Category Archives: techniques

Colour Charting in Excel: the Mac OS X 2011 Version

I'm planning a Fair Isle sweater, and can't quite figure out which patterns or colours I want to use. Marnie Maclean has a great post about Using Excel to design colorwork, but when I tried to follow it with the Excel that comes with Office for Mac 2011, it didn't work. So here's my equivalent of what to do for the colours in Excel 2011. The rest of the tutorial she wrote still applies. The thumbnails below are all linked to bigger images. I made the screenshots with skitch, it's a great tool!

The main aim of what I'm doing is to set up the colour chart so that I can change the colours easily, so if I want to change all the light brown to light red, for example, it's easier than going through and clicking on each box or cell individually. To do this, set up styles for each colour box. First off, make sure you're on the Home toolbar, by clicking on the Home tab, and that you can see the tool bar. Click on the Home tab again if you can't see the toolbar.

Now click on a box, you should see the Normal style highlighted on the Format part of the toolbar. It's at the bottom of the highlight box in the picture.

Excel toolbar

If you click underneath that, you should see a down arrow. Click on that, and you'll get the formatting dialog box.

Formatting dialog box

Click on the "New Cell Style...". That brings up the next dialog box, where you can give the style a name (I just used a colour name to start with).
New Cell Style

The important thing we have to fix is the cell background colour, also called the Fill colour. Click on the format button, and you'll get a palette with lots of choices (and you can add your own, but that's a topic for another post).
Add Colour
Click OK and OK, and you should find the cell you clicked now has that colour as background.

Once you've set up one style for each colour you plan to use, you can chart the design by choosing that style for each cell that should be the same colour. To change the colour, ctrl-click the style name in the format toolbar, and choose "Modify" in the drop-down menu. This brings up the same formatting dialog box, so you can pick another colour. Then all the cells with that style will change to the new colour.

Care of Knits

This is the final part of a series that begins with Blocking Notes (Intro).

Caring for handknits involves a few simple rules. One of the most important is to never hang a hand-knitted garment. It will stretch, and may not bounce back after washing. Fold the garment (don't fold the same way every time to avoid making creases permanent) or roll (particularly for delicate or heirloom articles such as christening shawls). Don't place heavy articles on top of handknits.

Wash garments carefully and gently. Use lukewarm water to be safe with woolen fibres that may full (the words “full” and “felt” are often used interchangeably, although technically what happens to a woolen article that is washed in hot water with lots of agitation is called fulling), although you can use hot water (this may be necessary if the article is very dirty) as long as you don't agitate the article. Superwash wools don't full*, and can usually be machine washed on a gentle cycle. Don't machine-wash other yarns unless the ball band says the yarn is machine-washable. If you have a gentle cycle on your washing machine, and want to machine wash an article where the ball band says to hand wash, try it out on a swatch first. If you do use a machine, put the article in a laundry washing bag first to help minimize pilling and stretching. Use a gentle detergent, hair shampoo, or a specialized wool wash. I always rinse the article, even with those wool washes that claim to not need rinsing, as the detergent tends to build up over time, although some people claim the wool wash residue helps to deter clothes moths.

After washing, squeeze out all the water, roll the article in a towel to remove more water, and then dry the article flat on another dry towel or a drying rack, shaping it gently. You can also use a wooly board, but will probably have to wet the ribbing after the article has dried and let it dry off the board to ensure it's springy.

Cotton tends to get mouldy so make sure it can dry quickly when you wash it, and that it's completely dry before putting it away.

Don't machine dry the article unless the ball band says it's possible. If you do use a machine, don't overdry the article; removing it when still slightly damp helps it keep its shape.

Most handknits don't need drycleaning, although some rayon yarns benefit from it [PARK, p 233].

Food stains tend to set if left, so make sure handknits are kept clean.

Often handknits will lose their shape after being worn for a while since they tend to lengthen due to gravity. Washing and blocking generally brings the shape back, although with yarns that have little or no memory, such as cotton, it may not be completely effective. To take this into account when knitting the garment, a lot of people recommend knitting a gauge swatch, washing it the way the garment will be washed, then hanging it when dry with weights to simulate gravity. This way you can tell how the yarn will react when it's worn. You may wish to make the article with a slightly tighter gauge, more seams, or more structure, all of which help counteract the tendency to stretch.

