Scissors and snips — we so seldom use them in our knitting craft. Their main uses in our toolkits are often inconsequential: to free a skein so it can be wound, to break off the working yarn from the ball when it’s time to do so (unless you prefer using your hands for this bit), to snip yarn ends after they’ve been woven in, and, on occasion, to make and trim pom-poms.
However, there’s another, consequential thing you can cut into — your knitting itself!
For example, there are times where you might want to turn a sweater knit in the round (a tube) into a cardigan, as if it were knit flat. On an occasion such as this — when you want to create a wearable opening, from top to bottom, in a knitted item that was worked in the round — a pair of scissors can come in quite handy.
This technique is called steeking and it allows a piece to be knit in the round even when openings (such as cardigan fronts, armholes, or necklines) are necessary. This is especially helpful for stranded colorwork knitting, as it avoids the need to purl back while stranding, making your work much easier and your tension more even.
If you’re gasping at the thought of cutting into your beautiful knitting, don’t worry — part of the technique involves reinforcing either side of your opening before you create it, so there’s no risk of your hard work coming undone.
Intrigued? Let us show you the basics.
Anatomy of a Steek
The term steek refers to the “bridge” that you work into your knitting, along the vertical axis where you want your piece to be cut. It helps guide your scissors and reinforces both sides of the opening that you create. Steeks are worked over an odd number of stitches and alternate between the Dominant Color and the Background Color. Our swatch above uses a 5-stitch steek, cast on to join a flat garter stitch hem in the round.
Preparing Your Work: Basting
Before cutting through the center stitch of the steek, first you’ll need to reinforce it so it doesn’t fray or unravel.
A good tip before getting started is to run a basting stitch through the column of center stitches (3rd stitch), so you can easily identify it and keep your place as you’re reinforcing the steek.
Now that you’ve marked the center stitch of the steek, take a moment to get situated.
To reinforce the steek, you’ll be working a line of single crochets starting at the bottom left side (as you face the garment or swatch) and moving upward. When you get to the top of the steek, you’ll fasten off the yarn and rejoin new yarn to work down the right side of the steek.
If you crochet left-handed, you’ll work up the right side and then down the left side.
Attaching Your Yarn
Set-Up Step 1. Using a feltable (non-superwash) wool yarn and a crochet hook slightly smaller than the knitting needle size you used, insert your hook through the Cast On edge right below the 4th steek stitch (from back to front) and pull a loop of yarn through, leaving a tail long enough to weave in later.
Set-Up Step 2. Using the working yarn, pull another loop through the loop already on the hook.
For added security, you can repeat these steps once just to the right of where you attached your yarn (not in the same spot).
Moving Up the Left Side
Step 1. Insert your hook through the Right Leg of the 4th stitch and the Left Leg of the center stitch (3rd stitch). As you can see here, the Left Leg of the 4th stitch is in the Background Color and the Right Leg of the center stitch is in the Dominant Color.
Step 2. Pull a loop through both stitch legs; you’ll then have two loops on your hook.
Step 3. Pull another loop through both loops; you’ll then have one loop on your hook.
Continue moving up the steek in this manner, securing Left Legs to Right Legs. Use your basting stitch as a guide — it should remain to the right of your line of single crochets.
After crocheting a couple inches, you may find your work naturally folding and lining up your Left Legs and Right Legs. You can use this as a guide as well, but as always, keep double-checking!
Tip: Periodically tug your line of single crochets to assess tension. This line will be in your garment forever! It shouldn’t pucker or bloat along the edge — if it looks distorted, try changing your hook size or try a lighter-weight yarn.
Step 4. To secure your line of single crochets to the top (Bind Off edge) of your work, insert your hook through a bound off stitch slightly to the left of your crochet line. Pull a loop through; you’ll then have two loops on your hook.
Step 5. Pull another loop through both loops already on the hook; you’ll then have one loop.
For added security, you can repeat these steps once just to the left of where you secured the crochet line to the Bind Off edge (not in the same spot).
Step 6. Snip your yarn, leaving a tail long enough to weave in, and fasten off by pulling the full length of the tail through.
Going Down the Right Side
Rejoin new yarn at the Bind Off edge, to the right of the center steek stitch, following the above instructions for attaching your yarn (Set-Up Steps 1 and 2).
Continue down the steek in the same manner as you did for the Left Side. Once you’ve finished, you’ll find that your lines of single crochet have formed bracket shapes along your center steek stitch, as illustrated above.
Cutting Your Steek
At this point, go ahead and pull out your basting stitch.
Your two lines of single crochets naturally pull apart the Left Legs and Right Legs of your center steek stitch — you can see the “ladders” between them quite clearly here.
Now, using a pair of sharp scissors, cut right through those ladders!
Tip: Cut small sections at a time and try to make sure you can see the bottom blade of your scissors peeking up through the ladders before you cut. This is so you know you’re not cutting through your line of single crochets.
And it’s free! (Satisfying, no?)
You should have a nice column of V’s bordering your cut edges and encasing your raw ends. Over time, your crocheted reinforcement will felt, making it more secure.
The leftover “flaps” of your steek can simply be folded and invisibly tacked down to the wrong side of your work. If this were a cardigan, you can then pick up for your button bands along that neat edge.
Go Forth and Steek!
Eager to put this exciting technique into practice? Try the following from our Pattern Database (from left to right): Galloway Cardigan, Peaks Pullover, Ashland Pullover, and Redshift Shawl.