I have made no small amount of noise regarding the benefits of circular knitting. It stands to reason that I will do just about anything to eliminate seams from my knitting. And I will. Except when I decide to ADD seams. ADD seams? You heard me right: I swear on Barbara Walker's pantyhose, seams have a bang-up brilliant purpose. Just not the one you think.
I stand behind everything I ever said about flat knitting with seams being harder to shape than knitted tubes. I know I'm right when I say that circular knitting is better, faster and in all ways superior to flat. But seams have one fantastic use that tubes cannot accomplish:
They let us match the patterns in our sleeves presicely, while giving us the perfect place to hide yarn tails from stranded colorwork without weaving them in. You can read more about the tail-hiding colorwork version of this theory in my book, but for today's illustration, I'm going to show you some conjoined sleeves made with only one strand. I made these for my Elizabeth Zimmerman Percentage Sweater. I'm at the point in the EZPS process where I need to have two sleeves to join onto the body tube in order to start shaping the upper half of the sweater. I have long suspected that getting two matching sleeves would be tricky using self-striping yarn, and my suspicion was correct. Add 2-color corrugated rib to the process and things can go squirrely pretty quickly. My solution: Knit two sleeves together with steeks in between, cut them apart, then make a seam in each one.
This particular yarn (Paint Box by Knit One, Crochet Too), in addition to being really beautiful, is also nice and sticky. By that I mean that its 2-ply woolen-spun qualities make it an excellent candidate for a crocheted steek, which you can see below. The crochet is done in black 2-ply fingering-weight; a finer guage than the rest of the sweater, to avoid excess bulk. Here are my two sleeves, still conjoined, with steeks already secured.
To crochet a steek , you reinforce the edges before cutting them by working a chain around the stitches that will be cut. You make two rows of double crochet, and then cut the ladders of knitting between them.
Here is a closeup of me doing that (Warning: Scissors + Knitting may = dangerous viewing for the squeamish)
The cut stitch edges, bound neatly in their crochet chain, will quickly felt down with wear and washing. Want proof it really works? Check out some antique Fair Isle knitting, and prepare to have your mind blown.
Here I am making the actual seam (working yarn is the black 2-ply again, this time doubled). Rather than sewing, think of the stitches you make as lacing up the opening - just as with ice skates, or a corset. Working from the right side, you stitch through the ladder of every stitch on either side of the opening. Pull each successive stitch less tightly than the last until you have 8 or 10 "laces", then gently snug them up by pulling the working yarn:
The laces disappear, the edges butt together, and the seam is just about indecipherable.
Here's our wee beastie, the finished seam, from the wrong side (notice how well-behaved and flat it is,with no blocking or steaming at all?),
And from the right side.
The seam is invisible, and only the mirrored increases on either side hint at its location. The horizontal stripes match perfectly, rather than spiraling with a "step" as they would do if knitted in the round. This tendency is even more pronounced in striped or stranded colorwork designs. And the biggest bonus: A perfectly matched pair of sleeves, with no guessing, no fudging, and no faking. No thinking, either - just knit, stabilize, cut and lace them up.
Kids, DO try this at home! Just remember the following:
Crocheted steek edges are only for untreated, 100% wool yarns. NO superwash, and NO blends. Only do this with a yarn that can felt. Don't panic; there are other ways to secure those other yarns. I just want you to be sure you have chosen the proper victim for performing this daring feat.
A brilliant set of instructions on the actual crochet stitching for steeks is here. Now go forth and seam something. You have my blessing.