41) Knitting update: Moor and Nightingale Wing, plus -a new project?

Today's plan was to tell you about the ultra-slow-progress stole I've been knitting since (errrm) Christmas.  It seemed like a long time since the last actual knitting update, so I went to check.  And realised that I haven't actually blogged about finishing Moor.

Good grief, I am the laxest of bloggers.

So, when we last saw Moor, I was snipping open the steeks.  That was in mid-February.

According to Ravelry, it took me another two months to knit the bands and sew down the facings.  But, really, it was all worth it:



I am very, very proud of this vest; it looks and feels awesome, 'not hand-knit at all' as one well-meaning friend said.  (I know what you mean, don't worry).

In the meantime, I started a new lace project.  Actually, I started this ages ago, back in December because Moor wasn't at the sort of stage where I could work in it in company, and I needed some Christmas knitting.  After about six months, Nightingale Wing is about one third complete:


Like so many of Anne Hanson's designs, this is simple, elegant, beautiful.  Please excuse my hasty 'spread out on a towel' shot; we all know lace doesn't look it's best without a proper blocking, don't we?

This pattern is lace every row, but even so, it really shouldn't be taking this long.  I think I've averaged less than one row per day – purely because I'm just not taking the time to knit.  For some reason, I've gotten it into my head that if I'm spinning, weaving or sewing, I'm being 'productive', but if I knit, I'm being 'lazy'.  Clearly, we need to break this association.

So, for the time being, Nightingale Wing is going into hibernation.  I'm accepting the slightly-crazy challenge just thrown down by Twist Collective.

I'm going to attempt to knit a sweater in two weeks.  The pattern?  Basil (Ravelry link), by Kim Hargreaves, in the Rowan Summer Tweed collection.  The yarn?  Summer Tweed, overdyed by yours truly this past weekend.

Larger gauge, simple stockinette.  A yarn I've worked with before.  A knock-out simple design.  Think I can do it?

14) Using crochet to reinforce steeks

Last night, J took one look at my poor, neglected Moor, lying all crumpled up next to the sofa, and said, "Haven't you cut that thing up yet?  You wuss!"  Of course, I tried to explain that I need to photograph the steeks for the blog before I cut them, but he just gave me The Look.

So I took the photographs (badly, as usual).  But I haven't cut into it yet.

So!  I have chosen to use crochet to reinforce the steeks1.  I learned this over at Eunny Jang's blog, and no-one (no-one!) is likely to beat her comprehensive survey of steek methods, so I'm not even going to try.  What I can do, though, is give a quick explanation of how this method works, and show you what I've done.

Thing the first

This is about the only steek method done over an odd number of stitches.  I didn't do my research when setting up the steeks, so mine are done over an even number.  It doesn't really matter, but it does mean that the folded-in bits of fabric won't all be the same width.

Thing the second

I didn't think too hard about where to change colours relative to the steek.  This is only important for the steek that will go up the left hand armhole, because that's the point in the round where the colours change.  I'm still not sure what the best answers are, or even if it really matters (Eunny says it does, but I think that – well – you are cutting the yarn anyway.  As long as the steek edge is firm, and the yarn is well worked in at its head and tail ends, I don't think it should matter how short the bit between them is.  But I'm still keeping my fingers crossed!)

How crocheted steeks work

OK, I just said that this kind of steek works across an odd number of stitches, yes?  Well, that's because you are cutting up the middle of the centre stitch.  Incidentally, it doesn't matter if you work your steek as vertical rows of colour or in a checkerboard pattern, but for this, vertical rows are easier to keep your eye on (guess which one I used for my sweater?  Yeah!)

