Monday, November 21, 2016

How I Block my Knitting

I've been working on Stephen West's latest mystery knit along since it started. After weaving in what seemed like a hundred tails it was time to block. I've had several questions about how I block my knit projects so I thought I should share on the blog. Pictures are a wonderful thing. NOTE: this shawl is made with superwash wool/nylon blend yarn. Other fibers may not react the same way.
After weaving in the yarn ends it is time to block. Do you have to block you knit or crochet projects? Absolutely not. Why do you block a knitted piece? To give it a defined shape and open up lace designs. I also like to wash my piece before blocking to remove anything it may have picked up during the knitting process. It takes weeks to finish a shawl and during that time the project is toted around in a bag, handled by me during work, and occasionally touched by other people. A wash is in order. One more note about blocking, this is really for natural fibers such as wool or cotton. Acrylic yarn won't take to blocking very well.
Shove that shawl into a bowl and wet thoroughly with cool water. Sometimes it is easier if you fill the bowl, squishing the work into the water, and walk away for 10 minutes or so for the fiber to soak up the water. Washing is also a good way to release any dye that may be lingering in the fibers. Don't worry too much about it being picked up by other fibers. If dye isn't sticking to the yarn in the first place it isn't likely to stick to it in another place. It is about the chemistry required to fix the dye to the fibers.
I use a squirt of dish soap when washing my hand knits. It isn't any kind of fancy soap. If you are worried about harsh chemicals, you can use baby shampoo or any of a hoard of soaps designed for the purpose. I squeeze and scrunch and turn the lump of knit fabric around in the bowl. I don't stress the fibers too much. Rinse well.
I place a colander in the bowl to keep it from sitting in the sink. You can just use your bowl after you turn out the knitted piece. If you have time, you can sit the wet shawl in the colander and walk away for 15 minutes for it to drain a little on its own before you squeeze out the excess water. I usually fold the shawl in half and squeeze the water out from one end of the folded piece. I don't wring the shawl, I only squeeze. You aren't aiming for a dry shawl, you are aiming to make it so it doesn't drip on the way to the blocking mats.
When you reach the end you will have a very damp shawl. Some people roll the work in a towel to remove even more moisture but I have the space to leave a shawl for a day or more and I like to have plenty of time to work with the piece. The drier it is when you start the less time you have to work with it. Time for the exciting part!
Gather your tools: foam matting, t-pins, blocking wires, knit blockers, and a yard stick. I included links for most of these things are at the end of this post.
For this shawl I wove my blocking wires along portions of the top and stabilized that edge. This is how I usually begin. I begin in the middle of the longest edge and work out to either end. I then go to the middle at the bottom edge and work my way out to the ends. You don't have to block as aggressively as I do. If you only wet the work and laid it flat you would change the shape. This is one of the magical things about blocking your work. When the piece is completely dry, you can pull all your pins and wires. The piece may relax a little, so if you want defined points you should be a little more aggressive with the blocking.
Use the wires for long edges, pins for pointy bits and blockers for sections that would take too many pins or won't work with a wire. The wire is also great for defining a line of points like I did on this Bosc Pear shawl. It allowed me to pull all the points out with a pair of blocking wires and keep them in a line much easier than it would have been with the 20-30 pins it would have taken without the wires. If a line of stitching seems to be wavering in a way you don't like just smooth it with your hand until it is more to your liking. The wet fabric is pretty forgiving.

Design: Building Blocks by Stephen West, pattern on Ravelry
Foam matting: anti-fatigue matting from Lowes
T-pins: You can find these at most craft or craft stores and from Knit Picks
Blocking wires: Knit Picks blocking wires
Knit Blockers: Knitters' Pride from Amazon
Yard stick: Best price is usually at a home improvement warehouse

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