Category Archives: techniques

Blocking Tools

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

The first decision about blocking (after deciding what it is you're blocking, of course) is what you want to block on. If you don't want to stretch the article you're blocking, you can get away with gently easing it into shape using your hands, in which case you can block on any clean surface. Counter-tops, towels, specialized blocking boards, foam mats, foam insulation, homosote boards, corkboard, mattresses, clean carpets, drying racks – anything flat and big enough to hold the article will do. If the surface might absorb the water, or be damaged by it, or it might not be clean enough, then putting a lint-free towel or other cloth on top before laying the knitted article on it is a good idea.

If you want to stretch or shape the article a little more than you can do with your hands, then you need to choose a surface that you can pin the article to. Use rust-free (stainless steel) pins or t-pins; others tend to leave marks on the article that are hard to get out. T-pins are a little stronger and are good for heavier articles or if you need to stretch the article a lot.

If you're blocking garment pieces, it's handy to have a schematic of the size and shape you want the pieces to be, and a tape measure to check the measurements.

Shetland and fair isle sweaters knit in the round are often blocked on a wooly (sometimes spelled woolly) or stretching board (e.g., at Camilla Valley Farm's Wooly Board), which stretches the body and arms of the sweater into the right shape. The only problem with this method is that the ribbing at wrist and hip tends to be stretched too much, so has to be brought back into shape afterwards, which you can do either by steaming the ribbing until it relaxes with a steam iron or over a boiling kettle, or wetting it and patting it into shape. [FEIT, p. 70]

If you're blocking lace or articles with long straight edges using pins, it's hard to get the edges really straight. This is where blocking or dressing wires are useful. These are long, thin, clean stainless steel wires that you thread through the edges of the articles. Then you pin the wires at intervals to the backing surface, which makes the edges straight and can help avoid little triangles showing up as sometimes happens when you just use pins. A variation on this is to use strong thread (e.g., crochet cotton in bedspread size, or buttonhole sewing thread), thread it through the edges, and then tie it to strong pins. When you pull the thread taut, it will straighten the edges.

Those who block a lot of lace often recommend lace blocking frames. The basic principle is to build a frame that looks like a picture frame, and then use a strong cotton thread or string to tie the lace article onto the frame. By adjusting the thread tension and angle, you can adapt the frame to any shape of knitted article, so it's good for shapes that are difficult to block properly using other means. Examples of blocking frames are at Knitpicks and Spannmax.

Blocking Notes (Intro)

Part of the TKGA Level 1 Masters Program is to write a report on the blocking and care of knits. I guess I went a little bit overboard on mine; the committee judging my report said it was "outstanding" and "one of the most comprehensive and well written blocking reports" they'd seen in that program and encouraged me to publish it. After a bit of email on the subject with the committee chair, I'm going to publish it here on my blog. It was six printed pages, so I'm going to post a section at a time.

Oh, one little detail. Please don't copy my report and submit it as your own. For one thing, the committee members have copies of it (and, I assume, of reports from other people), and part of the idea of the program is to encourage people to do their own research across a number of sources, not just from one. And there is so much more information out there than I could put in my report; I left out lots of information that I found about blocking different types of fibres, for example. So I'd call it a decent introduction to the subject, but not comprehensive.

Contents

  1. Blocking
    1. Blocking Tools
    2. Blocking Techniques
    3. Blocking Prior to Seaming
    4. Blocking After Washing
    5. Yarn Considerations
    6. Stitch Pattern Effects
    7. Blocking Swatches
  2. Care of Knits
  3. Bibliography

Introduction

Blocking is the process by which you make a knitted article the right size and shape. While you're blocking, you also will see how the fabric is affected by water, which is important information for when you want to clean the article. Blocking can be a fairly simple process, or more complicated, depending on why you're blocking the article. Knits are blocked for several reasons. Blocking makes it easier to seam a garment after knitting the pieces, as you can pull the pieces to the right size and shape during the blocking process, as well as flatten out the edges. You can change the size of a woolen garment (within reason) by blocking after seaming to accommodate minor fluctuations in the wearer's size. Blocking is required to see the full beauty of lace knitting and knitted lace, as it's only through blocking that the yarn-over stitches are opened up properly. Blocking also makes fair isle knitting much more even. I'll talk about each of these issues separately. Much of this information comes from [VOGU] and [STAN]; some also from personal experience.

Bibliography

[DRUC] Druchunas, Donna. http://www.sheeptoshawl.com/charity/archives/2006/11/entry_222.html, 2006.

