Blocking: A Necessary Evil

You’ve finally cast off a project that has taken ages to complete. You hold it up, and it looks, well, kinda blah. It sorta looks like the photos from the pattern but, it isn’t, quite right, even though you followed the pattern to the letter.

Well…

That’s where blocking comes in.

It’s like making gauge swatches and weaving in ends, no one really enjoys it, but if you want your handiwork to look amazing it just has to be done. So what is blocking? Blocking uses moisture to align all your stitches correctly, and the case of lace knitting, opens up all of those yarn overs.

I’ve had a small pile of finished work that need to be blocked, and an older piece that needed to be re-blocked after some cleaning (coffee soaks into wool pretty quickly, just saying). So I thought it was a good time do do a little tutorial on wet blocking. Yes, folks there are several ways to block but wet blocking seems to be the most universal.

First things first, you need to find a large, flat space away from the family pets and small children. In my case, I use my bedroom floor and shut the door. You can block on carpet, cardboard boxes, I’ve used my own bed to block large pieces, but the easiest thing is to pick up a few of those puzzle piece children’s play mats. You’ll be pinning your knit work, so the play mat surface holds pins well and since they are plastic, moisture won’t bother it at all.

For wet blocking you will need to soak your finished project. So grab an appropriate sized bowl, fill it with water, and a bit of specialty detergent. I prefer Soak, it smells great and it seems to get things a little cleaner. Eucalan has it’s own benefits but surprisingly I’m not a huge fan of the smell of wet wool and Eucalan seems to amplify that smell. These detergents condition the fibers and gently clean while soaking your project. There are a few other options out there, so find whatever you like the most. Just look for detergents that don’t require rinsing. Okay, so why are we getting everything wet? Natural fibers can stretch quite a bit more while wet, and as the fibers dry while in a stretched state, they will lock into that position. After drowning everything for about 15 minutes you’re ready for the next step.

After your items have finished their bath, it’s time to start getting them dry. You’ll need to squeeze all the water you can out of your work by hand. Whatever you do, DON’T WRING IT. Wringing can do some irreparable damage, so squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze some more. To get out additional water, lay your project flat on a towel, roll it up and either stand or kneel on it. Your project should feel damp to the touch when you’re finished.

Now to the fun part. Besides your flat surface you’re going to need quilting or T-pins at a minimum to pin your project into the its final shape. If you’re an avid knitter, one of the best investments you can make is in blocking wires. These are just simple metal wires that you can weave into the flat edges of your work to guarantee a straight line on your finished projects. For this tutorial I’m using both quilting pins and wires. My wires have taken a beating over the years and have gotten bent here and there when I was first learning how to do this myself. I was bad for over stretching on yarn weights that were a little too heavy for the wires. They still work fine. I’ve used three wires to define the flat edges of this cowl, and used pins to shape the points at the top edge. I only needed to stretch this project enough to open up all the lace work. In some projects, blocking will require you to stretch to certain dimensions or shapes. This cowl is actually the project that is being re-blocked after the coffee incident. Re-blocking does need to happen from time time after an item has been cleaned, or if an item looses its shape over time and use.

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There are also another handy tool out there for larger pieces. Knit Blockers are several pins mounted into a flat plastic handle. They let you cover a large area quickly and evenly, used with wires, they are a time saver as well.

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Now that everything is blocked out the way I want it. What’s next? Nothing. Well for a while anyway. You just go find something else to do for a few hours, because these projects will need to be bone dry before you do anything else. You can speed things up a bit by blocking in a warm room with good airflow. Good airflow = big ol’ box fan. Don’t go overboard and try to use a hair dryer or a space heater to speed things up, bad things could happen, like shrinkage. Once everything is good and dry, remove your pins, pull out your wires, and you should see significant improvement in how your project looks. With lace, the improvement can be downright dramatic. Weave in your ends and call it a day. Your item is ready to go!

Classes Vs. KALs: What’s the Difference Anyway?

snake knittingWhat’s the difference between a class and a knitalong (KAL)?  This question has come up a lot in my knitting life lately since I began offering both options since beginning to teach group classes earlier this year.

A knitting class is easy to define.  Classes are situations where students will be learning specific knitting techniques, styles, or working through a complex pattern with the assistance of a hands-on teacher.  There’s several ways classes can be taught.  Some lead participants through a pattern row by row, step by step, others encourage a go-at-your-own-pace situation and will come to you as you reach a certain point and give individualized instruction.  In both scenarios you’ll have a certain amount of homework to try to complete before the next session.  I’m a fan of option two, with my own classes, I’ve seen a range of skill levels within the same class and feel that if I taught a row by row style class a more advanced student will inevitably get bored and shank me with a needle.  I don’t need any extra holes in my body at this point.

