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Adventures in Blocking

Feb 8, 2010

One of my current knit-alongs is the Heather Hoodie Vest from Knitscene.

The vest has a really beautiful X and O cable pattern up the back and the fronts, and a bunch of us were merrily knitting along and noticed that we were getting some ladders in a certain portion of the cable.

It doesn't really detract from the overall effect, but it was bugging me so I contacted the designer, Debbie O'Neill, and asked her if she had any tips.

Nice lady that she is, Debbie emailed me back immediately and told me that she'd had the same problem. Her finished Hoodie looked great, though, in the Knitscene photo spread that shows the project—so what gives?

Debbie said that after she blocked the pieces, the yarn relaxed a bit and the ladders closed up. Well, what do you know? Blocking to the rescue again!

Blocking is to finished pieces what gauging is to sizing; namely, a crucial step!! I have a friend who doesn't block her finished sweaters; she only blocks lace pieces. She says she doesn't like how blocked pieces look like they've been ironed. I told her she was over-blocking! Blocked pieces should end up looking smooth and even, not crushed. But she still doesn't block—she simply likes that "fresh-off-the-needles" look.

I always block, so after talking to Debbie, I was a little concerned that I wouldn't get the same result of the ladders closing up because I used a different yarn than she did for the model.

So I dug out my swatch and blocked it.

My hoodie is being knit out of Tahki Bunny, a Merino wool, alpaca, and acrylic blend. The model is knit from Lamb's Pride Bulky, which is a wool-mohair blend. I thought maybe my swatch wouldn't behave the same because of the alpaca and acrylic components.

I soaked my swatch in a sink of lukewarm water until it was totally wet. Then I rolled it in a towel to get most of the water out, pinned it to my blocking board, and waited for it to dry.

Before blocking. After blocking!

Wonder of wonders—it worked! The yarn bloomed a bit and those ladders tightened up. I think they'll probably reappear a little in wearing, but that's the nature of this pattern and I can live with that.

Have you had any similar blocking revelations? Share them with us in the comments.

Here's to great patterns and to believing in blocking process!

Cheers,

P.S. There's a new Knitscene out in your local yarn stores (or get yours here). Hurry and get your copy before they're gone!


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Comments

zewdita wrote
on Feb 9, 2011 8:02 PM

Hi every body this is a great topic, I was wondering do I have to block every time the garment is washed or is it only the first time that I should block thanks :)

tweetybrd wrote
on Sep 22, 2010 8:08 AM

I always block;but this time I blocked too long on a sweater for my husband. The fiber is 25% wool and the rest acrylic. Is it possible to "shrink" the item to make it shorter.

RobinH wrote
on Feb 25, 2010 11:02 AM

I think there's a lot of great advice here, but also that a lot depends on the fiber and the pattern.    Wool vs. acrylic vs. silk will need different blocking.  Lace vs cables vs Fair Isle don't all need the same amount or type of blocking.  The Knitter's Book of Yarn (I think it was that one anyway) had some good guidelines.  Here are a few of my rules of thumb:

I don't block acrylic unless it looks uneven.  Wet block and pin out, no heat.  

I block wool if it's Fair Isle or lace, or if I need to resize anything.  Wet block and pin out.  Cables I mostly don't bother unless I'm trying to correct something.  

I don't block socks- I use superwash to knit them and since they're worn slightly stretched anyway, it doesn't seem to make much difference even if they're lace.  

My blocking surface is a styrofoam sheet that came in a box of something, but I mean to pick up some of the interlocking foam exercise mats when I get the chance, as I've heard good things about them.

And my favorite blocking 'save' was a wool sweater for my husband that needed a little extra ease in a couple of areas where the fair isle had pulled in more than I wanted.  When I blocked the finished sweater, I stretched those out to the desired dimensions and pinned them, and they came out exactly right.  It's the one of the few garments my husband owns that fits him really well.

MicheleB wrote
on Feb 17, 2010 12:37 AM

Well, I'm finally reading your post, and it's so timely! I'm knitting the Heather Hoodie, too, and was wondering what I was going to do about those ladders right there. Looks like they'll take care of themselves, and I can stop worrying about them right now.

