I thought I was going to faint the first time I saw a knitter use scissors to cut their knitted fabric. Why in the world would anyone do such a thing? I was horrified! It turns out, this knitter wasn't crazy. In fact, she knew exactly what she was doing: she was steeking, and she was steeking with a purpose.
What is steeking?
Steeking refers to the process of knitting extra stitches for the express purpose of cutting them later. Yes, I said cutting. With scissors.
That doesn't mean you're going to go all Edward Scissorhands on your knitting, though. There's a strategy involved: Before you cut, you stabilize and secure the sides of your steek, usually either by crocheting or hand stitching. This prevents the stitches from unraveling as soon as you snip them.
I know what you're thinking. Why? WHY???? Actually, there are plenty of reasons.
When to use steeking in your knitting
To make sweater knitting easier
Steeking a sweater means that you can knit the entire sweater in the round, rather than back and forth in rows. This can be especially handy if you're knitting colorwork. Take a look at the sweaters from Simple Sweaters: Stranded & Steeked in the photo above. Imagine what a pain it would be to knit all the colorwork if you had to keep the pattern going on the wrong-side purl rows. Purling and colorwork can quickly become a tangled mess. Instead, knitting steeks lets you knit in the round on the right side for the entire project. When you're finished, you'll cut that in-the-round tube to make arm holes and any other openings you might need, like your neckline.
To upcycle an old sweater
Have an old sweater that makes you say, "yuck" when you look at it? Steeking can help you give that sweater a little makeover by turning it into a cardigan.
To make cardigan knitting easier
This is traditionally what most knitters think of when they hear the word "steeking." Instead of knitting a cardigan in several sections — left front, right front, etc. — you can knit it in the round, then steek it as part of the finishing.
Even though knitting steeks does take some extra time, it's still easier than knitting back and forth when you're doing stranded colorwork. No wonder steeking is most often used when knitting Fair Isle.
Still feel a little intimidated? Start small! Practice steeking with a swatch first, or something similarly manageable. In Bristol Ivy's Throughstone sweater , you steek the pockets first, before you cut your sweater into a cardigan. Easing into it (and having support along the way!), makes things a little less scary, promise.