Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steek Geek

The lopapeysa chugged one station closer to Finishville yesterday, after I cut the steek down the front. Snippity-snip. Instant cardigan.

Lopapeysa Steek

This isn't my first steek, but it's the first time I've secured the edges using a sewing machine instead of rows of crochet. I chose the sewing option because it was for me the less familiar and the more unnerving. Like that nice Mae West, when choosing between two evils I always pick the one I haven't tried yet.

I've only recently started to make friends with my sewing machine. There are still awkward moments, when I'm not sure of myself and she just sits there waiting for me to make a move. We have navigated successfully through a couple of hems, a square pillow and the lower portion of a doll; but never had I run a length of hand-knitting between the presser foot and the feed dogs.

A test drive was in order. I whipped out a swatch* that transitioned (like the lopapeysa) from one color to two. This took ten minutes, and probably saved me an hour's trouble in the long run.

Steek Swatch

I used the swatch to determine the top tension setting, the stitch length, and the amount of effort I'd need (not much, it turned out) to keep the fabric sliding along the machine bed.

This is not to say there were no bumps. Some knitters like to preserve the illusion of infallibility, but I blew that opportunity years ago. I might as well 'fess up.

The first pass–done with the wrong side of the fabric up, which I'd been told would help me stay on track–was a disaster. It wiggled like an EKG for the first eleven inches, then ran off the steek and and landed in the yoke pattern.

Notice, however, that I am still here, alive, typing this. Notice that the sweater was not wrecked. Notice that the police blotter in the Chicago Sun-Times did not report a man hurling a sewing machine out the living room window and into Lake Michigan.

I learned what happens when (horrors!) your sewn steek goes astray. What happens is you get your seam ripper and you un-pick the stitches. I decided to undo the entire twenty-inch seam. It took thirty minutes. I watched half an episode of Monarch of the Glen while I was doing it. There are worse ways to pass time.

The second and third passes (with the right side up) were uneventful, and whatever jitters attended my maiden voyage with this technique will bother me no more.

Before starting the sleeves, I decided to run a row of single crochet up each selvedge.

Steek Edging

I'm so happy I did. The edges have more body, look spiffy, and will provide a more stable base for the zipper.

Sleeves are next. I know I can do sleeves.

*I felt compelled to post a photograph of the swatch to prove that I had done it. I think not swatching and saying you did is one of the dirty little secrets of knitting. It's like flossing your teeth. Maybe you do, maybe you don't; but either way you're going to give the dentist the same answer–which is never "Oh, frankly, I just couldn't be bothered."


Barbara said...

the only time I used my sewing machine to stabilize a steek first, I pinned paper on top and bottom of the knit and stitched thru all three layers. The paper tore away afterwards and I didn't worry about the feed dogs or presser foot catching my knit stitches.

Sally said...

I love Monarch of the Glen!!! Love your sweater even more! Congrats on a successful steek.

Kari said...

Oh, Franklin...

There is a quicker & easier way to rip out a machine stitched seam!

First, use a small scissors to clip one thread, (either the top or the bottom, but not both!) every 2-4" depending on how tight the tension is. (Tighter and you should clip closer together.)

Then, pull the opposite, intact thread, and it should pull free. If it doesn't, pick out the clipped strands. After that, the intact thread will fall free with a slight tug.

I am in awe of your smarts and persistence of will, but especially your willingness to take the unknown path. I agree, its the best way to teach yourself, if a bit scary!?! Hehe...

Whirlybird said...

The first steek I did required a swatch with about a dozen lines running up and down with the sewing machine. The last time before that that I used a sewing machine was in the 7th grade home ec class where I had to sew an apron. I brought it home and told my mom not to laugh when I showed it to here. "Oh, honey, I'd never laugh at anything you did!" Here I am decades later with her laughter still ringing in my ears. So you can bet I practiced on that swatch until there was no more space to stitch.

KnitNana said...

Barbara, you're a genius! I will take this tip with me, thank you...

And Franklin, as usual, I'm enthralled with your fortitude. I despise taking the seam ripper to cotton quilt fabric. I cannot (yet) imagine taking one to knitted fabric.
The steek is lovely (so's the knitting)

Colleen said...

