My current work in progress:

Seaforth designed by Alice Starmore, knit in British Breeds 5-ply Guernsey Wool on US 3 needles.


I Blame the Internet

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages before the internet was available to the general population, I purchased a book: Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting. (This is the original 1988 edition I’m talking about so I have cleverly deduced that this was in the late 1980s.)

I flipped through the book and decided I wanted to make the Wave Cardigan. I ordered a bunch of Harrisville shetland wool, matching the colors as best I could to the Jamieson & Smith 2 Ply Jumper Weight the pattern called for. I noticed that the pattern instructed you to knit the cardigan in the round, and cut open the front and the armholes. “How cool, ” thought I, and did just that. I followed the instructions exactly, and the cardigan turned out great. Here’s a photo of it, taken all those many years ago before the days of the digital camera and scanned.

Nowadays you mention steeking to a group of knitters and 75% of them react with horror at the thought of cutting into their knitting. Me? I had no fear because I didn’t know to be scared. Alice Starmore told me to do it, and my experience was that she knew what she was doing. She did.

I blame the internet. People have passed on their fear of steeking in online forums and blogs. And I think a lot of this fear stems from mis-information.

I have steeked quite a few sweaters in my day. When you steek a knit made from shetland wool, it will not unravel. Shetland wool is a sticky, hairy beast, as anyone who has tried to unravel colorwork knitted with Shetland will tell you. If you wet or steamblock your finished garment, the cut edge will felt slightly and adhere to the inside of the work, and it is not going anywhere. I knit the Wave Cardigan in 1989, I think: 23 years ago. I have worn it quite a bit, and the steeks have not unraveled at all.

Back in the early days of this blog, I did a step-by-step demo of cutting a steek and picking up stitches, here. When I get to cutting the steeks for this project, I’ll be sure to document it.

If you want to steek a garment knit with non-hairy wool, you need to reinforce your stitches before cutting. I did a couple of tutorials on these techniques, here and here. And I did an article on steeking for Knitty ages ago.

Bottom line — if you have interest in knitting and steeking a sweater, please don’t let fear of steeking stop you. There are many many internet resources on steeking to guide you if you do not have an “in-person” mentor at your side.

Here is my progress on the back of the coat since my last blog post:

Here’s a close-up of the steek stitches:

When I cut, I will do so down the center where there are two columns of stitches in the same color.

Time to go play with Lucy. She has a paper ball and she knows how to use it!



  1. Someday I will do it. I swear!
    Michelle´s last blog post ..WIP Wed: Coquette Vest Part 3

  2. Interesting. I tried and still use steeks after reading Elizabeth Zimmerman’s dscription of the process…ending with ” get a cold compress and lie down”. To which I would add “and a glass of wine”. Anyway, I agree with you, especially with shetland wool. Your Kauni coat is spectacular!

  3. Your coat looks like a gorgeous knit skirt. Can’t wait to see the finished coat.

  4. I haven’t steeked anything yet, but I look forward to the perverse pleasure of it.

    Is there any part of knitting that someone, somewhere *isn’t* afraid of? DPNs, omg! Purling, boo! Caking your yarn, sigh!

    Alicia´s last blog post ..WIP Wednesdayish: February Lady

  5. I normally just read and don’t comment but I have to say you are SO right about the internet thing. I jumped into knitting head first (although I DID use the internet it was still pre-ravelry so there was no real talking to other people I just looked for patterns on it) and I knit my first baby sweater, and felted bag, and socks, and all these other things people are scared of trying! I even invented magic loop at one point out of necessity (didn’t have dpns that size and worked it out) and only later discovered there was a name for it. I have never hesitated to try a technique and have never failed at any of them. I ALWAYS tell people to just try it and see where it takes them!

  6. Don’t worry Wendy – I will try it. Promise. I read your article at Knitty and it seems easy. It’s just that I knit really slow, and I’m afraid of not doing it right the first time. I think I’ll have to start with smething small. A doll or bear sweater? Then if I really mess it up I won’t cry too long. Thanks for the tip of reinforcing. I’m allergic to wool so I can’t use the ‘hairier’ yarns.
    I can’t wait to see your coat finished, it’s beautiful!

