Ready to block!
Note from Sandi: I am off to Mobile, Alabama, to spend time with Grandma Rose and Grandpa Manuel this week. But I didn't want to leave you without a little Knitting Daily in your email inbox! In July of 2007, I wrote a three-part series on blocking that seemed just perfect to share again as a way to help with last-minute holiday knitting madness–both yours and mine! After all: Even Knitting Daily editors need a little time off.
So while I am away, here's The Basics of Blocking, Part Two.
(Are you the kind of person who learns by watching? Episode 103 of the first season of Knitting Daily TV has a great lace blocking demo, and Episode 201 of the upcoming second season shows how to block large projects! Buy the Season One DVD or pre-order the Season Two DVD.)
(originally published July 27, 2007)
Shape garment from the center outwards
On Monday, we began our Adventure in Blocking with a review of the basic tools and preparations you need to make before you get started. Now that you have everything gathered together, and now that you have experimented with blocking your swatch (and of course, you would never, ever skip the swatching step, right? Of course not.), we can forge ahead with the actual blocking! We ended with Step 4 last time, so next is Step 5.
Step 5: If you are going to wet your knitting using the immersion method or the roll-in-wet-towels method, do it now. Immersion method: Soak the knitting in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes to let the water fully permeate the fibers. Squeeze gently. Never, ever twist, wring, or otherwise be rough with your knitting (unless, of course, what you want is a nice felted sweater!). Roll in dry towels to remove excess moisture (some people use the spin cycle of their washer, but this is for braver hearts than mine). Rolling-in-wet-towels method: Pretty much just as it sounds. Wet a large towel, wring out excess moisture, lay it flat with your knitting on top, and roll it up like a big wet jelly-roll-with-knitted-filling. Let it sit until the knitting inside is completely damp (this might take several hours). Steaming and spraying folks: Read on. Your turn comes later.
Don't stretch out the ribbing!
Step 6: Start pinning. Starting from the center and working outwards, smooth your knitting out to the approximate measurements, and start placing pins at wide intervals. What do you mean, start at the center? For the Bonsai Tunic, I started at the ribbed waistband (see note below about blocking ribbing!). I patted the upper back into place and pinned the center neck, then working again from the ribbed waist, smoothed out towards the armholes and pinned those. Then I did the same with the lower half, always working from the center waist downwards.
Step 7: Measure and re-pin as necessary to shape your garment more accurately. This is where the fun starts, particularly for all of us OCD knitters. Measure, pin, repeat. Use the schematic or finished measurements as a guide. How much can I stretch my knitting to obey me? Depends on the yarn, the gauge, and the garment. For most lace shawls, you can stretch it out to the fullest extent the stitches will reach. For all knitting, keep in mind that if you pull in one direction, your knitting will shorten in another direction to compensate. Try to keep the overall proportions correct and don't forget to allow for things like negative ease, texture, and how the stitches look.
Pinning out the lace pattern
Special note about blocking ribbing: See the photo of the waist ribbing on my Bonsai? Notice that it is NOT stretched out at all. I actually compressed it a bit, patting it evenly into place, and leaving most of it unpinned. (In contrast, I pinned the heck out of the lace skirt.) This will allow the ribbing to maintain its elasticity and shape.
Step 8: If you are a steamer or a sprayer, it's your turn now! Starting (again) at the center of the garment, carefully steam or spray the knitting, patting it with your hand to gauge the amount of moisture as you go. (Use caution with the hot steam, and maybe wait a second after applying the steam to let things cool a bit. Don't burn yourself! Burns might get in the way of casting on your next project.) Make sure to spray/steam your piece evenly so all parts of it absorb the same amount of water (and in the case of steaming, heat).
Step 9: Let dry thoroughly. Do not bother your knitting whilst it is drying. Leave it alone, close the door, keep your cats and overly-helpful roommates away. The impatient amongst you may use a fan to help the process along. If you really must use a blow dryer, remember that a blow dryer adds heat to the equation and consider carefully if heat is appropriate to your particular blocking situation.
Each star marks a pin
Final and most important step: Un-pin, and admire the beautiful drape, the awesome workmanship, and lovely stitches that comprise your knitting.
As I was taking the photos for this post, I realized that some folks might want a clearer photo of exactly where I placed the pins. I quickly discovered that the little silvery pin dudes wouldn't show up in the photos, so I dug around in the supply closet (I'm blocking this in a spare office at work, because I have four very helpful Assistant Felines at home) until I found some glittery foil stars. See the photo? Voila! Each star marks a pin location. Note that there are no stars at all in the ribbed waist section, but there are stars all over the lace skirt. I placed one pin near the top yarnover of each lace repeat, in the decrease immediately adjoining. For lace patterns, I like to place pins in the center of an ssk or k2tog, as those are the strongest parts of the knitting and thus less likely to distort. You can put pins in the yarnovers themselves, but be careful–you want the yarn to form a graceful "yarnover" and not an awkward "pointy-over!"
On Monday: Blocking acrylic, cotton, and other non-woolly fibers.
I always think of the holidays as a time of storytelling–we tell the stories of our traditions, our families, and our beliefs in our celebrations and in our gatherings. I like to listen to stories on CD while I am knitting and travelling–audiobooks make the stitches and the time fly by. May I suggest two audiobooks of knitting stories for you? Knitting Memories and Knitting Lessons, both edited by Lela Nargi and distributed by Interweave Press, are collections of tales by famous knitters such as Clara Parkes, Teva Durham, Vicki Howell, Trisha Malcolm, Kathryn Alexander, and more, narrated by an Audie-award winner (an Audie is the Oscar of the audiobook world). Listen to an excerpt from Knitting Memories; we have an excerpt from Knitting Lessons online as well. Look for these audiobooks at your local yarn shop, or buy them in our online store.
Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.