Each stitch is a 'V' of colour.  Assuming your yarn is solid and not too tweedy(!), both legs of the 'V' will be the same colour, and the 'V' in one row is pointing to the row below.  Here's the virtual swatch we will be working on:


Crochet is used to reinforce the cut edges by binding each leg of the central 'V' to the nearest leg of its neighbouring stitch. Essentially, you work one row of double crochet (for UK readers; if you've learned American crochet terms, it's single crochet!) up one side of the steek, and another one down the other.  I don't propose to teach you crochet here, but that means:

  • (*) pull a loop of yarn through from behind the two stitch legs (just the legs on the surface of the fabric; avoid floats or other bits of yarn);
  • pull another loop through that loop;
  • repeat from (*) for each row of knitting in the steek.
  • When you get to the end of the steek, break off your yarn and pull it all the way through the last loop.

You want to use a yarn you can see against your work, one that is fine enough not to distort the stitches, and preferably one that will felt in to the other yarns, too, for maximum strengthening.  You will probably want to use a crochet hook one or two sizes smaller than the knitting needles you used.

Looking at your knitting with the top away from you and right side up, you want to start with the bottom left hand side of the steek, and work your way up.  This graphic shows you the first two stitch 'legs' that you will be binding together:


Work your way up the steek, binding the legs of neighbouring stitches together in turn.  When you're done, it'll look a little like this:


Finish off that row of crochet, break off the yarn, then turn the work around.  Start with what was the top-right stitch in the steek and do it all again, working your way back down the other side.  You will find that the crochet stitches naturally want to fall away from each other, so the steek now looks a bit like an open book (if they don't, you might have done your crochet in the wrong direction).  If you pull gently on each side of the steek, opening it up, you will see a ladder of yarn between your crochet columns:


These horizontal strands are the tops of our central blue stitches, where they wrap around the legs of the stitch above, and they are the bits you are to cut!  Carefully.  And slowly.  Your crochet reinforcement should hold the rest of the stitches tight and firm, and prevent ravelling.  Whew!

So what do they look like in real life?

Well, I can only show you this on the world's shortest steek.  My Moor has four steeks: two armholes, one front neck and one back neck.  The back neckline involves no colourwork, and is only about six rows deep.  But it's worth showing because the fabric is brown and the reinforcing crochet is white. The crochet shows up much, much better in this context than on the patterned bits.

Here is the finished crochet.  See how the stitches lean away from each other?


And here it is, stretched apart.  See the horizontal strands, all ready for cutting?


Now I have no excuse not to slice up my knitting.

1 Steeks, for anyone who doesn't knit and is still reading, are places where you cut into a knitted piece to create openings, usually for sleeves.  They're really handy if you're knitting in the round, because you don't suddenly have to switch to knitting back-and-forth once the body divides for the armholes, or the neckline.  You just decrease as normal, and knit a 'bridge' of several stitches that join the two armhole edges (or neckline edges, or whatever) together.  When you're ready, you cut down the middle of the bridge, and pray like anything that it's going to hold together.  It's scary! Having said that:

  • Knitting tends to unravel up-and-down.  It's quite resistant to unravelling side-to-side, so the steek edges are less unstable than you might think.
  • This is normally done with sticky, woolly wools which tend to felt a little bit, and are quite hard to unravel anyway.
  • You can reinforce the steek edges if you wish, either with hand sewing, machine sewing, or crochet, which I've done here.

Once you've cut your steeks open, you can fold the extra fabric to the inside of the garment.  Then you can pick up stitches round the folded edge for the neck band, armhole bands etc. Then, it's all over bar the finishing!

103) Very nearly a Vest!

It's shocking.

I used to reckon I'd churn out about one sweater-sized project per month; ten sweaters a year, with a few other things thrown in.  This has been on the needles for three months, and it doesn't even have sleeves:


OK, it's a bit fiddly, and I have interrupted it for a few diversions, and I didn't used to spin, or weave, but even so.

