Nelchina, My First Steeking

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Nelchina is yet another masterful design by Caitlin Hunter (Boyland Knitworks) that combines colorwork and texture. The entire yoke is a complex and intriguing pattern of colorwork that I liken to the shadows you might see displayed on a forest floor, and the body and arms are covered in squishy 4-stitch cabled repeats.

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Below are my yarn selections from Cindy of Mon Sheep Shop, which is located in France. The yarn base is called Moelleuse and is 100% BFL. The main colorway is called “Noisette,” which I believe translates to “hazelnut.” The other colors are “Choupinette” (the pink color, which I believe translates to “sweetheart”), “Peau á Peau” (the natural color, which contains the word “skin”) and “Slumber,” the gorgeous blue/purple/gray color. Cindy’s yarn is absolutely scrumptious, and I’ve already ordered more to make a Swoncho!

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As if Nelchina were not enchanting enough, Caitlin places a series of cluster stitches at the top and bottom of the yoke to satisfy that never-enough-texture sentiment that lies at the heart of almost all of her designs. It had been some time since I had knit a cluster stitch and had forgotten how fun they are! Cluster stitches are achieved by simply wrapping the yarn around a “cluster” of stitches to create horizontal bumps of yarn, shown below in brown, just above the first pink section.

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With Nelchina Caitlin takes it up another notch (yes, another) by offering both a pullover and cardigan version. In testing this knit I opted for the cardigan because I have never steeked previously and wanted to give it a go.

The below shot was taken in very low lighting, so the pink appears as a cooler tone.

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Steeking is the process of creating a cardigan by knitting in the round rather than back and forth. At the center of the garment where a row would typically end for a cardigan and you would turn your work to purl the wrong side, there are instead a series of steek stitches (shown above) which serve as placeholders until the project is concluded. The steek stitches of the colorwork are staggered in a checkerboard pattern for added clarity. Once you are finished knitting in the round you simply cut vertically (perpendicular to the knitting) up the center of the column of steek stitches to create your opening.

Below is a shot of the back of the sweater prior to steeking. Notice that the colorwork is mirrored down the center of the back. Swoon!

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Steeking always involves cutting vertically up the center of the steek stitches (with a sharp pair of scissors), but the method for reinforcing the steek varies. Before cutting you have to reinforce the edges of the steek to keep your knitting in place and to create a seam along each edge of the opening. Options for reinforcement include crocheting a chain, sewing by hand or sewing by machine along each edge of the steek. Sewing by hand seemed unnecessarily tedious, especially since I knew I was going to sew by hand to neaten up the inner seams and to attach the velvet ribbon I chose to hide the inner seam. The idea of sewing by machine gave me anxiety because I am not well practiced on my current machine and I worried about snagging or bunching the wool. In the end I went with the crochet method, using the tutorial provided by Tin Can Knits.

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When it comes to crochet, a chain is pretty much all I’ve mastered. However my chain was not the greatest. Out of fear of making the reinforcement too taut, I over-corrected such that the tension of my chain was a bit loose. In the video below I talk about my preparations for the steek, and you can see that the fabric is somewhat puckered along the chains.

The second video below shows some of the actual cutting of the steek. I apologize for not having one smooth, clean video of the full cut, but because of nerves I struggled to do it quickly, plus the camera hindered a speedy dissection.

You can see in the shot below that my loose chains created a ripple in the fabric. To remedy this unsightliness, when I folded in the seams and started hand-sewing them–chains and all–to the inside, I sewed in such a way as to correct those ripples using a brown all-purpose polyester thread. Next I knit my button band and buttonhole band.

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After completing the bands I covered the seams by attaching strips of brown velvet ribbon using a simple running stitch (by hand). I purchased the ribbon from Petershams Millinery Supplies on Etsy. I took a tip from Andrea in her Fruity Knitting Podcast and steamed the ribbon prior to attaching.

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Finally I was able to attach my ten buttons. I used 1″ brown wooden buttons, which were conveniently sold in a pack of ten from Supplies & Sundries on Etsy. I love these buttons!

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Steeking Review

I will be doing things differently upon my next steeking. First off, the crochet method is history. It was my understanding that the reinforcements hold up best when the yarn is sticky, and since my yarn is 100% BFL and not superwash I didn’t expect the stitches to come out from the chocheted chains. Yet, several stitches came out, and with a gasp I used a darning needle to get them back in place and sewed ferociously. Again, my chains were loose, so that was likely the cause. Furthermore, since there were only five stitches in the steek column there is very little wiggle room for the steek stitches to remain secure since the chains are created on either side of the two stitch columns that are dissected in the cut. I have seen some steeks that are 6 stitches or greater, so perhaps that would have helped.

In the end, I am resolved that for my next steeking I will reinforce the steeks by sewing by hand.

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