New Kids On The Blocking Wires – Part 1

Blue Sky Alpacas Sweet 16 Hat in Extra Yarn

The lovely Alena sporting her new hat and dutifully putting up with modeling for her older sisters.

A while back we asked you if you’d like some free stuff. Turns out you do! Congratulations to Connie K., who will be receiving a fabulous box of goodies compliments of Blue Sky Alpacas.

They were kind enough to send me enough of their delicious Extra Yarn and a spare pattern so I could whip up a Sweet Sixteen Hat of my very own. After I cast off the hat, Alena snatched it up, put it on her head, and checked herself out in a mirror.

Um, Meganne*? This sort of doesn’t look anything like the picture on the pattern. I’m not trying to tell you how to do you, but is it possible that you don’t know how to read a pattern?

I know right? You can probably hear the sisterly love right through the screen. ;) The hat hadn’t been blocked yet, and like so many knits, it changed considerably when it was. Alena, like Jac, has a large noggin, so I blocked this guy pretty hard to give it the slouchy look that makes it so snazzy.

sweet 16 hat blocking

As I blocked it, Alena was looking over my shoulder, wondering what kind of fiber based witchcraft I was doing. She asked questions as I worked, and when I finished she asked me where I learned to do that. The truth is I don’t know. My blocking knowledge is more or less a hodgepodge picked up here and there from books, friends, and of course the internet. A while back I got super interested in the nitty-gritty makeup of the fibers I use most, and that understanding really helped my blocking skills.

Based on blocking tutorial requests on Instagram, I thought I’d share the basics of what makes a great block. Today, I’m going to talk about what blocking is and what you need to do it. Next week, I’ll go in-depth on techniques and which fibers to use them on.

What Is Blocking?

Blocking is when you moisten your knitting by submerging it in water (pictured below), spritzing it with a spray bottle, or steam. Then you pin it into the shape you want the final piece to take. This is especially useful to get a clean straight edge on blankets or to add shape to garments.

How to Block

Why Block?

Blocking is what makes your knitting really bloom. If you’re making lace, the difference between the cast off piece and the blocked piece will be especially dramatic. My wedding shawl pictured below is a great example of that. Sadly, I don’t have a great picture of it before I blocked it, but it measured about a 4’x4′ square off the needles. Once blocked it grew to 6’x6′.

megans shawl

Recently, one of my knitting students started her very first sweater. I had her do the sleeves first because they’re the fastest part of the sweater, so you get that instant gratification. And also because by the end, it’s easy to get bored with a pattern and not want to do them. Second-sock-syndrome gets the best of us. Anyhow, after finishing the two sleeves and ensuring she had done the same number of rows on each, she found one was nearly an inch shorter than the other. Her tension had evened out over the course of the sleeves, but the first had a much looser gauge than the second. She was worried I would make her tear it out, but that’s just not how I roll.

That’ll block right out.

Blocking is the great equalizer. Sleeves not the same length? No problem. Forgot to leave room in that sweater for your fabulous chest? Put a rolled up towel under the sweater before blocking to create a little room for the ladies. The pattern calls for 18 inches but you can’t bear to work that stockinette one row past 17? Girl, stretch that bad boy on your wires. It’ll feel good. Blocking is often skipped for non-lace projects, but you are missing out on a great opportunity to make your work look really polished and professional. Blocking can be a little tedious, especially if you’ve spent a long time on a project and you just can’t wait to get it on, but trust me, it’s worth the time.

Materials

Before you get started blocking you need to gather up the tools for the job.

A Blocking Surface

blocking a blanketMany knitters swear by Blocking Mats, but I’ve actually never used them. I like to block on a bed that has been covered with Hefty bags. For really huge projects, I’ll lay out a nice thick layer of beach towels on a carpeted floor and then cover that with Hefty bags.

The magic ingredient here is the Hefty bags.

They protect the blocking surface, but more importantly, they will speed the drying process. If you block straight onto an absorbent, or even semi-absorbent surface, the water will soak into it and sit there taking ages to dry. As someone who frequently blocks less than 24 hours before I need something, I don’t have time for all that. The trash bags keep the water from soaking into anything, and drying goes about three times faster than without them.

Pins and Wires

The wires are optional, but frankly I won’t block anything larger than a washcloth without them. I like Inspinknity Wires best. You use the wires by threading them through the edge of the piece, and then pin along the edge of the wire to adhere it to your blocking surface. You’ll want T-pins for that. Trust me on this. Do NOT try to use head pins, because you’ll wind up tearing your hair out in frustration later and probably ruin your knitting trying to get them out of the blocked piece. What’s great about wires is they give you a much cleaner edge than you can possibly get using pins alone. It’s also less stressful for the fiber since the tension is spread out along the whole edge rather than at localized pin points. Physics!

Water and Wool Wash

Like the wires, wool wash is optional. That said, if you’re blocking wool and don’t love the smell of wet sheep, it’s a must. Providing that I’m doing a wet block (more on that next week), I use wool wash on any fiber, not just wool. My favorite wash is Eucalan. It smells great and doesn’t require rinsing, so it’s perfect for delicate fibers.

Sweet foamy goodness for the "Sweet Sixteen" hat I'm about to block. #Eucalan #blueskyalpacas #yarn #knitting #extrayarn

A post shared by Dr. Megan-Anne Llama (@doctor_llama) on

This was just the introduction of course, come back this time next week for a follow-up on specific techniques, and how to tell when to use them!

~Megan-Anne
*My sisters stopped saying my name correctly a long time ago. At some point Jac started calling me Meganne (pronounced Meg-Anne-uh-nan-ee) and it stuck.