  7. Beautiful! Stranded knitting is my favorite!

  8. That looks fabulous 🙂

  9. Suesensea says:

    Oh MY!! This new coat is absolutely gorgeous!!! The colors are amazing! This is exactly what I aspire to (someday!)
    I will take heed of your advice and not get caught up in the worry (and I’ll use “hairy” wool and maybe practice on a swatch first).

  10. That is going to be one BEAUTIFUL coat – it inspires me to try Fair Isle

  11. It’s good to steek a swatch – gives you confidence and if it doesn’t work, hey it’s only a swatch. It’s actually kind of fun to cut up a large swatch in different ways just to see what happens.

  12. Your colors are beautiful in that pattern. This is definitely going to be a lovely garment!

  13. Wendy, that coat is just stunning! It is amazing how beautifully that yarn (and others like it) works for Fair Isle designs.

    Many years back, I was lucky enough to take a few classes from Alice Starmore (In The Hebrides was her new book at the time, if anyone wants to date me). One was on her technique for knitting cables that appear to form continuous circles in the midst of a traditionally knit Aran sweater. The other was on Fair Isle knitting. We all came to class with a good sized swatch knit in the round, having followed her directions on (a) to use “sticky” wool, (b) after beginning with corrugated ribbing to follow her chart using 3 darks, 3 medium to lights, and 1 very light yarn, and (c) to insert steeks as directed, including two armhole versions, one drop sleeve and one shaped. We started by looking at everyone’s swatches and saw how much more effective the colorwork was when we had adequate contrast. We then grafted the shoulder seams in the main color for that row and then Swiss-darned the other color. In the afternoon, we cut our steeks, marvelling at how well they stayed put, then picked up and knit a corrugated rib edging, and learned her technique for stitching down the cut edge for neatness.

    I still have my class samples and refer to them on occasion.

    Wendy is absolutely right: Alice Starmore DOES know what she is talking about. If you ever get an opportunity to see sweaters she has knit in person, do so. The workmanship is exquisite and her eye for color is exceptional. She is also a wonderful teacher — as you can tell, I still remember quite a few details of her class.
    Jamie´s last blog post ..An Unusual Saturday

  14. I “steeked” a sweater I made in about 1980. I don’t believe I used the term “steeking” and I didn’t do it “properly”. It was a Scandinavian-design sweater knit entirely on circular needles ala EZ. The pattern was from a book called “Knit Your Own Norwegian Sweaters”.

    I hauled out my sewing machine, reinforced either side of where the cut would be, and then cut the arm holes. Just like that. Joined the sleeves to the body with a yarn needle and tacked down facing to cover the cut edge of knitting, much like you would do if you were making a dress.

    Don’t know if I was younger and less fearful or the knitting world of knitting was simpler.

  15. I wholeheartedly agree. Much the same atmosphere around Kitchener stitch for grafting sock toes, too. (when told we need to approach things w trepidation, we are happy to oblige.) but then you take a class on finishing w lucy neatby, or read the Techniques w Teresa on Knitty where she breaks it down for you, and you see that there’s nothing to be scared of! Love being able to see how ‘just so’ knitting can be.
    kelli ann´s last blog post ..miam, miam… sandwiches en tricot!

  16. I have to agree although I was scared to death the first time. Luckily I did have a good friend helping/encouraging. ((hugs)) I love everything you have been up to all of them are so amazing. Miss ya

  17. Wendy, your coat is going to be spectacular. I really wish I could get that yarn over here in the UK as it is truly wonderful!
    I am taking a steeling class in a couple of weeks as I would love to have a go at knitting something as beautiful as your coat.
    Regards <3

  18. I believe the internet gives fear away for free. Many are so afraid to try something that they never move forward. Then they share that fear with everyone making even more people araid to try. I taught myself to knit when I was 11 years old. I had nobody to teach me. Talk about before the internet, how about 1964. I learned from whatever I found at Woolworths. I refuse to be afraid of yarn and stricks

  19. Susan Shelly says:

    Colors in this project are really beautiful;O))