Krys H. wrote
on Feb 14, 2010 5:22 AM

Hi Kathleen,

I gave up blocking decades ago.I didn't like the scalloped look the pinning sometimes gave me and my pieces often ended up different sizes. I began sewing everything together then washing the entire garment and laying it flat to dry in the shape that I wanted it to have. I find I get excellent results that way with less fuss. Imperfections in the stitches and similar problems like those you have illustrated here, all smooth out beautifully. I also like to avoid the uneven look my seams tend to have by making both sides of garments together on circular needles.

On another subject, is there a way to  avoid loose stitches at the ends of rows?  I know I can carry the first stitch in a row instead of knitting it but then I have a new problem if I want to pick up stitches along the border.

Krys

ColleenR@9 wrote
on Feb 12, 2010 8:20 PM

Once a sweater has been blocked, is there any way to "unblock" it? I blocked the Tangled Yoke cardigan and it flattened it much more than I expected.

I would like to get some of the springy-ness and loft back into the yarn. Is there any way to do that?

LaurieS wrote
on Feb 11, 2010 7:47 PM

I never used to block anything, but I am now a true convert. I made a pair of mittens in  2 colors of sock yarn, and it had lots of really long strands across the inside. I used trapping to twist the colors on the long floats, and it made the mittens pucker quite a lot.  I was very sure I was the worst w-color knitter on the planet.  Then I put the mittens in water, and the yarn bloomed beautifully.  All the puckers disappeared, the stitches relaxed and evened out, and they looked wonderful!  I pulled them into shape and laid them flat to dry.  I was even able to correct that one mitten was a little larger than the other.  I also knitted my first lace shawl recently.  It started out a shapeless mess, and after pinning out to dry, all the lace patterning now stands out clearly.  It is truly a miracle how much difference a little water and patience can make.

JenniferH@46 wrote
on Feb 9, 2010 7:53 PM

I block with a hand held steamer I purchased after making my daughter's wedding dress, and was able to steam out wrinkles before the ceremony.  I use it now to steam my knitting and it does not flatten the garment, but enables me to shape it.  It is much 'steamier' than the steam iron.  My blocking board is made from a 4 x 8 sheet of foam core board cut in half and glued together, and covered with 1 inch gingham.   The gingham helps wonderfully for measurements.  

Jennifer Harris

on Feb 9, 2010 11:58 AM

Dear Kathleen, tell us more about this blocking board please. Eg what is it made of and how big is it?

Best wishes from Linda in London, England.

TerrieW wrote
on Feb 9, 2010 11:57 AM

wanna kiss you for that one!  thanks

TraceyB wrote
on Feb 9, 2010 11:56 AM

I am starting to get the hang of blocking - it is great for the edges that like to fold up.  For the roll up edges - I let it roll to what I want and then flatten and pin, just above the roll it so it does not continue to roll up.

I found workout room flooring squares work great.  They are foam, they have the puzzle edges but each are about 3 feet square.  

My sister in law, who knits quite a bit of lace - covered a board in Gingham cloth. The small squares really helps with the fine detail she is blocking out.

Kelly@85 wrote
on Feb 9, 2010 9:04 AM

Unless you never intend to wash your finished sweater, blocking is a critical part of the swatching process...I would never start a sweater without blocking my swatch to see how the yarn behaves and grows.

Judy 64 wrote
on Feb 9, 2010 7:04 AM

I am always amazed with the difference blocking makes with knitted items.  Lace work especially is a MUST.    I like to use a shamwow type towel to absorb the water - rolling my work jellyroll style and then gently squeezing seems to remove more dampness than a terry towel.    

catestitch wrote
on Feb 9, 2010 6:07 AM

Nice advice. Although "soaking until totally wet" sounds like you're simplifying the most important step!  

Anything wool wants at least 2 minutes in water to allow the water to reach and soak every fiber so that it's 'memory' can do it's amazing thing. The fiber person me always goes for the 2 minute mark and it works for a lot of us as a general rule.

Love you pics too!  You go!

