Thursday, September 24, 2015

Stranded Knitting: Post 17 - Blocking

In case you haven’t gotten the message, you can pretty much do whatever you want with your own knitting. “Right” is only right for you. The knitting police have no jurisdiction in your knitting bag.

To the subject at hand, you certainly do not have to block your finished garment. I know several knitters who finish a sweater and just put it…and never look back.

I could give you all sorts of yarn-y, fiber-y reasons for blocking, but the bottom line is just this…. your knitting will look SO much better if you block it.

The objective to blocking is to layout…and most times stretch…your knitting to the shape and even size you want. You do not have to do this alone. There are tools to help you and we will talk about them first.

Blocking board
There are all sorts of gridded boards or tiled mats for laying out your knitting. I have recently purchased a set of linking mats for larger projects, but all you really need is a flat surface which is a bit larger than the piece you are blocking. It needs to be placed in an area where it can remain undisturbed for a day or so. Oh, and you will have to be able to stick pins into this surface. I use a towel on a guest room bed or my new mats on the guest room floor.

Blocking wires
These are usually used for stretching out lace projects or for straightening out sweater parts. The idea is to run the wires through the edges and then pin the wires at strategic places to achieve the desired shape or size. Pinning only the wires gives uniform tension on the edges and saves you from pinning every point.

Quick digression…lace shawls are sometimes blocked by running cotton string through the points or edges and then pinning the string. Works on the same principle as the wires...less pins used.

The downside: some knitters would rather just pin than take the time to run wires or even string through the edges.

Precut or fixed blockers…
I’m sure you have all seen sock blockers. Those precut sock shaped pieces that help block sock…hence the name. :)

There are also mitten and glove blockers. I don’t see these as much, but they are out there. FYI, I have been known to make mitten and mitt blockers with corrugated cardboard cut to size and covered in plastic wrap. They don’t last too long, but I can always make more.

I am sure there are some blockers out there for hats…somewhere. I have seen the ones the haberdasheries use for felted fedoras and such, but they aren’t really necessary for blocking knitted hats.

For round hats, a head form is useful, but some knitters use a head sized bowl or even blow up a balloon to the size of the head in question. I have also stuffed a round hat with plastic grocery store bags. It takes a bit longer because the plastic tend to block the moisture from evaporating, but it works.

Tams traditionally are blocked on a dinner plate, but you probably knew that.

Speaking of tradition, on my first trip to Shetland, we visited a typical croft (small farm) house museum. Hanging on the walls were precut wooden sweater blocker for a small child. Outside leaning against a wonderful stone wall were several examples of sweaters on wooly boards…which we will talk about next. 

Wooly board…
A wooly board is an adjustable frame for blocking…and sometimes, stretching…drop shoulder sweaters.

Wilkins on the wooly board. Watering can optional.
Just in case you are asking….a drop shoulder sweater is one where the sleeves stand directly out from the opposed to a raglan or set in construction where the sleeves hang at an angle to the body. Traditionally, Fair Isle and Scandinavian sweaters are made with some version of a drop shoulder technique...a tradition that has been explored and “tweaked”, if you will, recently. These “tweeks” are maybe best left for the discussion of designing stranded sweaters that I talked about earlier.

Back to wooly boards…which is not actually a “board” at all. They are generally made from several cut pieces of wood, although I have seen a wonderful example of one made from PVC pipe.

As a rule, they have some sort of feature so they can stand on their own. This allows air to get all around the garment you are blocking. That being said, in Shetland, you will see the wooly board complete with sweater leaning against a wall or the side of a house.

Ok, we have talked about the tools, let’s talk about the methods.

There are three different ways to block knitting….spraying, streaming, and wet immersion.

Spraying is the easiest on the fabric and can be used on delicate fibers like cashmere and silk. It is also the safest way to block when you are not sure of the fiber content of that unmarked ball of fabulous color you just had to use.

You lay your garment out on a flat surface (blocking board, tiles, and/or towel), pin it into shape if you need to, and spray lightly with a bottle filled with room temperature water. You want to damp, but not soak. Smooth the stitches with your hands and ease it into the shape you want and walk away to let it dry.

Stream blocking is best for fabrics that shouldn’t get too wet. Be careful, though, with any fibers that don’t do well with heat.

You lay out your garment about the same as spraying…remembering that surface underneath your garment will need to be heat resistant.

Quick cautionary tale: In high school, the French Club was over at the French teacher’s house preparing the decorations the first annual French Club dance. Because funds were short, we very cleverly got old sheets and dyed them lovely pastel colors. The dyed sheets were then cut into 1 ½ inch strips. These strips then needed to be ironed, so they could be used as streamers in the gym. Without an ironing board, a couple of us decided (ok, I decided) to press them on the carpet in the middle of the teacher’s living room. Brilliant, right? We thought so…until we realized that the carpet contained synthetic fibers which didn’t do well when heat was applied. Like it melted….a lovely 1 ½ inch strip of melted carpet. Lesson learned, folks. Lesson learned.

Back to steam blocking…once you have your garment laid out…and pinned, if needed/desired…put your iron on steam and hold it very close to the garment and puff blasts of steam into your work.

You can also place a damp cloth or wash cloth on your knitting and press the iron briefly on the cloth and puff with steam. “Press” only….do not run the iron back and forth as if you are pressing a shirt. You do not want to distort the knitting.

Again get the garment damp…but not soaked. Walk away to let it dry.

Wet Emersion
This works well for most wool garments...and well, just about any fiber that can stand being wet. Novelty fibers that may fall apart in water probably should not be blocked this way…for obvious reasons.

Fill a container…bathtub, sink, plastic tub, etc….with cool to room temperature water. You do not want to use hot or even warm water here …especially if you are working with wool…to prevent the possibility of felting.

You can add some shampoo or wool wash to the water, if you think it is necessary. Submerge your piece in the water.

Wilkins in the bath.

Some people rest the garment on the water surface and wait for it to absorb enough water to submerge itself. This is very gentle and takes patience.

Others just push the garment into the water, making sure it gets completely wet.

“Jouge” (i.e. agitate it gently with your fingers) it around a bit and walk away. (Sensing a “walk away” theme here.)

After about 20 minutes or so, come back and if you need to rinse out any cleaning liquids, do so.

Pull the garment out of the water, gently squeezing, but not wringing, out the water.

Wilkins laid out.
Lay the garment out flat on a clean towel (white is preferred, just in case there is any dye bleeding in either direction, but old towel that has been washed a million times will work as well). Fold over any excess toweling along the sides and then roll the whole thing up like a sushi roll.

Fold the roll in half and place it on the floor….and stand on the folded roll. The idea is to walk on it to squeeze out all of the excess water.

Now unwrap and gently lay it out flat or put it on a wooly board.

The astute among you may have deduced a possible problem with putting sweater on a wooly board. Stretching a sweater over the various components of the wooly board not only stretch out the body of the sweater, it stretches out the bottom and sleeve ribbing as well. Those clever Shetlanders have a solution for this as well. After the sweater as completely dried, wet the ribbing…and just the ribbing…and give the stitches a tug or two vertically…making the ribbing longer, as opposed to wider. Let this dry and you are done.

Ok, there you have it…everything I could think of about knitting stranded. If you think of anything else or have any questions or gentle comments, please feel free to get in touch. 

FYI....I'm trying to figure out what to write about next. Any suggestions?

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  1. Color theory and substituting colors!

  2. thanks for the tips and information..i really appreciate it.. AdLock Media CPA Network