Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Block A Project

Most patterns end simply with a one-line instruction to block garment to measurements, but perhaps you're wondering just what that means - and why you would take the time to do it.

Does blocking really make that much of a difference in the end result of your knitting? Yes.

Blocking is a way of using water or steam to set the fibers of your knitting and to perfect its shape and symmetry. It expands the fibers -- especially good for ones that bloom like merino or drape, like bamboo. Blocking is handy if you're making a bulky hat, but it's absolutely crucial if you're making a lace shawl or knitting a sweater. Have a look at what this shawl (Frost Flowers Stole, Interweave Knits, Holiday 2008 by Charlene Schurch knit by Lisa out of a laceweight Silk and Cashmere blend from Skaska for those interested) looked like right off the needles:

And a close up for full effect:

Mercy! We know there is a beautiful piece of knitting hidden in there. After blocking, it looks like this:

You can see the stitches are much more clearly defined, the knitting is flat, has grown in size and the lace pattern is much easier to see. A huge difference!

There are multiple ways to block.

Steam Blocking:
If you're in a hurry, lay your knitting out on top of a towel on a flat surface, pin it to your desired measurements and using either a steamer or your iron set to super-steamy mode, pass the iron over the whole piece. (You're not actually ironing here, so hold the iron about 6 inches above the knitting.)

Wet Blocking:
Method A (for things like heavy wool sweaters): Lay your knitting between two damp towels, positioning it so that the arms are even, the hem isn't stretched, and the entire piece is lying flat. Allow the towels to dry.

Method B (the most precise method, especially for lace and shaped items, and the method used for the stole pictured above):
1. Fill a sink with warmish water and a dab of your favorite woolwash and place your knitting into it. Instead of squeezing or agitating in any way, just let it soak. Go watch an episode of yor favorite prime time t.v. show, then come back and drain the water.
2. Carefully squeeze the water out of the knitting very gently without wringing. It would be best to begin squeezing at one end and working your way to the other without wringing.
3. Next, grab a thick towel and lay your garment onto it. Roll the towel up, with the knitting inside of it, like a sushi roll. Press firmly to allow the towel to absorb the excess water. You could even step on the roll if you'd like!
4. Place another towel onto a flat surface with the knitting on top. This is the time when you measure & pin the item out to the specifications given in the knitting pattern schematic. If it's finely worked, has lace, or has a shaped edging, use rustproof pins to pin it in shape. If you are trying to change the length or width a bit (like if your sweater arms came out a little bit too short and you're trying to stretch them), stretch the piece gently until it's the size and shape you want. Pin the piece and allow to dry.
5. Once completely dry, remove all the pins and marvel at your knitting!

Next time you finish your knitting and it looks a little wonky, don't worry. Take the time to block and you too will find a beautiful end result!

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