Great new knitalong starts today over at Fringe Association. We are IN on this thing.

Report from Fair Isle

Dear Kay,
I have so much to tell ye. I have new skills to report.
There comes a time in circular knitting where you’ve done enough tube. It’s time to stop the tube. In the case of this Fair Isle project (which I hasten to remind you is in fact my first attempt at this sort of thing), I may have overtubed. This thing is so long that it may actually be a dress. Remember how I was making big fun of sweater dresses and the ’80s and all that? Well, I think I may have just committed a sweater dress.
Skill Number One: Kitchener Stitch
When you’ve cranked enough tube, or too much tube, it’s time to make shoulders. The designer of my sweater, the feisty Alice Starmore, says, “Graft the shoulders together.” I say YEEOWKS where’s my Principles of Knitting book?
Having never made a sock, where there always seems to be a lot of excitement in the area of kitchenering, I was woefully ill prepared. I understood the concept of grafting–you sew the tops of the shoulders’ loops together to make a row that looks like you knitted it. But learning the little kitchener trick was All New To Me.
keavakitchener.jpg
Front: Knit, drop the stitch. Purl. Back: Purl, drop the stitch. Knit. It really does work, by jinky. You’re taking the yarn on a little trip through all the loops in the correct order, but you’re using a sewing needle instead of knitting.
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Which leaves you with an awesome scratchy wool pillowcase.
Skill Number Two: Cutting a Steek
I think you know how long I have wondered about cutting steeks. The idea that you could make an armhole by whacking a hole in your perfectly good piece of knitting seemed barbaric, or at the least sort of unsophisticated. Shyeah, while we’re at it why don’t we just staple the sleeves onto the thing?
But it’s actually very elegant, this steek stuff. If you’re a resident of Fair Isle, and you’re making sweaters as fast as you can, you want to make the finishing as simple as possible. You like the tube part; you don’t like the set-in-sleeve gently-noodged-into-place part. You, as a Fair Islander, understand your wool’s ability to cling to itself like Velcro, and you know that your stitches hold together if they’ve been knitted in a checkerboard pattern. So you figure out a way to make three-tube sweaters: body, sleeve, sleeve.
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You dislike finishing so much that you would rather chop up your knitting than sew seams of any kind. Here’s the armhole, ready to be snipped.
Glad Nobody Saw the Scene Here on Sunday Morning
After a late night of kitchener fever, I had my overtubed pillowcase all done. I had been planning to seek out a group of sympathetic knitters to hold my hand as I shakily took scissors to steek. But the fact is, I was so curious, soooooo curious, so superultracurious that I couldn’t stand that Pandora’s Box pillowcase just sitting there unchopped.
Very early on Sunday morning, I checked Fair Isle Weather Web Cam. (Forecast: 24 hours: SCATTERED SHOWERS. Days 2-5: RAIN OR SHOWERS, WINDY. Days 6-10: UNSETTLED.) Just like Nashville! It helped that the weather had taken a turn for the grim: rainy, low forties, no hint of the sun. It was clammy. I still had my PJs on, as well as a sweater, a shawl, and my superugly bedroom slippers. People dress like this on Fair Isle, right? I hunkered down in a corner, chugged a cup of coffee, and did this:
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A maw! A gaping maw! Run for your lives!
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The stitches did great.
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What surprised me was that I’m not supposed to finish off the steek–to trim the edge down to two stitches and whipstitch all along the seam to secure the stitches–until AFTER I knit the sleeve. The untrimmed edge just SITS THERE until later.
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Just sits there. Hanging out. Doing nothing.
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Sleeve tubes crank much faster than big tubes. Merciful, that.
If I can’t move to Fair Isle, I’ll just make my own little island of scratchy wool knitting right here. Please come by, and don’t forget your PJ/sweater/shawl/uglyslipper combo.
Love,
Ann

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. You’re so very brave, Ann, to do the steek thing. I’ve been terribly afraid of it, myself. Not that I’ve had any call for it since I mostly knit shawls and socks, but still, I give you credit for fearlessly showing the way.

  2. You are awesome. Well done!! You are inspiring me to join you on this Isle of Faire. The weather sounds eerily similar to Richmond!

  3. I agree with Carole, the steeking was terrifying, yet well executed. I bow down to thee. ;)

  4. Cutting into your knitting is like a drive in a convertible on a beautiful summer day listening to Lynrd Skinnyrd at FULL volume. That is: Very Liberating. The first time I did it (cut my knitting, people!), I felt invincible. Congrats on your steeks and that is certainly looking to be a beaut of a sweater.

  5. Wow! You are not only brave but skilful, and your grafting is perfect. Whenever I have seen your Keava progress I have felt shame that my own AS fair-isle has stalled. Now you make steeks look NOT daunting but simple and even FUN! I can’t wait to try it myself.
    You are an inspiring and fearless leader.
    But there is this other serious issue raised today on MDK. I am struggling with it. You have really never knit socks? Now that I think of it, I don’t think I have seen socks on this blog. I don’t mean to pry, but has there been sock-trauma in your life? I just don’t understand.
    Aara

  6. I think that, instead of coffee, I would have had to have drunk something *else* that they drink in Scotland before attempting this little maneuver. You are V. Brave. Hats off. Or ON in this weather. As the case may be.

  7. bravo – and a glass (bottle?!) of your knitting water of choice should definitely be raised in your honor. the next question: did you then run around the house in full pajama-ed regalia making all of your family members check out the incredible thing you had done? because i would have been all over that.

