Thursday 17 December 2015

Blocking, what is it and why do we do it?

Pinning the lace yoke of my newly finished Sibella pullover will open up the lace a little more.

Mats and strong pins are the basic blocking essentials.
Blocking is another one of those things that knitters talk about and nobody else knows what it is. It is also one of those things like gauge swatching that often get skipped and you can be a knitter for many many years and not actually know what blocking (or swatching) is.

Basically blocking is what you do when you wet a piece of knitting and then you lay it out to dry. Sometimes the piece of knitting will require a bit of shaping and pinning in order to pull it into the shape and size that the pattern has indicated that it should be. 

There is a saying that "blocking fixes all problems", while this is not entirely true it does fix some things. One of the benefits of blocking is that by gently manipulating the wet knitting you can even out any tension discrepancies and help the stitches look more consistent. It is also essential with lace work to block the piece afterwards in order to open up the lace so that it will show properly.

Some yarns will not show it's full nature until it has been wet blocked. Some fibres will bloom after they have been wet and that simply means that the yarn will kind of puff a bit after it has dried from being wet. This blooming can affect the gauge of the knitted work and also the crispness of the pattern design particularly when colour is involved.

There are many different blocking techniques and each piece will require a slightly different treatment. However, here is a description of my standard blocking process. I will fill a bucket with water and put a little bit of wool washing detergent in it. I will let the knitting soak for at least 30 minutes to allow all the fibre to properly absorb the water and be saturated. After soaking I will gently squeeze the water out of the knitting; never treat handknits roughly for the risk of felting. Then I will roll the knitting up in a towel to remove excess water.

Lace blocking wires are especially useful when trying to achieve a straight edge on your knitting.
T Pins and wires.
Then I will pin the piece out on a foam mat; either a camping mat or a yoga mat. Sometimes I will also use lace blocking wires to obtain a really straight edge or to pull the lace open with a consistent tension. The pins I use are strudy 'T' shaped craft pins and the lace blocking wires are a set that I bought from my LYS, Sunspun.

I will leave the wet knitting pinned out to dry in a warm spot in the house or outside in a shaded spot. I make sure that the knitting is bone dry before I will remove the pins and wires otherwise the knitting will not maintain the shape or size that you pinned it out to. However, even this does not mean that the sizing and shaping is permanent. I have noticed in particular that no matter how meticulously I blocked my shawls that gradually they kind of scrunch up again. In fact, everything will need to be re-blocked each time it is washed, so I guess when those shawls are scrunching up it is just time for a quick wash and reblock.

I hope that gives you all a basic understanding of what blocking involves and why we do it. Now you can keep me accountable and avoid lazy knitter behaviours by asking me if I've blocked my finished projects before wearing them adoringly.

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