Steeks and Steeking

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Steeks and steeking are synonymous with knitting from the Shetland Isles and the gorgeously colourful and patterned work from Fair Isle in particular. They are Scottish words given to groups of stitches that will be cut and then ‘fastened or closed’. Traditional style Shetland sweaters worked consistently in the round as a tube, will have pre-planned and specifically placed, knitted steek stitches worked into the pattern. The idea is to use the steeks as a guide for cutting open arm holes, shaped necks or cardigan openings. Other traditional style sweaters including those from Norway, Sweden or Faroe, would also be knitted in the round as a tube and then have openings cut, but they wouldn’t necessarily use steeks – usually the knitted geometric patterns were the only guide for the cutter!

The main advantage to knitting in the round and then cutting openings is that its easier to maintain an even tension. When pieces are knitted in the round and then divided into two parts for the armholes and knitted backwards and forwards on straight needles, the tension is almost bound to change, even if only slightly, as you will be knitting and purling stitches.

It’s so much easier to knit Fair Isle or stranded patterns on a circular needle in the round, using only knit stitches with the front of the work always showing.

And when it comes to fastening closed, or reinforcing your steeks, there are many different ways to do it. I prefer the popular crochet method and, if you want to know more, I’ll be teaching this at Yak in Brighton.

The photos are all from the Shetland Museum archive.

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