[FEIT] Feitelson, Ann. The Art of Fair Isle Knitting. Interweave Press, 1996. (link is to the not yet released new edition)

[HOLL] Holladay, Arenda. On Your Way To The Masters: Those Pesky Yarn Tails. Cast On Spring 2003. TKGA, 2003. (available to members on the TKGA website)

[PARK] Parkes, Clara. The Knitter's Book of Yarn. Potter Craft, 2007.

[RUST] Rust, M.K. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7435.html. University of California, 2000.

[STAN] Stanley, Montse. Knitter's Handbook. Readers Digest, 1999.

[THOM] Thomas, Jessica Fenlon. http://knitty.com/issuewinter02/FEATdiyknitter.html. Knitty, 2002.

[VOGU] Editors, Vogue Knitting Magazine. Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book. Sixth & Spring Books, 2002.

This is not an exhaustive list of references by any means, just the ones I referred to when writing my report.

Another Cast-on

Now I've finished the sweater for my husband that I was knitting (that was a lot of knitting, a man's sweater on 3.5 mm needles), I have a little knitting time for other things. Like some of the Christmas presents I'm planning on making this year. And of course, I had to try out something new for one of them, the Twisted German Cast-On. The original tutorial I used seems to have disappeared from the 'net, so here's a generic search. Yes, it is a little twisted, in fact it took quite a while to get my fingers to get the hang of it (I don't really like the long-tail cast-on or derivatives, so that doesn't help). Now that I have figured it out, I can see this cast-on being useful, especially when I want the extra depth and strength, but don't want to do a double-thread long-tail cast-on. And, of course, it's always good to add another cast-on to the repertoire. You just never know when it might come in handy.

Catkins

I've liked the look of Niebling doilies for many years, even though ours is not really a doily house, and I tend not to surround myself with frilly things, or wear frilly clothes. They're structured beautifully, and are very appealing. Eventually I joined the Yahoo! NieblingLaceKnitters, and started the summer's knit-along, the birch catkins doily.

I've made a little more progress than in this photo, but my camera is busy charging right now. I'm currently on row 88 of 104; some distance to go, but the bulk is done. I had a few problems getting started. I tried various suggestions ("belly button" start, "easy beginner's" start) and ended up doing the standard Emily Ocker start, as it was the easiest for me to get right. Then it was mostly hex mesh (fun!), using a single yarnover for rows 9 - 19, a reverse yarnover from 21 - 25, and the double yarnover from 27 on. I started on four dpns, moved to two circs and one dpn fairly fast, lost the dpn on row 13, and was on a single small circular needle by row 18.

Thread: J & Coats Royale Classic Crochet Thread, size 10, in mint green 9 (colour 428); I just bought a second ball as the first one is almost done, with its 320m. I started on 3mm needles, and moved to 3.25 mm at row 63. I was thinking about moving up another size, but never quite figured out the right place for it.

The trickiest part for me was row 83, since before then when you see the double yarnover, and the skp and k2tog, it's hex mesh. In row 83 you have the same stitches, but in a different arrangement since it isn't hex mesh any more. This threw me for a bit as I thought I'd made a mistake; I had to go and look at a few pictures of finished doilies to convince myself that it really did change there.

Oh yes, I worked the k3tog as sl1, k2tog, psso.

early view of Niebling birch catkins

early view of Niebling birch catkins

Cast-Ons

One of the things I've noticed while doing the research for the TKGA Level 1 is that cast-ons are often given different names in the various reference books. I figured it would be useful for me, and maybe for others, to list the cast-ons I used, what names they're known under in the books I've looked at, and any notes. Of course, this is really only useful if you have at least one of the books, for which I make no apologies.

Knitter's Stanley Vogue Notes
knit, p40 knitted, p73, fig 2.27 knitting-on, p27 a bit lacy and loose, but quick and you don't waste any yarn
cable, p40 cable, p75, fig 2.35 cable, p26 firmer than knit cast-on; my default.
thumb, p67, fig 2.9 double cast-on - thumb, p 25 similar results to long tail
long tail, knit, p38 German, p68, fig 2.12 double cast-on, p25 looks best when followed by a purl row
long tail, purl, p39 combine with knit version for in-pattern cast-ons
tubular, p42 two-strand tubular, p78, fig 2.41 good for k1, p1 rib or seed stitch
stockinette-stitch tubular cast-on, p79, fig 2.44 tubular: version B, p 27 use for k1, p1 rib

I think it's an interesting comparison. No wonder it's sometimes hard to figure out what knitters actually mean by any given term.

Bibliography:

Knitter's

The Knitter's Handbook: Essential Skills & Helpful Hints from Knitter's Magazine, 2005, XRX Books.

Stanley

Knitter's Handbook : A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Techniques of Handknitting, Montse Stanley, 1993, Reader's Digest.

Vogue

Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book, 2002, Sixth & Spring Books