Dola wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 2:53 PM

I learned my lesson about the importance of blocking after I ruined a sweater that I knitted for me and then ironed it.   I thought I was ironing the pieces very gently but they just stretched and the sweater was ruined.  Lesson learnt.  I now block very carefully by placing a towel on the carpet, then pinning the knit pieces on it, then spraying with cold water to wet the knitted pieces.  Perfect.  

Dola

KathyP@19 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 2:50 PM

For a blocking surface, I bought a folded cardboard fabric cutting board at the local fabric store.  I covered it with a clear, plastic adhesive material, also  sold at the fabric store. The plastic protects the cardboard surface from the moisture.n Across the sides, top and bottom, the cutting board is marked in inches and there is a grid pattern that is perfect for laying out knitted pieces that have been soaked, then blotted by the "rolling in towel" method.  

I find this works great and it was much less costly than the blocking boards I considered.

DeniseM@34 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 2:37 PM

So you block the project when you're done, but what do you do each time you wash it?  Wouldn't it lose it's shape and have to be blocked again?

Denise

GerdaP wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 2:17 PM

That is amazing! Thanks for all your super helpful tips and tricks that you share with us.

One more thing to add about blocking cables is that you do not want to apply any pressure to the cables themselves or they lose their 3 D effect.

Happy knitting!

Gerda

Kate Weber wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 2:06 PM

I have recently started knitting again.  I have never blocked in the past and find your tips very helpful.  I have recently completed some shawls and can't wait to use the ideas I have learned.

cathie@5 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 1:53 PM

Thank you Kathleen for the tips you share with us knitters.  I have not worked too much with wool yarns though I have begun classes to learn the art of spinning wool fiber so am looking forward to making more wool projects.  Your tips are clear and it helps so much to "see" from your own knitted examples (as in today's update) that blocking works.

KateMcI wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 1:37 PM

Not to spoil the "Yay For Blocking!" theme here, but my first thought when I saw the ladder in the pic above was "Why couldn't you cross the cables over?"

Um, and yay for blocking!

LindaW@3 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 1:31 PM

One of the first swatches I decided to block "on a lark" became so much bigger after drying that I took a lesson then and there. There is NO WAY I will ever make a garment from a yarn without blocking my swatch first. After a year swatching for the elann forum on Ravelry, I did find that few yarns have that kind of change, but I won't take that chance. Most yarns do change at least a little, one way or another.

LeeG wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 1:11 PM

Of course if you get that just ironed look after blocking you HAVE over blocked.  You absolutely need to look at the measurements or schematics  in the pattern and measure to make sure you only block to those.  

Yarn is so malleable and it will over block if you're not careful.  That said, I find that the only way that sweaters truly drape as they are supposed to is with blocking.

TravlinWoman wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 1:07 PM

Just this weekend I asked that Kathleen address blocking and voila!  I read with great interest everyone's experiences with blocking.  Thank you, thank you.

PamD@22 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 12:40 PM

I usually steam block but here is an experience I recently had:

I made the Tulip sweater for a baby with the yarn it called for. At first I was not happy with the size because I expected it to be larger. I soaked the entire sweater and the yarn relaxed a lot. It was then the size I wanted. I bought some more of the same yarn because it knitted so well and made myself a cardigan. The same thing happened- I didn't think it would be large enough until I soaked it.

JanetW@34 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 12:21 PM

I have a question re blocking - do the machine washable merino wools block well or at all? What is the best method to do so? I  generally prefer steaming with an iron held slightly above the cloth covered piece- will this work?

JeanK@8 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 11:55 AM

I added two extra rows in that area at a suggestion on ravelry.

Jean Kammerer

Nyona wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 11:50 AM

I knitted my first stitch 65 years ago as a little girl and was hooked! When my kids were small I worked in a yarn store and was taught to block with steam. My method is to carefully pin each piece on my blocking board making sure to watch measurements on both sides (easy with the folding board that is marked off in squares). Then hold the steam iron 2 inches above the knitting and move it back and forth until the yarn relaxes. Never ever touch the iron to the knitting. Leave the piece pinned in place until it dries fully, rfemove the pins carefully. If the knitting isn't fully relaxed re-pin and steam again. This method is easy and quick and it relaxes the stitches so those ladders and open spots close up.

