A steek is a bridge of extra stitch columns placed where an opening will be cut. The stitches in the steek will not be visible in the finished garment. Instead they are cut at the mid-point, and the steek stitches at each side of the resulting opening are folded to the inside of the garment
The wonderful thing about steeks is that they make it possible to knit a garment entirely in the round from the ‘right side’. In stranded knitting this is a major advantage as it means the motif pattern is easily seen as it is worked. Also, stranding is easier in knit than in purl.
Steeks are usually formed of 6 or more stitch columns. In my stranded patterns I usually instruct a steek of 8 stitches in which the two colours of yarn are used to form a striping pattern. The two neighbouring centre stitch columns are in the same colour to mark each side of the cutting line. Another traditional steeking pattern simply alternates the colours to form a chequerboard design.
A lot of knitters are scared of cutting their knitting in case it unravels all the way back from the cut into the main garment. However, with the wool yarns traditionally used for stranded knitting this is very unlikely to happen. With shetland yarn I only ever press the steek with a steam iron to set it; the steeks in Pemberley, Lissuin, and A Great British Knit have only been treated in this way!
Nevertheless, there are very robust ways to reinforce the knitting in the steek to prevent unravelling. In the videos below I show two such methods – a machine-stitched reinforcement, and a crochet reinforcement.
Because of the size and shape of the garment, some steeks have to be cut before reinforcing them. My Tess slippers contain a steek that must be cut first, and this is the garment I used in the following videos. So the first video shows me cutting the steek. Alas, the action goes a little off-camera at times. Despite this the video sufficiently conveys the method.
There is a well-known method of crochet reinforcement in which lines of double crochet (‘single crochet’ in the US) are made at each side of the cutting line. I prefer slip-stitch crochet reinforcement as this is less bulky.
Machine-stitched reinforcement applies a straight line of very short machine stitches to each side of the steek.
Usually stitches are picked up next to steeks in order to knit a sleeve or an edging: