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!

The Return of Mosaic Knitting

Trends are cyclical and mosaic knitting is on it’s way back into the spotlight.  It’s a trend that unlike jelly shoes and eyelash yarn I’m happy to see reappearing.  A cult classic since the late 70s mosaic Knitting (also called slip-stitch knitting) is amazingly easier than it looks.

In mosaic knitting, you alternate between two contrasting colors, but instead of working every stitch in the row, some stitches are slipped, and you only have to manage one of those colors at a time. That’s really all there is to it.

For a beginner that thinks fair isle knitting is a little intimidating for a first attempt at color work, mosaic is a good starting point for chart reading and managing multiple colors.  More advanced folks may find mosaic patterns faster for those “emergency gift” projects that pack a punch.

A great deal mosaic patterns out there are variations on the patterns established in the 70s, BUT over the past year I’ve begun to see mosaic mixed with other techniques.  In fact Barbara Benson (another Georgia knitter that I’ve yet to run into) is releasing a new book, Mosaic & Lace Knits: 20 Innovative Patterns Combining Slip-Stitch Colorwork and Lace Techniquesdue out at the end of the month, mixing mosaic with lace, and the teaser pieces I’ve seen are drool-worthy.

I’m currently working on a sample for a mosaic technique class I’m hoping to get on the img_0730schedule in April or May at Yarn Rhapsody in Gainesville, Georgia.  I began working on this sample last night during one of those time-change caused sleepless nights.  Don’t get me started on what spring time-change does to my sleep schedule, and as expected I’m blazing right through the mosaic pattern portion.  I’m also using a new yarn carried at the shop. It’s Harvest Fingering Weight by Feza Yarns.  The colorways are organically died rubia and oleaster and the photo does not quite do the colors justice.  This is certainly one of those yarns that would feel great in a garment of any sort.

If you happen to be in north Georgia or metro-Atlanta and are interested in attending classes or are interested in private lessons please feel free to contact me through the form below.  If you are interested in group classes, I will send a reminder email with upcoming classes, dates, and times.  If your interest is private lessons, this is just a little ice-breaker.