Kim Riddell wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 11:36 AM

I've been knitting for about 15 yr and usually block all my projects.  When I started, blocking sounded so complicated, until I read about Elizabeth Zimmermans method---wet the project, roll it in a towel (I step on it a couple of times to get out the excess water) then lay flat to dry.  I have wall to wall carpeting, so when I need to block to a shape, I pin out the damp project with T pins.  For synthetics, I use a steam iron (carefully) and hold it about 1 inch above the surface and wave it back and forth until the yarn relaxes.  I learned this trick from Beryl Hyatt or Tricoter.   I usually block before sewing the sweater together, so the edges match up.   I don't have wires or pin boards, but will probably get them when I decide to knit lacey shawls.  For some yarns, blocking the swatch (a big one) is essential to figuring out the gauge.  Kim

christys@3 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 11:35 AM

Blocking works wonders on fair isle patterns. I was totally stressed out about the tension on my first fair isle pattern because it was a mess, but then someone told me that it woudl be OK; I just needed to block it, and so I did. It was magical!

crvictour wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 10:55 AM

I've heard pros and cons about blocking.  So it's nice to hear success stories and tips on how to do it right.  I always learn something new from you in every post.  Thank you!

DebF wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 10:39 AM

I've been reading all the comments with interest.  I'm a mostly self-taught knitter, too, and I'm not sure how to block garments that have no ribbing and have "rolled" edges.  When I try to pin them the pinpoints keep showing; does anyone have a special technique for blocking rolled edges?  Thanks!

Deb

Debbie@8 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 10:25 AM

I look at blocking in the same way as I look at a pattern.  All part of the customization of my project.  If I really like the way it looks fresh off the needles and I have no fit issues.....voila...no blocking.  If there are ladders or inconsistencies that I want to remove, then I will block.  As to how to block, it will depend on what I am correcting and the type of yarn.  Correcting size may require a different approach than just smoothing out a bumpy stitch, and cotton is different than wool.  The one principle I always keep in mind is that I can always block more......start gentle and work your way more agressive until you have the garment you want.  After all, isn't that why we handknit?  So as to make it just the way we like it?  

buffy789 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 10:14 AM

I like to steam block. That is where you pin out your piece to knitted measurements. Then with alot of steam(BUT DO NOT REST THE IRON on the knitting) go over whole the whole piece. Use your hands to PAT IN THE STEAM before it cools. I love this tecnique because it doesnt take as long to dry and I can get on with the finnishing.

Aline wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 10:05 AM

It made all the difference in the world when I carefully blocked my fisherman's (or gutter girl's) gansey. Knit on #2 needles with traditional Guernsey yarn, it is knitted very tightly. When I tried it on before blocking it was chokingly tight. I stretched it strenuously while blocking, and pinned it. When it was dry it looked smoother, the patterns looked perfect, even where I'd tunneled down to fix errors in previous rows, and it fit perfectly -- as though it had been sprayed on me-- and was very comfortable! I blocked it to the measurements I needed it to have. And wore it to oohs and aahs!

Aline wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 10:04 AM

It made all the difference in the world when I carefully blocked my fisherman's (or gutter girl's) gansey. Knit on #2 needles with traditional Guernsey yarn, it is knitted very tightly. When I tried it on before blocking it was chokingly tight. I stretched it strenuously while blocking, and pinned it. When it was dry it looked smoother, the patterns looked perfect, even where I'd tunneled down to fix errors in previous rows, and it fit perfectly -- as though it had been sprayed on me-- and was very comfortable! I blocked it to the measurements I needed it to have. And wore it to oohs and aahs!

JennG wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 9:59 AM

When I first started knitting, I didn't block, but now it has become an indispensible part of the process--everything turns out so much neater and professional-looking! When wetblocking, I soak the knitted piece for at least half an hour to make sure it gets really saturated. Instead of rolling it in towels, I discovered that carefully lifting it into my salad spinner and giving it a few spins gets out most of the water AND protects it from getting misshapen when it's soaking wet.  It also cuts down on the drying time because so much water is removed. It's the best trick yet.