One big problem when storing woolen items, whether handknits or other items made of wool (including wool blends), is with moths. You know you have a moth problem when your woolen items have irregular holes in them. In my experience, the expensive yarns such as cashmere are particularly singled out for attack. There are two types of clothing moths whose larvae eat wool, particularly if the wool was stored without being properly cleaned. They will also eat wool that is still unspun or in skeins. To prevent infestation, wash every woolen item before storage, or store the unknitted yarn in ziplock bags, airtight bins, or zippered cotton pillowcases. Clean closets frequently by vacuuming. You can keep clean items in airtight containers, making sure they're thoroughly dry first. You can freeze items for several days at temperatures lower than -18 °F or -28 °C, or hang them in sunlight and brush thoroughly. If you do find an infestation, clean the item by washing or drycleaning. More information is in [RUST].

*Well, they're not meant to, anyway.

More Blocking

Part of a series that begins with Blocking Notes (Intro).

Yarn Considerations

In general reading the ball band is a good idea, both for general care instructions, and to know what the yarn is made of. If in doubt, test your blocking methods on a swatch to see what the likely effects will be on the finished article. There are some general comments that can be made based on the type of yarn.

Wool and most wool-like fibres can be wet-blocked or steam pressed warm. Angora and mohair are less elastic than other wool-like fibres, while cashmere felts easily, so you need to be careful with these fibres. Some people say that spritz blocking is safest with delicate fibres such as cashmere and alpaca (see [THOM] for example), but since you will want to wash any garment you wear eventually, I see no harm in gentle wet-blocking. Try it out on a swatch first to be safe.

Silk tends to stretch and so after blocking you may want to pull a little on the thoroughly dry swatch before measuring. It is also fragile when wet, so block gently using wet-blocking or spritz-blocking. Cotton, linen, hemp (and other plant-based) yarns tend to stretch with wear so after blocking the gauge swatches you may want to hang a light weight on the dry swatch for a few hours to mimic wearing the article before measuring the final gauge. These yarns can be wet-blocked or steam pressed warm. Linen is strong when wet, so can take a lot of wet-blocking without damage.

Most synthetics don't respond to blocking the way woolen fibres do; they tend to bounce back to the pre-blocked state rather than keep the blocked form. There is a method used for acrylic yarns called “killing” [a href = "">DRUC] which involves pinning the wet article to shape, then steam pressing through a wet cloth. This is said to make the article keep its shape after blocking, and to drape beautifully. I haven't tried it myself so would recommend testing the procedure on a swatch first.

Stitch Pattern Effects

Wet blocking can be used for any stitch pattern, although care must be taken when pinning the article out to not stretch ribbing or cables too much. If stretched too much, these won't bounce back when dry.

When steam blocking, don't press ribbing, cables, or any embossed patterns, as the pressing will flatten and lessen the three-dimensional effect of the patterning.

Blocking Swatches

I soaked a few swatches at a time in lukewarm water to which a small amount of a gentle hair shampoo had been added for about 20 minutes. I swished the swatches around gently a couple of times. I pressed out the water, and rinsed the swatches using lukewarm water. Then I rolled them in a towel. I pinned the swatches out on a foam board covered with a clean towel. I blew up a balloon inside the hat to block that, measuring to make sure I didn't blow it up too far. Then I let each swatch and the hat dry before unpinning the swatches and deflating the balloon.

I wove in the yarn tails before blocking for the swatches. For the hat, I wove in the yarn tails before blocking and then checked they hadn't puckered after blocking. I sewed on the i-cord loops after blocking.

Blocking for Seaming and After Washing

Part of a series that begins with Blocking Notes (Intro).

Blocking Prior to Seaming

There are conflicting opinions about weaving in tails prior to or after blocking. In theory it's a good idea to weave in the yarn tails that won't be used for seaming prior to blocking, as the blocking process will help them settle in and be less visible, and this is the method recommended in [STAN, p 224]. If, however, you need to stretch the article a lot during blocking, don't weave in the yarn tails as the yarn tails may pucker [HOLL].

For blocking an item prior to seaming, I like to use wet blocking, although any of the methods can work.

Shape the pieces according to the schematic. Every part of the garment that will be seamed needs to be measured carefully to make sure the pieces match. You may need to use a lot of pins to make the edges as flat as possible so that seaming the pieces is easier. It's also possible to steam press the edges of the pieces to make seaming easier, touching the iron to the knitted fabric through a pressing cloth. I've tried this method. I find it tends to flatten the edges so I don't recommend it unless it's a dark yarn that's difficult to seam otherwise. I'd recommend testing on a swatch first, then washing the swatch again to make sure the fibres bounce back from this treatment.

Let the pieces dry completely before unpinning them from the blocking surface.

Blocking After Washing

Blocking after washing is reasonably easy for garments. Press them gently into shape (check the measurements against the schematic of the garment) on a towel or drying rack, and let them dry (you may need to change the towels a couple of times). Some yarns are marked machine dryable and you don't need to block these after washing.

If the article is a lace shawl or tablecloth, then you'll probably have to go through the whole blocking procedure with the pins or dressing wires again. Some yarns do have a “memory” of being blocked and remember the shape somewhat, but whether this is sufficient depends on the pattern, the yarn, and how strongly it was blocked the first time around.

Blocking Techniques

Part of a series that begins with Blocking Notes (Intro).

Blocking always involves water; the three major types of blocking differ in how much water you use and how it is applied to the knitted articles. Which method you choose mostly depends on the type of yarn, although the type of knit, whether you're blocking prior to seaming or after washing a completed garment, and the stitch patterns also have an effect. The ball-band from the yarn should have useful information on it, but the best method is to knit a number of swatches and try out different blocking techniques on them to see which is the best. This is particularly useful if the yarn is unfamiliar, or the finished garment should fit precisely (where stretching or shrinking will be an issue).

Wet blocking is the term generally applied to the process of soaking the knitted articles. Fill a basin with cool or lukewarm water, add a small amount of a detergent, and swish the detergent through the water. The cleansing agent can be a specialized wool wash, or a mild, slightly acidic hair shampoo. A gentle dish detergent such as Dawn also works well, as long as it's detergent and not soap (since soap is alkaline, it encourages fulling). Add the knitted article(s). You can swish the water through very gently to make sure the articles are thoroughly wet, which is why the water should be cool or at most lukewarm. After 15 or 20 minutes soaking time, pour off the water, pressing the excess water out of the articles, and rinse in cool water a couple of times until the water is clear. If the articles are heavy, I find pouring them into a strong colander makes pressing out the excess water gently much easier, without stressing the knitted fabric. Some people put the articles in a laundry bag or pillowcase (one that closes properly) and put them in the spin cycle in the washing machine; this is the sort of thing you want to test out on swatches first. Don't spin dry sensitive yarns such as cashmere that felt easily. If not spin drying, after pouring off the excess water, lay the article flat on a towel, and roll up the towel with the article inside, so that you end up with a rolled-up towel surrounding the knitted item. Leave for a few minutes and then unroll. If the article is still very wet, repeat with a dry towel, until the article feels damp but not wet.

Carry the article to the blocking area, supporting it completely to make sure it doesn't stretch (another use for the colander if the article is large and/or heavy). For blocking garment pieces prior to seaming, block each piece separately. Lay it out on the surface and press gently into shape with your hands. Pin down the edges if they're curling, or if you need to stretch the pieces into the right shape. This is where the schematic and tape measure come in handy; some people use specialized blocking boards with measurements printed on them, or checked gingham to make this part of the process quicker. If you're blocking an entire garment, then usually the pins aren't needed, you just press the garment into shape and leave it to dry (unless you're using a woolly board).

If you're blocking lace shawls or tablecloths, then you probably want to use a bed or the carpet (covered with a cloth) and really stretch out the article, pinning down each peak or picot edge. This opens up the yarn-overs to their full beauty. You can also use dressing wires. To make sure the shape is correct, you should measure the various axes to make sure they match, or draw concentric circles and/or lines on an old sheet and use that to block on. You can also use a specialized blocking board or lace blocking frame.

I like to use wet blocking with wool and yarn mixes that are predominantly wool, as the fibres often need soaking for the full effect. This also mimics the way I'll wash the item later, particularly garments. The yarn will usually soften and relax, and then “bloom” or fluff up a little, particularly if it's woolen-spun rather than worsted-spun. Wet blocking helps even out any inconsistencies in tension and is necessary to make colourwork such as fair isle even and flat. I also find lace blocks best with wet blocking as the work can be stretched better when it's properly wet.

Spray or spritz blocking is the method whereby you pin out the article first, and then spray it with clean water (distilled is best) until thoroughly wet, then leave it to dry. I find it not as effective as wet blocking, but for sensitive articles such as cashmere, or when not very much blocking is needed, it works.

Steam pressing is the method whereby you steam the article, using a hand-held steamer, the steam from a boiling kettle, or a steam iron. If using a steam iron, hold the iron above the pinned-out piece, or press through a pressing cloth (which should also be dampened). Make sure you press, lifting the iron off the article each time you wish to press another area, rather than moving the iron while still in contact. Let the steam dampen each piece thoroughly. Be careful with this method as the heat can damage the fibres, especially synthetic blends.