Are you going to use Techknitter's knitpicker zipper installation method? I have used the sew a crochet chain to the zipper tape, then graft it in quite successfuly, but I'm looking forward to the nitpicker method, next time!

Debbi said...

Love it! Nice steeks!!

Seanna Lea said...

I had a very similar problem with my machine sewn steek (my first and possibly not the last). I ran out of my row, though not quite as far as the yoke pattern. It made for a drunken meander of a steak, but it still worked well enough to make a nice cardigan. Of course, I should have picked it out and tried again.

NancyFancyPants said...

My standard answer to the dentist is, "yes, every time I eat corn on the cob."

Still haven't tried steeking, but I love your idea of trying it on a swatch first.

Bonnie said...

Steeks are on my list to try. I am afraid, but Ann Weaver's Oranje pattern might be the one that pushes me to the scissors!

Stephanie said...

You could not be watching something more fitting than Monarch of the Glen while knitting. I cried like a baby when I finished the series, not because of anything that happened, but because it was OVER. Alexander Morton, though way too old for me, is on My List, if only because he will call me "Lassie."

Anonymous said...

Very brave of you, Franklin. Your cardigan is beautiful! Great steeking! It took me months to get the courage up to do my first steeks on a Dale of Norway sweater I was knitting for my husband but it turned out great!

Lorna's Laces said...

The response to the dentist? "With every waking moment"

Jess said...

What's weird is that what I got out of this was the possibility that if you threw your sewing machine out the window, it would land in Lake Michigan, and that made me profoundly jealous. ;) Of course, there is also the possibility that you are just more buff than I am, and while the lake is far, far away, you would just have so much oomph behind your kick...

Miss Knotty said...

Your steek looks fantastic! How did you sew through the front without sewing it to the back of the sweater when you were running it through the machine? I'm confused about this element.

Miss Knotty, who has only sewn flat pieces on the sewing machine.

word verification: Vitipi: the onomatopoetic sound a sewing machine makes when someone is trying to defenestrate it, their aim is slightly off and it hits the window bracing on its way out.

Carolyn D said...

Looks great! I 'fess, I've never heard of steeking. I had no idea about such a technique. It's so clean and clever! There are lifetimes of learning about knitting.

I've wanted to work with projects that combine sewing and knitting. This steeking stuff opens up that world. Thanks for keeping it interesting.

Linda Walsh said...

Add st least seven stitches as your steek. Make the center and the ones a stitch away from the center purled
stitches. Now, run your reinforcement in the outer two purl ditches and cut along the center ditch. It is so much easier to do when you have lines to work in.

mly said...

Wow. Just wow. Can you bring this to the Photography class in NYC at the beginning of December? I just signed up and would love to see this cardigan in person.

ReneeRothmann said...

If you haven't made a line of purl stitches to keep your steek on course, a simple option is to thread a needle with contrasting thread and run a line up the middle of the sweater and then sew the two rows of stitching on both sides of it. Secondly, if you pull the knitting sideways (a little) it is easy to machine stitch the same line of knit stitches because you can see them more clearly as you come to them. Then, to Miss Knotty, the secret is to keep feeling under your knitting to make sure you're only sewing through one layer and keep pushing the other stuff away from the needle. Franklin, having started with the sewing machine and then tried knitting, I am completely impressed that you have tried (patiently) sewing. And the sweater is gorgeous.

Anonymous, too said...

I don't know that I'd have the big, brass cojones needed to cut a steek in my first lopapeysa!

And I prefer another of Ms. West's famous quotes: "When I'm good, I'm very, very good -- and when I'm bad, I'm even better!"

Charlene said...

I spent the mid80s knitting Icelandic sweaters, but never got to a cardigan. Might have to hit the attic stash . . .aaah, "Monarch of the Glen" - Duncan dancing in that kilt in episode 4 or so . . .

Gecika said...

Eventually I'll be brave enough to steek, but till then... I'll settle for adapting a top-down lopapeysa!

leFiligree said...

my birthday is in 2 weeks. just saying. with 5-7 day shipping that gives you about a week to finish this. ;) love the colors.

Anonymous said...

How could you focus on anything like seam-ripping when "Monarch of the Glen" was on? When WYCC was running them, I practically couldn't move. Although I did use and abuse the library copy of "North and South" when I had to get a shawl done right then, no getting up for anything. I put down all the dropped stitches to Richard Armitage smouldering... Gwyn

Diane said...