  8. Confession: After I cut my steeks and pick up and knit the sleeves, I do nothing further to the steek (no trimming, no whipstitching) — I just steam-block the sucker and leave it as is!

  9. Wendy, I always wondered about that. Anne, BRAVO, BRAVO! You are my Braveheart!

  10. Having just mastered the kitchener stitch myself this weekend, I am in AWE that you marched forward, undaunted, and immediately took on the steek! Wow!

  11. I never thought I’d find knitting stuff this exciting! I cannot wait to see this finished!

  12. I only have two comments: first, you’ve never knitted a sock? How on earth have you managed to avoid the lure of a perfectly turned heel, the excitement of the last few rows of toe before your masterpiece is done, done, done? This must be remedied somehow. Quick, someone get her sock yarn and a pattern. Second, YOU CUT A HOLE IN YOUR KNITTING!!!! AGGGGH!!!! Sorry, steeks just do that to me every time. Nevermind me – I have steek phobia.

  13. Well this is all very exciting but I would have liked to have seen the SCISSORS. The actual SCISSORING.
    Loves Scissors in NYC

  14. *insert Wayne’s World fawning “I’m not worthy” here*
    *sigh* and I thought I was all cool for knitting my dog an entire wardrobe while hopped up on cough meds this weekend…

  15. I think this is perhaps one of my favorite posts on any blog, ever. Both reflective and dramatic! Brava!

  16. Wow. That is some incredibly beautiful knitting. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without some stitching on those steeks. You’re a brave woman!

  17. it’s looking lovely… steek? you’re a far braver woman than me!

  18. The photos of the untrimmed, untamed steek stitches just hanging out make me feel a lot better. Look! They ARE just sitting there– there’s no screaming, no stampeding, no chaos. Maybe I can do it too. Thanks!

  19. I’ve tried steeking once, but I was cowardly and used the sewing machine first, to secure everything before pulling out the scissors. The sleeves worked beautifully, but the cut edge for the cardigan I was making? Never, ever behaved itself. I ended up (stupidly) giving that beautiful Norwegian sweater away to charity instead of trying the fifth or sixth “solution” to my curling button band problem. The steeked sleeves, though worked great! I’ve really got to try that again one of these days…

  20. The weather in Fair Isle sound downright pleasant compared to New Jersey. That said, you’re nuts. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do that CUTTING thing to my knits. You actually CUT the knitting? Yeah. I’m with Kay. I want to see the ACTUAL SCISSORING.

  21. Beautiful sweater/tube/dress ! If the colors are anything like my monitor, it looks great. Don’t you feel like you got away with something by steeking, like its really an illegal act of some sort – CUTTING up your knitting. I enjoyed your reportage – as always. (You & Kay really oughtta write a book…. oh wait.You did! Yay!)

  22. The first time I steeked wasn’t with shetland wool and it wasn’t very sticky. My sleeve-hole started getting shaggy before I was done picking up the stitches, so from then on – I pick up the stitches before I cut and I haven’t had trouble since!

  23. glory be, ewe amazing woman!!!

  24. Way to go Ann! That’s awesome!! I am impressed that you managed all that kitchener-ing on your first go and it didn’t make you batty. Or did it and you just won’t admit it…? But really, well done! As for the steeks, well, I am still working myself up to that. I have a pattern that uses the technique and it has been sitting in my binder for far too long. You have made me brave! Now. How many projects to go before I can cast that one on…? :)

  25. learning new stuff is a blast isn’t it? scary at times, but generally a total blast.
    (wow- a guru knitter who has NEVER kitchenered before…)

  26. Brave, brave woman. I salute you.

  27. Yeay!
    (big round of applause)
    Kitchener & scissors! wow!
    Jo
    xxx

  28. Wow, thats amazing! Congratualtions! I can imagine cutting your knitting becoming quite addictive…. you’ll be thinking “hhhmmm… perhaps this should be a cardigan” soon!

  29. Yikes! The suspense was killing me. I’m so glad you conquered the monster. And thank you for the “pictutorial” on steeking. Who knows, maybe I’ll try it one day soon. You made it look so easy.

  30. Great job! I’m with KT – cutting one’s knitting is very liberating. Thanks for bringing steeking to your massive blog following!

  31. Wowza! You know, I’ve admired other people’s Starmore’s, but I’ve never really wanted to knit one until I saw yours. I can’t wait to see the finished project because I may be asking my husband for a kit for Christmas. Of course, I’d never be able to wear it here in Texas, but maybe I could use it as a wall hanging.

  32. Okay Ann,
    You inspired me to try steeking. Of course, beeing a wimp I tried it on a lowly little swatch. It worked!! Even without a sewing machine. now I totally want to try it on something “real”. Thanks for inspiring me!
    Maura

  33. You saw, you steeked, you conquered! And kitchenered all in the same day. I have cut my garments in every direction and even uneccessarily steeked my damn poncho. It is a feeling second only to swimming naked early in the morning in a cold body of water and wondering if you will make it out unseen. The thrill! The excitement! The triumph!
    I don’t know if you blogged this or not, but I heard a segment on NPR about two houses available for a year-long stint on Fair Isle. You have to apply and be accepted, and they are looking for people who will contribute to the community, specifically KNITTERS. If I did not feel I needed to be a responsible working person and wife I would go right now.