Steeking Made Simple

I've recently started volunteering at the local Yap n' Yarn session held at Orkney Library in Kirkwall, and one of the questions I was asked in my 'interview' was "do you know how to steek?". It's a skill I've picked up this year, but since people were keen for me to demonstrate steeking, I thought I'd run up a mini tutorial. Keep in mind that this is just one of many ways to create a steek in your knitted fabric, but it's never failed me if I make sure to follow every step.

Here's the swatch I'll be demonstrating a steek with:

It is knitted flat using chunky weight yarn (Stylecraft Special) on 6.5mm needles. This technique works exactly the same for knitting in the round, but for the sake of photos and this tutorial, I'll be working with a flat panel.

Take a crochet hook (I'm using a 4mm hook here) and find where you want to insert one side of your steek. You're looking for where two columns of knitting line up with one another. Starting at the top of your knitted fabric, insert the crochet hook into the left arm of the right-hand stitch, and the right arm of the left-hand stitch:

With the crochet hook, pull, the tail of the yarn through both legs and tie it in place to secure it:

Then, in the same space, make one single crochet and continue to single crochet all the way down the fabric, following the same line of left arm of the right-hand stitch, and the right arm of the left-hand stitch.

Here's a close-up diagram explaining where you'll be crocheting. The black cross is the symbol for single crochet, and as you can see, they are placed over the legs of two separate columns of stockinette stitch that face one another:

Now here is where steeking varies the most between knitters. Some people like to insert a steek that sits one stitch wide. I've highlighted in this image where the cut would be made if you were making a narrow steek:

I personally prefer to leave a large gap between crocheted rows. This is because I mostly knit stranded colour work, such as Fair Isle, and inserting a narrow steek means there's more room for error. When I've tried to do narrow steeks, I've accidentally caught the crochet with the scissors, and everything has unraveled. Creating a wider steek will produce longer ends on the reverse side, which may need woven in, but I prefer to err on the side of caution and leave a wider gap.

To do the next row of crochet, you must start from the edge you just finished. If your first row of crochet ended at the bottom of the fabric, you must then start the second row from the bottom, and work towards the top. The blue arrow shows the direction of the first line of crochet, and the yellow shows the second line:

Now it's time to take a deep breath and get ready to cut into the fabric! Find where the middle is between the two rows of crochet, and begin to cut:

Cut all the way to the end and there you have it - a steeked piece of knitting!

If you turn the pieces over, you'll see the ends I previously mentioned. If they are long enough, you can weave them in using a crochet hook:

When I started trying to steek, I made a few little swatches to practice with. I highly recommend that you try steeking several times on scrap pieces of knitting before taking a pair of scissors to a sweater that took a hundred hours to make!

I hope this little tutorial has been of some help - it took a few times trying for me to get steeking right, but it's definitely a good arrow to add to your knitting quiver if you're looking to learn a new skill.

A Little Bit of Yarn Bombing

A while ago, I decided that I wanted to make some little crochet gifts using some leftover yarn in my stash. I uhhm and aahed over what to make - there are lots of iconic "Orkney" things that would have made for complimentary subjects, like puffins, standing stones and Viking longships. What to choose?


In the end, I went for a simple little house design. The idea behind it was to give people a little piece of home away from home. Orkney is the number one destination for cruise ships to visit in the British Isles, and while I never intend this sort of yarn bombing to be exclusively for tourists, the concept of a portable representation of home felt like the right one for this project.

I made nine houses in total and hid them around the centre of town. Some were more obvious than others; I didn't want to hide them so well that they weren't discovered! I put them out late at night, ready to go to new homes the next morning. It turned out to be a beautiful night with a typical Orkney sunset for the time of year.

I wonder where the houses have ended up and how they are being used. It's nice to think that they could be scattered all over the world!  

My Number's Up

It's been a while since I wrote on my dyscalculia and how it affects me not only when I'm knitting or crocheting, but also in my every day life with all the challenges it brings.

That feeling when a panel comic sums up your entire life experience...

From my earliest memories of school, numbers have always scared me. In Primary 3, when I was about seven years old, we were given times tables on sheets of paper that we had to cut up, put in an envelope, shake about and then remove and reassemble in the correct order. I remember struggling with the 6,7,8 and 9 times tables for the entire year to the point where I was incapable, crying in class and at home over how I couldn't do the calculations required to come up with the correct answer. I eventually managed to give the right answers, but it was based on memorising it; "4x6=24" because I remember that's the answer, not because I can work it out. For the rest of my time at Primary school, my maths work would always come back with "Show your working!" written in the margin. Concurrently, I excelled at reading and writing, so beyond me not being very good at mathematics, there was nothing to indicate I had any learning difficulties.

