Signed, sealed, soon to be delivered to the San Francisco AFSC basement along with a nice pile of socks and mittens, I am happy to present to you the mohair/wool vest fresh off the blocking board.
The steeking was fairly easy. I started with a refresher course thanks to Lucy Neatby's excellent DVDs. "Knitting Essentials 2" covers the very basics of steeking, from securing the stitches pre-cutting to various ways of cleaning up the cut seam-allowance. "Knitting Gems 2" offers a segment on v-neck decreases prior to steeking which I wouldn't have thought of if I hadn't watched it. I own a few more of the DVDs and each is useful, with information explained in detail and filmed very, very clearly.
By the time I realized that I needed to steek the front, I had already worked the body in the round to the armholes, and the back flat all the way to the neck. Back-shoulder stitches were on holders, waiting for a 3-needle bind-off. I started knitting the front flat for a couple of rows, casting on 8 new stitches at the middle in order to create the "bridge" where I would cut later. Lucy Neatby also calls it the seam allowance, an even clearer term for those fluent in sewing. I knitted this piece straight to the neck, making v-neck decreases 1 stitch away from the bridge, every four rows, then every 6 rows. Then I bound off those 8 center stitches, while saving the front shoulder live stitches for later. The piece looked weird with this pouch hanging out in front and my decreases looked a bit wonky too, especially on the left side. Apparently someone needs to learn to tighten her SSKs.
Next stop: the sewing-machine and the scissors. Sorry, I didn't photograph the process, but it was straight forward and easy. Once I had the v-neck cut and pressed, I picked up stitches just one stitch away from the decrease line and knitted an edging. I also attached the shoulders together and finished the armholes.
All that was left was to finish the inside of the steeks. The neatest option would be to sew a gros-grain ribbon, but I worried about reducing the elasticity of the neck and, just as important, about making a mess of it. Lucy Neatby recommends a simple finish with a row of blanket stitches keeping the cut edges flat and attached to the body practically invisibly, so that was the route I chose. I also knew that those grabby mohair stitches were not very likely to slip and fray and fall apart the way a smooth cotton yarn would.
My blanket stitch looks nothing like blanket stitch by the way. Can you tell? It is the row of stitches done in a smooth, light blue wool. At any rate, it is unobtrusive and gets the job done.
And here is a close-up of the basis of the v-neck, formerly a gaping hole where I had cast on those 8 new stitches. All better now.
Even those wonky neck-decrease stitches look better now that there is a ribbed neck forcing them to behave.
To sum up: steeking is much easier than it is made up to be. What really matters is to think it through. Knitting is so forgiving -- frogging always remains a possibility even when it feels overwhelming or almost punitive. With steeking, though, there is no do-over as far as I can tell. But I think we knitters tend to linger on this negative, to the point where we disregard the huge time-saver than steeking can represent. Knitting the whole front in one piece took less time than dealing with two half-fronts, one after the other. Symmetry (of stripes, of decreases, of patterns, etc) is much easier to preserve when you are knitting both sides at once. Even more so when knitting the whole piece in the round, as I will do at the next opportunity.
A few years ago, I decided to learn how to sew. I never became good at it but I could produce a decent, even elaborate Halloween costume, which was pretty much my goal in those days. I love knitting in part because it allows for fudging, whereas sewing pretty much requires accuracy. What I do enjoy about sewing is how fast it can go provided one has thought through which steps to take, and in which order. Steeking is exactly like this. What matters is to figure out the steps and then execute them, one after the other. But the steps themselves are easy and logical.
What can I say? I'd much rather deal with steeks than with two dozen knitted squares to mattress -stitch together. Which reminds me: I have about two dozen squares waiting for me to sit down and mattress-stitch them together.