Knitalongs are a different beast.  KALs are group meetings where multiple participants will sign up to work on the same project togther, and if need be, help each other.   KALs are an opportunity to work through a project you know is within your skill level but you may be a little nervous about, or just a project you think is awesome and would like to work along with peers.  KALs typically do not offer the benefit of the dedicated teacher from a knitting class, in fact the KAL leader is most likely going to be sitting at the table working on their own version of the KAL project with you.

Hopefully that clears some things up.

 

 

A Whole Lot of Knitting Going On

It’s May, and holy cow is my dance card is full for the month.

I might as well move into my local yarn store!  Actually, people probably already think I live there. That’s okay, the bulky yarn section is full of soft squishy pillow like skeins that are good to snuggle with at night.

I made a post last month featuring classes that begin this weekend.  You can find that here.  One more has been added to the schedule after a demand from a few folks to offer another session out of Barbara Benson’s latest publication, after seeing the sample at her trunk show and book signing.

img_0992Beginning May 10th, Barbara’s Lacy Pinstripe Cowlette is a go! Oh, and guess what? It’s a weekday offering.

This one will run three consecutive weeks from 5:30-6:30pm at Yarn Rhapsody, in Gainesville, Georgia.  The fee is $60, and you will have to purchase Barbara’s book, Mosaic and Lace Knits, for the pattern, this one could not be featured as an individual pattern purchase on Ravelry.  Please contact Yarn Rhapsody at least 48 hours before the first session to get signed up.

Coffee and Wool now has a dedicated Facebook page too.  There’s a love/hate relationship with that site but it is a good centralized spot to land all things Coffee and Wool.  So if you woud like to give that a follow, the link is here. 

So besides classes and social media updates, what else is going on?
I escaped Georgia for the weekend, to attend a weekend long bachelorette party at Disney World.  Translation, I didn’t get any knitting done this weekend, but hey, ummmm Disney with friends.  The wedding associated with this bachelorette party is at the end of the month.  You know I love this friend dearly when I don a dress and heels to see her walk down the aisle.

Spring festivals are popping up left and right, so when I’m not teaching on the weekends, there will be some sneaking off to those. The Georgia Renaissance Faire is in full swing, that pilgrimage needs to be made.

And then there is a lot of watering the garden.  My little patch of dirt has taken off, to the point it may need it’s own state of the garden post.  I managed to make the first baby green salad of the year last night for dinner.  Growing my own food makes my soul happy.

So that’s it, things are a bit busy, but in a good way.

Hot Off The Presses Shawl – Finished At Last

eda6bd61-6f1b-409a-b87a-37c99b380923Okie. Finally it’s finished.  There’s a bit of a story behind the name of this project.  When I decided I wanted to teach a mosaic knitting class at the end of March I thought I had found a great, easy pattern to use for the class.  Well, ummm, I started working this pattern up for a shop/class sample and discovered it was busted and was more of a string of suggestions than an actual pattern.  I got to work and started knitting and writing like mad to come up with something my students could learn the technique on.  The draft, (I say draft now, because a student discovered some typos) was finished about two days before the class.

First let me promise to future students, I will never teach a pattern that hasn’t been test knitted at least a half dozen times again.  Things are going fine with this class, but having a couple of typos turn up has really bothered me.  This is not the experience I want my students to have.  Mea culpa.  Mea culpa.

Anyway, all that aside; it’s finished!

img_0968I’m offering this one up for some test knitting if anyone is interested, and I have no intention of selling the pattern, but will be offering it for free since it’s my first design out of the gate.  If you have a couple of 400 yard skeins of fingering weight yarn hanging about yell, I’ll happily respond with the PDF.  After it’s been tested a few more times a final version will be released for download on Ravelry.

This project also featured a yarn I hadn’t had my grubby paws on before.  It was worked up in Feza’s Harvest Sock, an organically dyed superwash merino. I used Rubia (Red) and Oleaster (Off-White).  The two colors are striking together, and the Rubia photographs more red, but is truly a deep rusty red orange.  One of my students is using the Indigo colorway with the Oleaster and it’s amazing.  Working with this yarn is easy with sharp needles, it has a looser twist so blunt needles may split here and there.  Don’t let the feel of the skein fool you if you pick it up, this yarn creates a very soft fabric that would be great next to the skin.

Edit: At the urging of several designer friends I’ve been told this pattern should only be available free on Ravelry for a limited time.  If you are interested in this pattern the download is available here.