Fast-forward to Secondary school and my mathematics did not advance. To explain the Scottish school system at the time, there are six years of Secondary school, and during your 2nd year, you choose what subjects you want to take over the next two years, but are also assessed so you can learn the subjects at an appropriate difficulty. This also dictates what level your final exams will be - if you were in Credit, it meant you took "Level 1 or 2". General was 3/4 and Foundation was 5/6. If you were any lower than 6, you were given assistance with learning. I was taking nine subjects, eight of which were Credit with one being Foundation. What was that Foundation? Maths, of course.

As Secondary school progressed, the difficulties I have with numbers became more apparent in other classes. I had taken biology and graphic communication, which during the first couple of years of Secondary school had been general in their content - there were some numbers in there, but there was enough other content for me to guddle through the classes. However, I was firmly within Foundation maths, and the moment I could drop the subject altogether, I did (in favour of Philosophy, which went on to be my best exam result). Foundation maths was really just a repeat of the first couple of years of Secondary school, and even covered a lot of content from Primary school. There was no long division, no complex fractions and almost no algebra at all. It was so long ago that I took my exams that the past papers from that year are not available online, but I did have a look at more recent Foundation Mathematics past papers, and the level of questions are pretty much what I remember them being:

Work out the answers to the following.
(a) 6427 + 125
Eve is paid £7·50 per hour.
(a) How much is Eve paid for working 4 hours?

The next one is my favourite:

George is going to knit a sweater.
He needs to buy 10 balls of wool and 2 pairs of knitting needles.
One ball of wool costs £3.
One pair of knitting needles costs £2·50.
How much will it cost George to knit the sweater?

When I told people that a question in my exam paper was "Count the petals on this flower - are they odd or even?", no one believed that a 15 year old could struggle with such a basic concept. That I was doing so well in other classes indicated that I just wasn't trying hard enough when it came to maths, with the old trope of "If you're really good at English and bad at maths, it's because you hate maths and would rather be doing something else" cropping up again and again.

This is one of the most frustrating aspects of having dyscalculia - the constant "You just need to practice" followed up with "Come on, it's not that hard" that I'm met with whenever I forgo a coping technique I've developed and try to work something out in a "legitimate" way. I struggle with reading travel time tables and calendars (which extends into understanding how much time has passed between two points on the clock), volume, depth, length, distance, sequences, and even dialing phone numbers. Often people claim that much of what they learned at school hasn't translated into their everyday life - calculating the length of something isn't needed, so it's not much of a loss to no longer be able to do it. However, there is a big difference in my experiences with numbers and someone who's a bit rusty - I couldn't do it in the first place, and no amount of practice will ever help me learn it either. Basic mathematical skills are used daily in ways that most people take for granted, whether it's filling the car up with petrol or knowing when to leave the house to make sure they get to work in time. These are things that I often mess up, and have to put my own working method in place in order to successfully carry out simple tasks.

So how does all of this relate to crochet and knitting? Well, the most obvious factor here is that both crafts involve a lot of numbers. The big difference here, though, is that unlike a problem on paper, I can hold fabric in my hand, and counting stitches is like an extension of counting my fingers (something that I still do). I wasn't able to be taught how to do either growing up because my mother would assume I was able to keep count of things as I was going, and found that any attempt to teach me focused too much on the numbers and pattern, rather than grasping the basics like how to hold the needles and yarn, how to wrap yarn or even how to centre-pull a ball of yarn so that it doesn't keep rolling away. When I took up the fiddle a few years ago, I was taught that learning how to hold a violin and bow was more important in the early stages than reading music. The same is true for knitting and crochet, and is one of the core principles of my workshops for beginners - don't worry if you can't read patterns for now, that can come later after you've gained confidence in the tools and materials.