The weird shape is because this thing is designed to be steeked.  Yes, folks, I'm going to deliberately cut some of the most complex knitting I've done in a long while.  OK, I did this for my Dad's Christmas Sweater a few years back, but I don't feel any less apprehensive this time.  And it somehow doesn't seem fair that, having cast off this garment, I still have so much to do.  Armholes, deep front neckline and back neck must be prepared for steeking.  Then, blocking, cutting, sewing of shoulder seams and the knitting on of armhole and neckline edgings must be performed – so I'm not there yet!  It suddenly seems a long way to go.

I can't believe I'm preparing to cut into three months' worth of work just to avoid learning to do colourwork on purl rows.  Is it really worth it??

79) Potato-chip knitting

Moor is providing me with the most entertainment and relaxation recently.  I'm not forging ahead at super-productive knitterly rates, but I have completed the first repeat of the pattern:


…and I estimate that I will need to complete slightly more than one more repeat before I start the neck steek.  After that, it should positively *fly* along, because the neck is quite wide and deep.

Last time I was doing stranded colourwork, it was a real race against the clock to finish in time for Christmas.  In fact, I didn't quite manage it, but it was such a focused effort that I even kept a spreadsheet to track my progress against the necessary stitches-per-day for success.  I do like a challenge, particularly if other people think it's 'impossible', but this time, I get to relax and really *enjoy* it.  And I find it remarkably difficult to put down.  "Just one more row" is so compelling when each row is slightly different.  And even though I'm knitting in the round at a relatively small gauge, the rows don't seem to take all that long to complete.


The few 'rest' rows, which are only one colour, fly by.

I foresee more of these kinds of projects in my future.

77) Getting to the good bits

I knew, with certainty, what I wanted to start knitting once I'd finished Katarina.  Moor, from the now-discontinued Yorkshire Fable collection, by Rowan:

(because everyone in Yorkshire wanders around with coal on their face.  hrrmph.)

I had the also-discontinued Yorkshire Tweed -well, three colours, anyway – in a slightly warmer set of colours than used for this sample – cream, chocolate and a slate grey.  Not much cream, but an awful lot of the chocolate, and -hmmm- this is actually a four-colour design.

I've got plenty of felted tweed left from my gathered pullover, though, and that's close to the same gauge.  Close enough, anyway, and that heathery purple is awesome with the browns and greys.  Very subtle!

The first swatch was a definite failure; I tried my hardest to use the colours in an arrangement suggested by how much I had of each, since most of this stuff is discontinued now, but It Didn't Work.  So much of a failure, I didn't even photograph it.  RRRrrrrriiiip.

The second one, though; the second one is a definite 'win'

(loving it)

However, I don't have enough cream yarn to risk this colourway in the pattern as written.

In an attempt to use less cream, I have drastically cut back on the width of the band that uses the cream as a background, and I'm also knitting a much deeper ribbed hem than the pattern calls for, so there will be less of the patterned area to begin with.  I tried flattening out the zigzags at the border of the white band, too – you can see that in the lower border of the swatch – but I didn't like that so much, so the zigzags are back in.

Also also, I'm radically altering the neckline to a fairly deep scoop, as inspired by someone else on Ravelry who did exactly the same thing; Naganasu's Moor can be seen here, if you have a Rav login.

Even less patterned area.  Also, a garment that will be much, much more flattering for me, and *great* to wear over a shirt for work.

Think I'll make it?  I still don't know, either.

The cast on was a bear; I'm converting this to knitting in the round, and despite my best efforts, I twisted it first time round, and only realised after I'd knit a couple of centimetres.  If I'm honest, I probably realised after the first centimetre, but was in total denial for a few more rows.

Then, four inches of ribbing felt like an eternity.  I've been itching for a project that isn't just mindless knitting; something to pay attention to, and 2×2 rib ain't it.  This is the first time I've felt like colourwork since finishing my Dad's sweater, nearly 2 years ago, so I realllly wanted to get back to it.

And finally, after that teaser of a swatch…

(4" of 2×2 rib)

I'm ready for the good stuff.