Good progress! I should try the crochet method for steeking one of these days; I like the edge and stability that you said it has.

Word verification is "smossea", too early for me to come up with a definition for it.

Anonymous said...

I am both a knitter and a sewer, more experienced in the latter. I have not done a steek, but the next time you might want to try using a walking foot on your machine. They are wonderful, moving what you are sewing both from the top and the bottom and less likely to stretch what you are sewing.

Pretty Knitty said...

OMGosh - beautiful! Steeking scares me to death! And you swatched...with proof! I didn't think I could be more impressed with you, but I am...

SallyM said...

So very pretty!! I will definitely check out Monarch of the Glen - I have a PI shawl to finish :)

Torhild (NL) said...

oh i remember my first time! nervwrecking! it was a (at the time very modern) cardigan in blue and white with a sort of a wavy part from the wast down. one round took me about an hr to finish. and I had to cut into this...!!! remeber i also knitted 3 sleves as the second didn't match the fist. i know better know: knit both at the same time! have to admit: i never knit a swatch :-/... once i decided to do so and the finished item turned out waaaaaay to big anyway. so; stuff that!! have a great weekend
(ps absolutely LOVED M of the G! oh dear, have to admit i fancied Archie rotten ;-) - but keep that secret to yourself pls!)

AnneMarie said...

I just found Monarch of the Glen. It has sheep, Country Dancing and a hunky guy. Kinda like it. Steek on!

Liz said...

I think not swatching and saying you did isn't as bad as actually swatching and saying you didn't - like those kids at school who claimed not to have done any revision and yet still got straight A's, allegedly from natural brilliance.

I also second the suggestion of hand stitching a guideline before machine sewing the steek - works a treat, especially on knitting with a finer gauge.

FiberQat said...

I hope your steeking gives those who are a'feared of steenkin' steeks a little confidence. Perhaps you should include that in your classes. Or do you and I don't know it?

@Colleen, I'm curious now about the crochet chain on the zipper before installation. Thanks for posting that info!

WV= inalirth Isn't that a tiny village where they discovered how to do some obscure knitting technique?

Gerri said...

I have done one machine steel and didn't love the result . How do you feels out machine vs crochet???

Am thinking of going zipper with my lopapeysa...

SusieQ100 said...

You're a braver man than me, Gunga Din!! (As my mother used to say!!!)

kmkat said...

Steeking, schmeeking -- I just requested season one of Monarch of the Glen from the library.

3goodrats said...

That looks really fantastic - you are a braver person than I! Until my sewing machine learns to cooperate, it's not getting near my knitting.

I watched Monarch of the Glen pretty obsessively a year or two ago, and I thought it was fantastic. (There were also some nice sweaters.)

Anonymous said...

Another version of the paper method - keep (say 2 x 10 cm.) lengths of pattern weight card stock in your machine drawer. For all knits, line up the cardboard just to the left of the needle and sew on! It keeps the knit from stretching under the foot and gives you a straight line to follow. Love your blog!

Ásdís said...

I felt compelled to comment on your post because I'm an icelander and a knitter and have knitted a few lopapeysa in my life ... I have yet to knit one top down though, we are taught to do it the hard way in school, so i was very confused when you said you had finished the body and were on to the sleeves now ... it took a few moments for me to process =) I've only ever done it bottom up.
I usually leave the steeking to my mom, who is a pro at the lopapeysa and cranks one out for a birthday or just because a relative requested it, about 1-2 a month.
Addictive to knit indeed =)
Good luck with the rest of the garment and I hope you'll love wearing one as much as the icelanders do =)

hatnitter said...

When I was looking for that perfect zipper for my yarn, I ordered one from the lovely folks at I sent them a swatch and they matched it based on color and weight, and cut to my exact length. It only took a few days for all to be complete, and the cost was similar to what I'd pay in the chain stores. Now isn't our hand-knitting worth a little more perfection?

Bubble Juice said...

Moxie, moxie, moxie....

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Eren Mckay said...

I really like that book! The armadillo creates a very awesome turtle if you knit the spend in a variegated darkish shade and our bodies in natural ;-)


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