Blocking Part Two, where Cirilia and Norah answer your questions
It was quite thrilling to read all of your comments on blocking. Many of you are in agreement with us that it is a vital part of the knitting process. I hope I allayed some fears; a lot of us seem to hear a strident voice telling us that we have to do things a certain way. My M.O. with knitting is a little more casual. That said, there were lots of great questions which made me think that a second post about blocking would be welcomed.
I forgot to credit the Jubilee pattern! It is Norah’s design. It was actually meant to be included in one of the fall books and was cut because it was a little too delicate next to all the other sweaters in that collection. The name has a slightly scientific origin…any guesses?
I have to first confess that the adorable blocking board inspector is not my pooch! Her name is Simone, she is from the South, belongs to my housemates and is something of a model! Fellow knitter Li Ward from Fat Cat Studios recently photographed her: http://www.fatorangecatstudio.com/blog/2009/05/simone/
Where can I buy blocking supplies?
CR: Check your local yarn shop, or if that doesn’t work, use an online retailer. Lots of knitting shops stock these items and if they don’t….tell them they should!
NG: I have to admit I usually retro fit supplies. For years I used a cardboard cutting board made for sewing as a backing board for my wet blocking. It did get all warped and messy looking but the inch marks are great and it’s inexpensive. My favorite blocking tool, the steamer I bought at a big box store, is definitely my friend.
Can you block acrylic yarns?
CR: It depends. You can’t block it in the true sense because acrylic fibers don’t have the memory that wool does, therefore they aren’t as malleable. Every finished object can benefit from a wash and a shake though! This simple finished step will even stitches and smooth wrinkles.
NG: Be very careful, heat can totally change the nature of acrylic yarn. It can flatten and soften, but that’s not always good, and once the yarn is heated, it won’t bounce back. Misting with cold water or wet blocking the pieces should yield reliable results.
Why do the pins and wires have to be rust proof?
CR: When you wet block a natural item it can often take several days to air dry completely. There is a danger of rusting and staining if you don’t use specially treated pins.
How do I block (cotton, silk, blends, etc.)? How do I block a sweater, toy, blanket, scarf? Basically, how do I know which method to use and when?
CR: Wool is definitely the most blockable fiber out there, meaning it will be the most flexible when wet and will remain in the shape you pin it into when it dries. Other fibers will still benefit from blocking but you may not see a dramatic change or be able to sculpt it as much as something made from wool or a wool blend. Be aware that certain fibers will do wacky things when they hit the water! Bamboo will shrink, cotton will groooow, but they will return to normal, I promise!
You can chose your method based on what your project needs. Is it something made in pieces that needs to be flatter before seaming? Steam them before seaming. Does it already look pretty decent? Go with a light steaming. Did you take the whole project on a camping trip? Give it a good wash/wet blocking. Lace patterns almost always require a real stretching.
NG: Test the method you think want to use on your swatch to reduce suprises. In my experience, the only thing you can really mess up by blocking is acrylic. so they is no reason to be afraid.
Should I block pieces before I seam them or after?
CR: I think it’s easier to gently steam them flat before seaming. A more rigorous wet blocking can happen post-seaming.
NG: I pretty much agree, except i tend to block the pieces strongly be fore seaming and lightly steam the finished product. It’s way easier to sew you sweater together if you block the pieces first and way easier to shape and stretch to the desired while all is still flat.
How long does blocking last? Should I re-block an item after I wash it?
NG: In most cases, drying the sweater flat IS blocking it.
I know you can stretch knitting during blocking but can you shorten or shrink knitting this way?
NG: Not much, in my experience, with the exception being rayon or bamboo yarns which stretch when you wear them, shrink up when wet and dry to be more relaxed.
How do I block a round or irregularly shaped item? How do I block a really LARGE item? How do I block a hat or beret?
CR: Ideally you would use large blocking boards, but they’re expensive! Some readers mentioned that they use cork boards. A simple Google search turns up lots of tutorials for making your own blocking boards; my favorite tip is using gingham fabric with 1” squares. Cute and functional! I usually don’t block hats but I’ll block a beret over a 10” dinner plate to encourage slouchiness.
NG: Tailoring hams are very helpful for steam blocking rounded objects like hats. For huge items, you might try blocking it folded and steam the fold our after.
Why should I use a special wool wash? What if I am allergic to lanolin?
CR: Soak is lanolin free, but often wool washes will contain lanolin, the naturally occurring oil present in sheep’s wool. The idea is that the wool washes with lanolin recondition and soften fibers that may have lost some lanolin in processing. Wool washes are often formulated to be low-sudsing, which means that rinsing isn’t altogether necessary (the detergents evaporate as the fabric dries). This is a good thing when you’re trying to avoid over-handling a garment that might felt.
I have to admit it made me cringe to hear that some of you are using dishwashing detergent! That is an extremely harsh detergent meant for super messes, not delicate fibers. If you want to economize, baby shampoo is a much gentler option.
NG: I have been known to use shampoo in a pinch, but I like the aroma of many of the washes now on the market (and I usually don’t like scented products!)
Will blocking flatten my pattern or take away the handmade look?
CR: If you’re worried about losing the dimensionality of a pattern stitch, block less aggressively. Don’t stretch the fabric as tightly as a drum head, and think about forgoing pins. Pat it into shape and allow to dry. The wires can be reserved for flatter sweater pieces and lace projects.
NG: Non of the methods we mention will take the “handmade”look away, like flattening with an iron will. remember, the piece will eventually be hand washed and dried flat and it will still look handmade then. I don’t care for the look of sweaters after they’ve been to the dry cleaner.
Can I block only certain portions of an item? For instance, on the Jubilee scarf, can I block the lace and not the cabled portion?
CR: You might be able to finagle this…but my first recommendation would be to simply block less aggressively.
NG: Steam is perfect for this, you can pull at the portions you want to stretch out and leave the other parts lightly steamed.