  20. Knit without fear, it’s a good mantra to live by.
    Molly by golly´s last blog post ..WIP Wednesday: Escape from Sleeve Island

  21. OMG, your coat is going to be spectacular! How gorgeous….and very inspiring!

  22. I love your blog and look forward to reading it – terrific common sense all the time.

    I’ve got the same book,and like you, Alice Starmore got me steeking. Now I knit stuff in the round with steeks as often as I can possible manage – and do covered steeks as well – without the aid of sticking plasters and alcohol! In fact, I can’t think how I spent all those hours cobbling up seams. Right, now I’m going to find out where I can get some Kauni and get me one of that wonderful examples of knitability fabulousness that you’re working on!

  23. There are extant 18th c artifacts that were knitted in cotton, cut down the front, and the raw edges turned under as a narrow hem and stitched with sewing thread. 200 and more years, yet little, if any ravelling…you can only tell this was the method in e spots were the stitching broke…the steek is mostly intact!

  24. I found it…this baby jacket at the V&A has then formation under “more info”.

  25. The first time I read about steeking the very first thought that popped into my head was just how much more versatile knitting had become in my world. I started with a baby jacket and moved on to other things from there. It is a great technique!

  26. I think it’s something I’d be willing to try someday, but I’m honestly not sure how well it would work with the non-wool yarns I have to use. But then, my first love is and always will be sewing, so I guess I figure worst case scenario, I can pop it under my serger and finish off those ends just like a sweater knit fabric!
    Becky´s last blog post ..Closet Challenge Update, week 3

  27. Charlotte says:

    Such gorgeous work you do, as always. I just finished reading Kristin Nichols blog yesterday about the Steeks retreat at her farm & wishing maybe I lived on the east coast to attend. (I have all her books, just like I have all yours. They all give me high hopes, but not even lots of stitch markers & frequent lifelines help me achieve anywhere near what you two accomplish so easily & rapidly!
    take care,

  28. Your knitting is so beautiful! I’d love to try steeking; after all, I can knit and I can sew so I shouldn’t be so fearful, right? I think, though, that I’d start with something small just for practice. Hmmm . . . sounds like a Knitting New Year’s Resolution!

  29. I’m about as far away from knitting fair isle as Fair Isle is from the Blarney Stone (they’re in the same hemisphere so there’s hope) but I have never understood the fear of steeks. Maybe because I’m a sewer. We sewers ‘steek’ all the time. So I am so glad you are debunking all the ‘hazards’ of this technique, Wendy. It is awful when fiber fears become contagious. Hip, hip for doing away with the techno-virus of steeking fear.

  30. I have never steeked before. I just never saw a reason WHY I should?

    Just like you, I never was afraid of knitting techniques but I always asked why to do certain things. And my question always was “why don’t I just PURL the fair isle pattern” and that’s what I do till now, I just purl the fair isle, working it back and forth, I can try on things, measure it and make it fit better.

    I wanted to make a tutorial on this forever, since it’s not a popular thing to do but could find the time/motivation so far, maybe with the next project 😉
    Diana´s last blog post ..I am such a Muppet!

  31. I actually really want to try steeking, but haven’t found a pattern that I really like that calls for it. A lot of the fair isle just isn’t to my taste, and it’s not worth knitting a sweater to steek if I’m never going to wear it!!

  32. Gretcheng says:

    Wow, your latest coat project is amazing! It glows!

    I steeked my second or third sweater (20 years ago?), simply because I wanted to knit the entire body in the round. It wasn’t fair isle or anything special. Just a way to speed up the top of the body and try the technique. 🙂 Very simple, so have no fear!

  33. Savannagal says:

    Honest to goodness. Every time I see your blog posts I am amazed at home much knitting you’ve gotten done. You must knit like Evelyn Wood reads. Just amazing. Your coat is going to be beautiful. I am green with envy. I can’t wait to see it finished.

  34. I was afraid to knit lace and with your help I was able to overcome that fear with the EZ round lace shawl. Have you thought or might you have time for a steeking KAL? We have never met and yet you have been such an inspiration to me. I always have more faith in myself with you doing the knitting “with” me.

