight knits, we didn’t reinforce the cut edges with zig-zag stitches, as the edges were unlikely to unravel quickly. If you did the same project with handknits, we’d advise reinforcing the cut edges with zig-zag stitches or a line of crochet, to ensure they don’t unravel.

  • Step one: Find the centre of your jumper and mark this with a fabric marker or tailors’ chalk. Cut along this line.
  • Step two: Button the cardigan and mark a line along either side of the button band, about 3.75 cm from the centre on each side. Cut along these lines.
  • Step three: Fold one edge of the jumper, opening inward, about one cm, and the corresponding edge of the cardigan button band outward the same amount. Place them together so each covers the raw edge of the other. Pin in place.
  • Step four: With your sewing machine on the loose setting, stitch along the inside of the button band to secure the two pieces together. Topstitch on the front side to neaten.
  • Step five: Repeat with the other edge of the button band/jumper opening. Patch any holes with steeked patches and your renovation is complete!

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