I began this weekend with the goal of steeking Sirdal—to my mind, the knitting equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. I knew others have tried and succeeded, but I wasn’t convinced that I’d prevail. After all, I could follow in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary and still fall thousands of feet and crash to the ground. What was the first knitter who attempted thinking? “I just spent months knitting this really complicated tube—so now let’s cut it up and see if I can do that without destroying it.”
I prepared myself for the occasion by reading the Dale of Norway instructions I found on the web. I also watched a bunch of videos. I'm not sure I could have managed to steek in the pre-electronic era.
Norwegian sweaters differ from Fair Isle sweaters in that you leave fewer stitches in the front where you cut for the button bands. And there are no extra steeking stitches left at the armhole. It seems that it is actually easier to cut into a Fair Isle sweater, but it was a bit late in the game for me to figure that out. I had a body tube and sleeves for Sirdal, and the die was cast.
I had a fairly large swatch, and I used it to practice on.
Things went quite well. I’d considered that the floats might catch on the machine feed dogs, but no such problems arose. I fiddled with the tension and stitch size, and I was able to get stitches that grabbed the knitting securely.
The Dale instructions tell you to use zigzag machine stitch, but when I sewed the first row of zigzag stitches, I really wasn’t happy with their appearance.
I went back to the many web videos showing steeking, and none of the knitters who used a machine did anything but straight stitch. So back to my swatch I went, and I practiced straight stitches—they looked much better.
I considered picking out the zigzags, but, like all Norwegian stranded sweaters, Sirdal will have facings to cover the cut edges, and there seemed no need to mess around with the stitches I had sewn. The zigzag was sturdy, and it was the innermost row of stitching. So on the second row of stitching, I used straight stitch, and my steek seems none the worse for it.
The sleeves are a bit trickier. The instructions tell you to measure the top of the sleeve to decide how long the slit on the body that accommodates them ought to be. My sleeve tops measured about 10 inches (the pattern specified 9-7/8 inches for my size, which I thought was a bit silly for something as bulky as stranded sleeves). I had already marked the side “seams” when I knit the tube, so finding them wasn't a problem. To mark the cut line, I ran a row of running stitches from the top of the tube to a point a bit less than 10 inches down. Although the sleeve is 10 inches, the cut part should be less because there will be around ¼ inch used up for the rows of machine stitching. At this point, I sewed my two rows of straight stitch around the running stitch, and the results looked just like the picture in the Dale instructions (except that these aren’t zigzags).
By time I had to cut, I was no longer fretting about the steeking process. From my experience with sewing, I’m in the habit of pressing after stitching. Even though steeking instructions don’t tell you to do that, it flattens the sewn rows and makes them easier to cut.
So here is where I am now:
The steeks are done and cut, and it is now time to proceed with the assembly. There are a lot of steps left to be done, but this is just the sort of sweater construction challenge that fascinates me. As I sat there smiling at my work, I thought of all the things that could go wrong. I came up with just two:
- I could swap the left and right sleeves, so that the cuffs wouldn’t close properly.
- I could put the buttonholes on the wrong side.
But they are small potatoes compared to the disaster that would have resulted from careless cutting. So for now I’m basking in the glow of steeking correctly, and I’ll save sewing the shoulders together, inserting the sleeves, knitting the button and neck bands, and attaching the facing for this week’s nightly knitting.