Learning how to read patterns was a process that also took many years, and was a driving force in writing my own patterns; I would have to deconstruct many patterns and re-write them using my own terminology, then translate them again into industry standard terminology. I have to not only double-check everything I do, but triple-check, make more than one swatch and often make numerous prototypes of an item. Decoding charts was a huge leap forward too; being more visual, I find it easier to follow pictures than numbers. I try to encourage new crocheters to engage with charts as early as they feel capable, because it by-passes much of the mental arithmetic present in a written pattern. I can place my finger on a chart and trace it, then do the same with the fabric in my hand. While the numbers and totals in written patterns may appear to be self-explanatory, to me they can be daunting and misread. Part of my number blindness, that I touched on further up, is my tendency to incorrectly dial phone numbers. I can look at a printed number and instantly forget it, meaning that it's very difficult for me to retain what a total should be in my head while also counting up or down. With charts, I find it less stressful to keep count. As much as I prefer charts, I do feel a great sense of accomplishment when I write a pattern that can be followed by others. I find that if I don't knit or crochet for a couple of days, my overall ability and confidence with numbers drops significantly, and affects other areas of my life, even if it's something as simple as reading the numbers on a measuring jug.

So there you have it - a brief foray into what it's like to be a knitter and crocheter when you have trouble with numbers. I hope I've been able to share some experiences that others can relate to, and maybe even get folks talking about the less well known challenges the world of numbers has to those of us who aren't wired to deal with it.

Crochet Workshop

Following feedback from the workshops I ran at Laldie Haans, I'm going to be running another crochet workshop on Saturday the 2nd of July!

The three hour workshops is aimed at beginners, or those looking for a refresher in crochet materials, techniques and terminology. We'll be briefly looking at the history of crochet, and how it has developed and diversified in recent years. I'll be bringing a variety of crocheted items, from apparel to amigurumi, that we can look at and discuss with the aim of understanding the stitches and how they are used. I will also have a range of different types of crochet hook for you to try, and lots of different yarn types to experiment with. Some pieces of flat and in-the-round crochet that have been started will be available, but I'll also be able to teach you how to begin different styles of crochet.

All materials are included, but please bring along any pieces of crochet you've done for everyone to have a look at! There will be a 20-30 minute break with refreshments provided. Places are limited to 8. Tickets are £16 and available to buy online, but will also be available on the day if there are any spaces remaining.

Mixed Media Crochet Art

Argh, I can't believe I forgot to take my camera to the crochet workshops I ran at Laldie Haans... And the work produced was so good too! Thinking back to when I first started trying to learn to crochet, the things I made were terrible - huge clumps of nothingness that ended up in the bin (they were such a mess that it wasn't worth keeping them even to look back on to document my progress). It wasn't just me that was surprised with how quickly the students took to crocheting in the round - the students themselves were shocked at how much they managed to get done in three hours. One selkie was completely finished and the rest were well on their way to completion. In the afternoon, I had a lefty looking to learn the basics of crochet. It was a learning curve for both of us; I'd heard that crocheting with the left hand is challenging and couldn't be learned by simply flipping a technique, but I assumed it would be as simple as just holding the hook in your left hand and yarn in the right, and moving your hand the same way you would as a righty. Now that I've experienced the difficulty of trying to crochet using your non-dominate hand, I'm determined to sit down and "figure out" exactly how to crochet left-handed so I can enhance the content of future workshops.

So what else have I been up to recently, other than the workshops? Well, I've just finished a mixed-media painting:

I did the freeform poppy quite a while ago, but didn't really know what I wanted to do with it besides incorporate it in a painting of some sort. Recently, the Weeping Window installation has been opened, and being just along the street from me, it's a poignant source of daily inspiration. Made from a number of the ceramic poppies that formed the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London, the Weeping Window has been erected to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Jutland. Having such an influential and emotive piece of art on Orkney (and my doorstep) was just the inspiration I'd been seeking, so I cracked out the paints and this is what I came up with.

The canvas is 4" square so there wasn't a lot of room to work with. However, "detail" was not something I wanted to aim for in the application of the paint. The poppy was constructed using a variety of crochet stitches (bullion, surface, increase and decrease to name a few); the intention is to hide the detail of the crochet in an overall image, where you need to stand close to the piece to see what's going on. I didn't want the crochet to look "stuck on" either - it was important to make both the paint and the crochet look like a single image, and not two separate features that jar against one another. It meant applying the paint as thick as possible, even straight onto the canvas from the tube in some places, and then manipulating it in place.

I'm quite happy with the overall effect of the paint and crochet. I have a couple of other freeform pieces ready to be painted onto larger canvas - playing about with placement and scale is an ongoing experiment, and finding new ways to use crochet in art is something I'm excited to be trying.