  35. Ohhh, I just love the pattern and the yarn your using, and I haven’t steeked in years.
    I blame it on the way people learn to knit now in general. All I see offered for lessons is too basic. Just one or two ways to cast on, knit, purl, and one or two ways to cast off. Maybe something about gauge. Learning how to read patterns or shape is considered advanced. Knitting in the round, cabling, finishing, picking up dropped stitches, color work is expert level. I live a a fairly large metro area with a number of yarn shops and hobby shops that offer lessons, as do community schools. The prices are high and classes are usually several hours over several days. But they only teach cast on, knit, purl, cast off. I understand why people turn to internet tutorials. And lack the confidence to try anything new. In 1982 I learned to knit at a yarn shop class. 5 hours on Saturday, 4 Saturdays and it was $120. The first day we learned 4 ways to cast on, knit, purl, edge stitches, shaping, cabling, color changes, 2 ways to cast off, How to pick up a dropped stitch. How to pick up stitches after teacher pulled the needle out of the entire row and the jaw dropper….how to pick up stitches after teacher takes a pair of scissors and cuts the practice piece in half. We learned gauge, reading patterns, button holes, picking up edge stitches and finishing. And ended up with finished, at the time fashionable vests, made with two different yarns. The practice piece the first day wasn’t for perfection but for learning how to make and manipulate stitches. We were also taught to sit up and relax while we worked so it wasn’t physically stressful. I just keep thinking how much more yarn shops would be selling if they taught more that the basics.
    Make sure you get pictures when your finished that we can buy to use as a computer desk top.

  36. It really helps to use a non-sticky yarn the first time. I love my first steeked sweater, but it would be 100x easier with sticky yarn rather than superwash!
    Seanna Lea´s last blog post ..the big round thing

  37. The colours are gorgeous! Your coat will be beautiful. And I’m steeking soon – have to get another project out of the way first. Then a steek project. I think you’re right about steeking-fear spreading via the internet. Interesting.

  38. I am overwhelmed with the beauty of your pattern and especially the colors! You knit so beautifully. thanks for sharing your creativity with us daily.

  39. I’m going to make one of these coats too! You have inspired me to try it.

  40. Your coat is amazing….I may try some steeking soon.
    brandi´s last blog post ..Fantastic Fiber Friday – Courtesy this Week of Darn Good Yarn

  41. Go Wendy! I have said the same thing about the fabled and contagious “fear of steeking.” My first sweater was a badly translated Dalegarn Norwegian snowflake pattern. I just followed the directions for cutting the armholes and had no problems (other than the stranded Brown Sheep Worsted being far to hot to wear in Maryland!) My second sweater was from the Alice Starmore Fair Isle book and I’ve never looked back.

  42. Your projects always inspire me! Fair Isle knitting is on my list of things to learn as I grow my knitting skills. I can’t say that anyone has scared me away from it; I’m just learning one technique at a time and working with it for awhile. Entrelac was my challenge for the summer and I’m loving it so much! Steeking will be another challenge but I’m up for it once I get into Fair Isle! I’m nearly 100 miles from the closest LYS, so I’m pretty much self taught. Retirement from one job is coming up and I’m hoping to have some knitting time before I jump back into the job market (I’m only 54 and need to find another income to supplement the retirement checks…LOL)

  43. I agree and think this applies to many techniques, not just steeking.
    Walden121´s last blog post ..What inspired the gifts . . .

  44. I kind of feel that way about Entrelac. I made a sweater for my mom probably 20 years ago. I hadn’t been knitting that long, but I just figured it out. Isn’t that the best way to do things. Just do it..

  45. Jacquelyn says:

    I am knitting my first steeked garment, a waistcoat styled item for myself. It is a Starmore pattern. I have added the front opening to the vest pattern so I “invented this 8 stitch steek before I got to the instruction for the armhole and V- neck which are written for 8 steek stitches and one edge stitch each side (the edge stitches are good. I should have read this before I started).
    I like your close up photo showing the duble row of steek stiches in the centre, for cutting. Next time I’ll do this too.