The Adventure of the Warm Puppy: Part Three
For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.
For the the first part of this adventure, click here.
In the two weeks since the last installment, I’ve had more than a few inquiries about one aspect of Rosamund’s sweater-in-progress…
…namely, the leg openings and how they were made.
I knew from the first that I wanted to work this piece in the round, with steeks cut for the forelegs. That aroused comment, because there is a widespread sentiment in the knitting community about steeks.
This is silly.
Steeks are not frightening in the least, nor are they difficult. They’re like everything else in knitting: bewildering, when you don’t know how they’re done; and exciting, once you do.
Since so many of you asked for more information about steeks, we’re going to devote the next two parts of this adventure to those in Rosamund’s sweater.
A steek, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is an opening cut into a piece of knit fabric that follows the vertical* grain–the columns of stitches, as opposed to the rows or rounds. The word comes to us (thanks to the inimitable Alice Starmore) from the Shetland word for “gate” or “opening.” Steeks are traditionally much used on Fair Isle sweaters.
You will sometimes find “steek” definied as a “slashed vertical opening” because “slashed” sounds more dramatic than “cut,” as though you went at your sweater with a kitchen knife or meat cleaver. Indeed, who among us has not felt the impulse?
But steeks are almost never impulsive. You plan for them.
Planning the Opening(s)
Rosamund has two front legs. Therefore, two steeks. Therefore, double the fun. Where to place them?
Let’s take another look at the measurements.
Measurement F, the distance from the collar to the shoulder, tells us how long our top-down sweater must be when the openings begin: 5 inches.
The sweater reached 5 inches after a series of increase rounds–described in detail in the previous installment. At this point, the number of stitches per round had risen to 124 stitches.
To figure out where in that round to start the openings, this is what we do.
1. Take note of our gauge, which is 4.5 stitches and 6.5 rounds per inch.
2. We look at measurement E, the space between the legs: 4 inches. At our gauge, that means we must preserve 18 stitches at the bottom center between the openings.
3. Next we look at measurement H, the leg circumference, to figure out how many stitches are required in this first round for each opening. The total measurement is 9 inches, and we will make use of roughly one half** of that number: 4.5 inches, which at our gauge is roughly 20 stitches.
And so that first round–the foundation round of our steeks–will look something like this:
Knitting the Openings
With calculations complete, we start knitting.
It would have been kind of messy to show this on the actual sweater, so instead I cooked up a simple swatch to demonstrate how one steek opening is made. The swatch is small–only 26 stitches wide–and knit flat; but the process was the same on the circular sweater.
Here I’ve knit a few rows of stockinette to stand in for the sweater from the collar down to the foundation round of the leg holes–the round we planned above.
In that foundation round, when we reach the stitches needed to begin the opening, we slip them onto a piece of scrap yarn
and then we cast on*** a certain number of brand new stitches to serve as the foundation of what is often called the “bridge.” This is the fabric that’ll be cut. The number of stitches in the bridge can vary. For the steek technique I have in mind, we need an odd number and a minimum of five. I used five in Rosamund’s sweater, but to make this demonstration very clear I cast on seven.
Now, if you are accustomed to reading your knitting, you won’t necessarily need stitch markers on either side of your bridge stitches. But if you are new to steeks and/or not confident in reading your knitting, they can be helpful.
With the bridge stitches cast on we simply continue knitting.
The main fabric, as before, is in stockinette. To distinguish the bridge fabric, we work it in reverse stockinette.
If we want to shape the opening, and we often do, it’s easy and frankly rather magical. Let’s say we want to expand the width of this opening at both sides. First, we knit up to the last two stitches before the first marker, and we knit two together.
We slip the marker and work the bridge stitches as usual. THIS IS IMPORTANT: All shaping happens outside the bridge. The bridge stitches do not decrease or increase; if we start with seven, we end with seven.
Once past the bridge and second marker, we slip, slip, knit to decrease in the first two stitches.
In the following row, we do not decrease.
If we repeat these two rows–one with decreases, one without–five times, we begin to see that our opening is changing shape**** and the knitting looks extremely odd. People who have never worked steeks will begin to think you are some kind of mad genius. There is no reason to tell them otherwise.
Once the steek has reached its full height, we bind off only (only!) the bridge stitches. Be sure not to bind off any stitches that are part of the main fabric. If you’ve been using markers, you can discard them now.
When, in the following row or round, we come to the place where the bridge used to be, we cast on whatever number of stitches the pattern calls for. This number will vary. In the photograph above, you’ll see that I cast on ten stitches–the total number I had decreased–so the swatch will lie nice and flat while I demonstrate the cutting process…in two weeks.
*There is a method for cutting an opening that follows the horizontal grain, and we will certainly play with it another time because it’s super fun.
**This was a guess on my part, and gave a very wide leg hole. Next time, I will probably go with a smaller fraction of the total measurement–something closer to about a quarter.
***Working with a single color, I typically use a simple backward loop cast on.
****Please don’t get the impression that you must mirror your shaping. You may shape in any way that suits you. Rosamund’s leg openings were shaped only along the upper edge, rather like a racer-back tank top, because I didn’t want to remove any of the fabric covering her delicate pink undercarriage.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
Simpliworsted by HiKoo® (55% Merino Superwash, 28% Acrylic, 17% Nylon; 140 yds per 100g skein). Color: 611, Earth and Sky.
addi® Olive Wood circular needles size US 4, 16 inch (40 cm)
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.