LadyIlea wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 9:53 AM

Well, after I posted my last comment, I was able to read the rest of the comments.  I am also a self taught knitter and I learned to block without using an iron.  I guess the reason I've never had any difficulty with blocking is that I use the old fashioned, time consuming process of just letting the article "air" dry.  I know it makes a mess leaving them lay all over the house, but I put up with it as do the rest of my family.  However, after reading all the comments, I so appreciate the idea of using the folded cardboard boxes and being able to pin the article and stand it on its side!  Great idea!  And I will certainly "borrow" this one for my next article that are just waiting to be blocked!  Thanks to all of you for sharing your great ideas!  I don't have the opportunity to meet with other knitters unless it's online so I am very grateful that all of you take the time to comment!  Thanks!  Lady Ilea

SHADAMS wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 9:51 AM

In my very early knitting experience (and thinking I didn't need any blocking tools), I made a wonderful shawl out of very expensive yarn.  I set my iron to "steam" and pulsed it across one end of the shawl.  Thinking that more is better, I pressed the iron to the shawl and an entire iron-shaped area simply attached itself to my iron dissolving my work.  That was the long ago and I have never used an iron for blocking again.  Now I  have the necessary "tools" and block everything with great and lasting results.  

LadyIlea wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 9:42 AM

I wasn't confused until I read part of your article.  You mentioned that your friend is concerned about "overblocking."  How does one overblock?  I didn't even realize it was possible, but I guess it is.  I always block and have never had a problem with it.  It does finish the created article and mine always look nice when done, but I appreciate the warning.  I'm sure it's possible to over process anything.

on Feb 8, 2010 8:58 AM

My first foray into garment knitting was a vest out of a noro yarn.  I didn't block, just seamed it up and finished it.  To this day, it still curls around the front, even though I have steam blocked it.  Now I wet block all of my garments, which helps solve so many little imperfections.

Jetpuffed wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 8:57 AM

Cardboard box!

I bought the puzzle piece blocking kit but I find I only use the pins from it. If I have to move it , it falls apart.

I now soak the garment in water as cold as my hands allow, roll in a towel, or two.

Shape to the pattern dimensions on a folded flat cardboard box and pin it to the box. Whenever we move at my office they give us these white boxes meant for moving paper. THey fold flat.  I find that the flat box is just the right size and I can even put it on end to let the sweater dry near my baseboard!  Dries in 2-3 days.  

I do have a problem with my blocking in that I think I "block it to death" ...i think I block the character out of the yarn...  

on Feb 8, 2010 8:52 AM

I had a similar experience when I knitted Alice Starmore's Henry the XIII sweater from her book Tudor Roses.  It is an elaborate Fair Isle affair and even though I was careful make sure my stranding was not too tight, the sweater was bunchy and puckered as it unfurled from my needles.  I was panic stricken that my version of Alice's work of art would be a miserable failure.  The ladies at my LYS tried to reassure me that blocking would make perfect, but I had trouble believing it.  When I had knitted about 10-12 inches I steamed it with my iron and blocked it on the living room rug.  It was a miracle!  My scrunchy bunchy sweater became gorgeous!  I knitted on in utter confidence that blocking would make the difference.

Erin in Missouri

jeanfm wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 8:13 AM

I've never blocked because I always use non-wool yarns (i am sensative to all wool,) but can knit with 10-25% wool content(for gifts and giving) without it bothering my hands, but I can't put it on my body.  I recently did a helmet liner in 100% wool and my hands were really sore by the time I finished.  How would I block it?  Jean

SusanJ@59 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 8:09 AM

I was knitting a very lacy scarf out of fingering weight yarn.  As I knit, the pattern did not look as lacy as I had wanted and it seemed kind of tight.  After taking it to my local yarn shop, they helped me block it and wonder of wonders, it became nice and lacy and delicate looking, just as I had hoped.  Now I am a huge fan of blocking!

