Block Me, Amadeus
VOLUME 1, NUMBER 6
So often when I see comments/instructions about blocking it seems to be assumed that the reader will understand what is entailed in 'blocking'. When reading about blocking in different sources I have become confused as to what is best for what type of knitted fabric. Should one wash with soap and rinse and wring out before blocking? Should one only lightly get the knitted fabric damp, no need to actually wash? Is there no need to get the fabric completely wet and only lightly steam? If one steams, how is the best way to accomplish getting the steam to the fabric? For how long? Is the steam before or after pinning/working the fabric? I know that I should block but when a completed project is ready for blocking I'm completely at sea as to what steps to do next.
Warning: Strong Opinions Ahead.
I block everything. I cringe when I see that something hasn't been blocked - and yes, most of the time, it is immediately apparent. I wonder why people put hours into the knitting of something, only to totally ignore an essential finishing element - it's copy without editing, sashimi thrown haphazardly on a plate, a ball club without a relief pitcher: incomplete, and sort of pointless.
You can't deny that there are some very good reasons to block handknits:
- It make seaming easier, neater and more even by flattening edges and creating perfectly matched pieces;
- It evens stitches out, creating a perfectly smooth, coherent fabric that drapes and moves beautifully;
- It aids in finessing the fit and sizing of a garment
- It gives a finished, balanced look to even the least flawed fabric, a look impossible to achieve otherwise.
1) Soak in a sink (or tub) of cool water with a dribble of shampoo (or wool wash) for 15-20 minutes, long enough for the fibers to be thoroughly saturated;
2) Drain the soapy knit, either in my hands if they can support the mass or in a colander if they can't;
3) Rinse without agitating in a fresh basin of cool water;
4) Drain again, squeezing gently to express most of the water and being very careful not to wring, twist, or otherwise abuse the piece;
5) Lay flat on a thirsty towel, cover with another towel, roll up and stand or lean on it to press out as much water as possible
6) Take the whole roll to my blocking surface, dump the knit out, and shape the now just-slightly-damp piece, whether by pinning to measurements or just patting it flat;
7) Walk away and leave it be for a day or two.
- I covet a blocking board deeply, but I've never quite found one that suits my needs. Instead, I block on a corkboard or a mattress - basically, any flat, firm surface that can have pins stuck in it - made non-porous with a plastic cover (a heavy garbage bag will do nicely). When blocking stranded knitting and cables, it makes a huge difference in drying time and threat of mildew (ew!) to keep water from soaking into the blocking surface.
- I check that my lines and angles are straight with the mother of all t-squares, though lately I've been thinking about marking a large piece of oilcloth or vinyl with a permanent-marker grid (or buying a piece printed in a 1" gingham check) - voila, instant, non-porous, portable blocking surface!
- I use lots and lots of rustproof quilter's t-pins - enough to keep a well-stretched fabric from scalloping at the edges, enough to pin necklines and armscyes into the exact shapes I think they should be. I've found it's always easiest, for any kind of knit, to pin a few major points around the perimeter first to get the size right and angles square, and then even it out by bisecting the unpinned sections again and again.
- If necessary, I pinch and pull at texture elements to plump them up.
- I try to block in pieces whenever possible - flat pieces are much easier, and quicker-drying, than a seamed garment. Later, after seaming and final finishing (collars and buttonbands applied), I'll gently steam the seams to get them to open nice and flat.
- Pinning neccessarily stretches out ribbing along bottom hems and cuffs. To get it back into springy shape, after the whole thing is dry, I'll hold a hot, steamy iron an inch or so above the fabric and pull lengthwise to encourage the ribs to draw in again.
- Though I think wetblocking works on most everything, there are some yarns that are specifically marked as "DO NOT SOAK." Believe them when they say that. Steam them into submission instead.
If you are in a hurry and prefer to steam, remember that steaming will kill manmade fibers. Remember, too, that the surface of the iron should never touch the knitting itself - pass the iron a half inch or so over the surface, letting the steam penetrate. When steaming, you'll want to:
1) Lay your pieces flat;
2) Cover with a damp cotton cloth;
3) Apply steam to one section at a time, just skimming the cloth and applying no pressure whatsoever. You can start pinning to size one section at a time, as each is relaxed by the steam bath.
4) If steaming seams, support curved ones on a rolled towel or pillow. Poke, prod and pat with your hands to get them to sit the way you want.
I consider spritzing to be pretty worthless. It's generally cited as the best way to deal with very delicate fibers, but I've found that a little care makes wetblocking work just fine. The major concern is that water-weakened wet garments will pull and stretch out of shape under their own saturated weight - just take care to support the whole mass of wadded-up knitting any time you move it, not allowing any one section to droop or spill.
That's it! It takes just a few extra hours - but I think it's the difference between a sweater that looks "homemade" and one that looks "handknit."
unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions, signed with your name, blog url, or psuedonym to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question may be edited for style and space.