Friday 27 May 2016

Adventures in Knitting: Blocking 101

Many years ago I did a course run by Morris & Sons on Finishing Garments, it was so fantastic, as they taught many techniques that experienced knitters know about, but most of us haven't heard of. And they can make the difference between things looking, well, a bit home-made or looking awesome!  Over the years I think I've used everything I was taught, but my favourite thing is blocking.

If you knit at all, even if you consider yourself a novice, and you've never blocked anything, or perhaps even don't know what I'm talking about, then this post is for you.

The magic of blocking.

Transforming your lovely completed projects into the real deal.

I have an awesome friend, who knits Sensory Cowls for Dementia patients.  You can buy them in her etsy store here.  My mum is beyond the stage where one of these would be beneficial, but I thought it might be nice for her to have something lovely to cling to.  So I decided to make this muff for her.  It can also double as a cowl.

In a favourite wool shop, I found this beautiful Cleckheaton California yarn.  I was drawn to it because mum would have loved these colours.

After experimenting a bit with stitches (this project was ripped many times at the beginning) I settled for this fisherman's rib type stitch (it must have a proper name but I don't know it) - 4 stocking stitch (garter on the right side, purl on the wrong side) with the 5th stitch garter, to create the rib.  It makes for a smooth outer (which I will actually turn to the inside for mum) and the lovely chunky stitch on the wrong side.

While knitting it, I thought it was too narrow, so I sewed on a knitted lace at the end, which came from a Debbie Bliss Baby Shawl lace in the book Simply Family.

If I knit something similar again, I'm going to figure out how to incorporate the lace into the pattern so I don't have to sew it on afterward, and so it incorporates any variegation in the wool.  I'll let you know if I get around to it!  The colour pattern is mismatched for this one, but I think the clash makes for a happy rainbow.

Back to the blocking:  If you don't know what it is, allow me to explain.

It involves dampening your finished item, and then easing it into the correct shape that you want it to be. You may think you could achieve this by ironing, but ironing doesn't even come within cooee of the outcome of blocking.

More precisely it involves pinning your item to a board in the correct shape.  It makes anything look better - it solves the problem of knitted (and crocheted) items curling up, and it makes it easier to seam up a finished garment, as the stitches and edges have been made more even.

The finished garment, pre-blocking (although I had spoken sternly to it so it wouldn't curl up)
Before Blocking - all curled up & shy
How do you do it?

You need something like a foam core board - available at Eckersleys a large newsagent or even Bunnings.  I've also seen people use the foam tiles used for children's play areas.  Mine is quite large because I once knitted Husband a cardigan.  It took several years, but I got there in the end.  I recommend that you go larger than you think if you are going to make one. I've been glad to have such a large one for many other projects. You can see mine in the photos below.

I ruled lines on mine to give me grid lines to work to - it's been really useful for lining up edges and squaring off corners on my creations.  I didn't measure these precisely, just kept them fairly even. I also used alternating colours to make life easier.  I'm not good at tracking things along a line, so the more help the better - the bane of someone who doesn't have binocular vision

I covered the board in contact so that the marking wouldn't transfer when working with wet items.
Gently dampen
Once you've finished knitting your item, you give it a gentle wash - really you're just trying to get it damp.  This was knitted with a yarn designed for felting, so I was very gentle with it, as the fibres had already started felting in the middle of the ball from the compression.
Squeeze out water gently
Squeeze the water out.

Lay flat on an old towel & roll up to get more moisture out.
Lay flat on towel & roll up to squeeze out excess water

Transfer to the board.

You need lots of pins.

Lay the item out using the grid lines to help you.  Once you have spread it out a little, choose somewhere to start, and start pinning.  It works better if you pin closer, say 1cm apart.  Max 2cm.   Work your way around the piece.
Gently ease the garment into the shape you want - use the gridlines to keep it straight
The idea is to ease your item into the right shapes rather than to stretch it.  However, some items can be treated more aggressively, depending on the effect you want or if the sizing didn't quite work out.
Pinning finished.
Find a nice spot for the item to dry.  If it's a bulky piece, like a large jumper with thick wool, expect this to take a while.  I like to do blocking when I know there will be some lovely sunny days!

Keep working around, pinning frequently (these are approx 2cm apart)
Once the item is dry, remove the pins.  It should hold its shape!  Magic!

After the Blocking!  Pins are removed, and the garment is still lovely and straight & flat
Then you can finish off any seams, and sew in any loose ends - so much easier to work with after blocking.
Seaming:  not my best talent

Seaming - using a mattress stitch

Finished product!

Modeling the finished cowl

Inside out works too!  The inside of the rib looks lovely as well.

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