The Ariel Steeking Adventure

So just before last Christmas my lovely sister-in-law confessed to me that as a child, she’d had her heart set on a Scandi style snowflake cardigan and in fact, had never actually grown out of that urge.  Well, that was a red rag to my knitting bull regardless of the fact that at that point my stranded colourwork experiences consisted of exactly 2 baable hats and 1 humulus sweater.  A minor piffling detail.

I approached the project slowly and carefully as if it was indeed the aforementioned temperamental bull.  I spent hours on Ravelry hunting down suitable looking cardigans, painstakingly reading all the descriptions before narrowing it down to a shortlist of 10 that I printed off, wrapped up with a bow and presented to my SIL with a) the instruction to pick one and b) a promise that it would be done for the following Christmas.

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She chose the Ariel Cardigan by Veronika Lindberg.  In fact, she was also adamant wanted the exact same colours the designer used which was a marvellous coincidence for me, since I had 4 skeins of the Cascade 220 Turquoise in my stash already from a previous plan for an Andi Satterlund sweater that I’d abandoned when I sadly realised her patterns are generally drafted for women with a vastly different bust to waist ratio from me.  But yay for having half the wool already!

And that was the only easy part of the yarn sourcing.  Getting a single skein of each of the remaining 3 colours turned into a major mission as no one stockist had all of them and I had to do some complicated maths equations to work out which combinations of yarn from which stockists would not land me with delivery charges totalling more than the actual wool (downside of living on beautiful picturesque island is the pesky sea that all goods have to go over to get to you).

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And then I faced a critical sizing dilemna.  My SIL is usually enviably tiny, however at the time of planning was heavily pregnant. What size cardigan would she want afterwards? We decided on the smallest size on the basis that she wanted it to fit her for years to come, and if it didn’t quite fit perfectly at Cardiganmas (as I referred to Christmas in my head) well, it was a cardigan and one doesn’t have to do up all the buttons!

Which is lucky, as whilst working on the bottom up part of the monster, I couldn’t help thinking “this looks like it’s going to be awfully snug on the hips…” and the stranded colourwork doesn’t allow for much widthways stretch in the fabric. And then I’m not sure if I changed my tension by the time I got to the yoke, but that came out looking distinctly generous in the chest, to the point where I began to worry that this would only fit a broomstick with balloons tied to it and not an actual person. However I was too committed now to retreat so I suppressed my many qualms, stiffened my British upper lip and pressed on regardless.

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Success we can do up the buttons!

The colourwork itself wasn’t too tricksy. The cascade 220 is heathery enough to stick to itself and I was familiar enough with how to carry floats from my baables that I knew not to pull them too tight or leave too loose. I did struggle with the motifs on the very narrow magic looped cuffs so quickly abandoned the chart and switched to main colour. Who really looks at patterns on sleeves anyway?

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But the big construction challenge was always going to be the steeking. Which I’m sure contains the word “eek” on purpose. The entire sweater is knitted in the round, then you’re supposed to use a sewing machine to run 2 lines of stitches up the middle of the front, then boldly cut up them.

I say supposed to… I had reservations about effectively getting up the inside of a not very big woollen tube with my machine and sewing straight lines with precision under those circumstances. So I hit google to see if the clever people on tinterweb knew any other way of doing it. And I came across a crochet method, which I (in a fit of temporary insanity) thought looked just the thing!

I crocheted 2 beautiful rows up the inside then boldly cut up between them, congratulating myself on how smartly finished the button band would look. The smugness lasted exactly 2 minutes, before the first ugly strand of white popped its head out, like an evil worm of doom.

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Probably some of you have already spotted the fatal flaw in my plan but others, like me at that point, may still be scratching your heads not seeing the problem. Which is that the crochet steeking method is only meant for single colour knitting! By using it in stranded colourwork it was only a matter of not much time before all 6 weeks of work completely unravelled.

I pegged it to my sewing room and had those raw edges under the machine before you could say “ooh look is that another loose end”. I used the zipper foot so I could stitch as close as possible to the crochet row (also conscious that I couldn’t really afford to lose any width on this skinny fit thing) and machine stitched a line in both edges. But the little ends just kept popping out so I went over and over it again and again anywhere I saw yarn in danger until the cardigan could practically stand up by itself. Oh the panic!

Then I had to cut out the once beautiful (and now utterly redundant) row of crochet and finally pick up the edge stitches for the button band one stitch over from where I’d originally intended to. Well mostly one stitch, my frenzied machine attack meant some of them were too tight to pick up and it took a lot of jiggery pokery to finally get a sort of straight button band on the needles.

After all this, you’d think finishing a mere button band would be a breeze. And it probably would have been, had I not run out of yarn just before the final cast off of the 2nd band… I hit the internet again and this time did pay more for delivery than the one skein. And even that I managed to screw up and ordered sport weight instead of DK! I thought s*d it at this point and adventurously joined the sport weight on to see if I could get away with using it on a bind off row. And I did! You’d have to be looking pretty closely to notice that the edging is thinner on one band.

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But all’s well that ends well… as you can see it fits her beautifully and she loves it. Gratifyingly she’s barely taken it off since Christmas so the steeked stitches are holding well under the rigorous wear. However I’m quite happy to put steeking in the “been there done that” drawer and never open it again. All cardigans from now on will be knitted back and forth and any complex stranded colourwork will be strictly for jumpers! Now… where’s that Birkin sweater pattern…

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