HvnSntRN wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 7:59 AM

Last spring I made a baby blanket with a cashmere-silk blend.  I must have spent almost $100 on the yarn - the blanket was to be a gift for a very dear friend's firstborn.  The pattern (from Sublime) had colour changes every 4 rows, so there were lots of threads to either carry up one side of the piece or to snip and weave in.  Both choices created extra bulk on one edge of the blanket.  When I applied the edging, the blanket was horribly lopsided.  I just wanted to cry, thinking of the time and money that I'd wasted on something that my perfectionist self wouldn't permit me to give to a dog.

I ripped off the edging because there were exposed loops from the carried up yarns and decided on a simple crochet border.  Still the result was unsatisfyingly lopsided.

Blocking was a last-ditch effort to save my work.  I hand-washed the blanket in warm water with gentle knitwear friendly detergent, rinsed liberally and rolled it up in a towel several times to remove the excess water.  Then I blocked the blanket on newly-bought blocking mats (in actuality they were kiddy play mats, because my LYS didn't carry blocking mats, and this was an emergency!) and patiently waited for the blanket to dry.

The results were nothing short of miraculous, new mom was thrilled with the blanket (reduced to tears at the baby shower so I was told) - and now I am a "true believer" in blocking. It turned what at first appeared to be a complete disaster into a gift that I was proud to give.

micales wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 7:43 AM

your comments on blocking came just in time.  I've been a knitter for years but quilty of never blocking my pieces.  I'm currently working on a sweater and decided I will block my pieces from now on.  So now I'm collecting all the info I can find on what is the best way.  My main question is, what  is the best blocking board to use.  I see that some boards are rather expensive, should I make that kind of an investment.  Would appreciate all advice and comments.

Liane

Stevie@2 wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 7:34 AM

Like your friend, I used to use an iron to block my pieces.  I would pin the pieces to my ironing board, wet a small towel, and lightly press them with the iron.  The pieces definitely came out flat, and looking "pressed".  Then someone put me onto another & better method.  I run a towel through the rinse cycle, lay it out and put the pieces on top of the towel, without pinning.  I then roll the towel up, being careful to keep everything flat.  Once rolled, I place it inside a plastic bag and leave it overnight.  In the a.m. I remove the towel from the bag, unroll, and leave everything to dry on a flat surface.  I do pin the pieces if they aren't flat.  The end result looks so much better than the old steaming process.  

Of course, this process doesn't work for sweaters knit from the neck down.  I recently made a sweater for my dil using the neck down process.  I loved the fact that I didn't have to sew any seams!  To block it, I soaked the sweater in a sinkful of lukewarm water, at the suggestion of my local yarn guru.  : )  I squeezed the water out of the sweater - no wringing.  I placed the sweater on a large towel and left it to dry on a flat surface.  It did take a lot of area - almost the entire table, because I laid the sleeves out to the sides using more towels.  It took a few days to dry, with me changing the towels every day, but the end result was beautiful.  I was quite impressed with my efforts.  Happy knitting & blocking!

Stephanie

on Feb 8, 2010 7:30 AM

I have had mixed success with blocking... and by mixed, I'd say most of my blocking has not turned out the way I hope it does.  Yesterday I blocked a cardigan knit with a 75% pima cotton, 25% wool blend (that is listed as hand wash only) and it stretched like craaazy!  Right now I've got it in the washing machine on cold and plan to throw it in the dryer to shrink it up some.  Does anyone know of a really good tutorial (written or video) online that has made blocking "click" for them?

on Feb 8, 2010 7:26 AM

Hello,

I am a self taught knitter and do not always have the tools that would be helpful.  I blocked my first sweater using the back of a recliner.  (actually 2 recliners)  The pattern on the recliners had lines in the fabric and made it easy to line up the pieces I was blocking.  It was a clean dry surface and didn't take up space on the floor or table to dry.   Someday I will purchase a "real" blocking board.

modeknit wrote
on Feb 8, 2010 7:11 AM

Blocking is like a miracle!  Folks who don't block are missing out on a large part of the fun (and beauty!) of knitting and crochet!

I did a video on Steam Blocking for folks who might be a little afraid of the hot, hot blocking technique.  

With your indulgence, here's the link (it's funny...): www.youtube.com/watch

BLOCKING RULES!

Best,

Annie Modesitt