A fold here, a tuck there…

So when the knitting’s done, you do a little magic, and end up with something like this.

Which sure, it’s cute enough, though a bit ruffled.  Well you know what I’m going to tell you to do.  You need to block that hat!

And for this one?  For this one we get to use a whole new blocking prop.  Marbles.  Yes really marbles.  I’m every bit as amused as you are (quite likely more).

And when it’s done?  Well when it’s done it’s rather delightful.

And yes, yes there will be a pattern down the road (almost certainly in July).  Make sure you’re signed up for the mailing list if you want to know when it comes out (folks on the mailing list get a coupon code when it comes out too, and it’s for a bigger discount than the one I do here on the blog).  I have a feeling this one is going to be a lot of fun!


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Blocking 201 – Flared Cuffs

So, I’ve given this lecture before, but everything you knit can benefit from being blocked.  Everything.  And if you’ve been around long enough to hear that lecture, you’ve been around long enough to know about my love for flared cuffs.  So of course I have a way to block them too!

Let’s break this down.  You’ve got a few goals here.  One is to stretch the lace out evenly so you can see the pretty stitches you worked so hard on.  Another is to make sure the wrist is nice and straight.  And the final one is to have the whole thing dry without any creases (which you’d get if you pinned it out flat).

You can totally pull this off, you just need a few tools.  First, and most magical, some custom graph paper.  I make mine here (it’s free and awesome).  For this cuff, the main stitch pattern is repeated 5 times, so I had the graph paper have 5 main spokes and 20 secondary spokes.  That let me pin out the edges and the middle of each stitch pattern repeat.  It’s so much easier to use this as a guide than to try and eyeball it.

Second, you need your usual blocking stuff.  You’ll need a mat and some T-pins (do yourself a favor and get the long ones).

And finally, you need something to go in the middle.  This is the one bit I can’t tell you exactly where to find.  Here I’m using a bottle of hair stuff, but I’ve used all sorts of things in the past (shampoo bottles, a bottle of fancy vinegar, a vase…look around in your bathroom or pantry, I bet you have half a dozen things you can use).

All you need to do is put the graph paper on the mat, plop whatever you’re using for the middle on the center of your graph paper (you can hold it in place with a loop of tape if you want, but it’s optional), slide your knitting over it, and start pinning it out.  I start by finding the main points I want to pin (in this case the start of each pattern repeat) and pinning them out under just a bit of tension.  Then I work my way around the circle, moving the pins out one ring at a time, until I get the tension I’m going for (make sure all the pins are on the same ring when you’re done).  Once that’s done I sometimes pin a secondary point (in this case the midpoint of each repeat, pinned one ring closer to the center than the other points).

That’s all there is to it.  It takes about ten minutes (half of that is finding something to use in the middle).  And it makes a huge difference!

And, if there’s just absolutely no way you’ll ever ever ever do this, at least take a look at yesterday’s post for some discussion of a simpler alternative that accomplishes some of the same magic.

You can find similar blocking rants for hats and cowls in earlier posts, in case you want more of me being super bossy and telling you what to do!


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Option one

So, I hear from a lot of you that you’re scared of blocking or that it’s hard or that you just don’t want to do it.  And I sympathize…but I sort of need you to get over it.  If you have the skill to knit the thing, you have the skill to block it.  And your knitting will look so much better if you do.  I promise.

Remember, at its heart, blocking is just ‘get the thing wet…let it dry in the shape you like.’  That’s it.  That’s the minimum necessary requirement.  You can get all fancy and use pins and mats and rulers and all sorts of other props.  But at its most basic, you only need water and a place for the thing to dry.  You can’t tell me that’s too hard.

Here’s an example of the sort of difference this most basic level of blocking can make.

I took the finished cuff, threw it in a sink full of cool water, squeezed it a few times to help it get properly soaked, and left it there for half an hour.  Then I squeezed out the water (I didn’t even use a towel, I just squeezed it tight in my fist) and laid it out smooth on the counter by the sink.  I tugged on it a bit here and there and made sure it was folded evenly in half and that was it.  I left it until it was dry.

Is it perfect? Nope.  Perfect takes a bit more effort, and I’ll show you how to do it in the next post (but really…it isn’t all that much harder).  But compare it to the one still on the needles.  The blocked one is so much better.  You owe it to yourself to do this much at least.  And I’m going to give you such a dirty look if you tell me you can’t.


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Before and after (or why you block your swatches)

So we talked about this before with this yarn, but it really does something magic when it gets wet.  Take a look at the differences between this shot before and after I soaked it.


DSC_2868 copyAnd after:

DSC_2878 copyAnd yes, I know it can be a bit hard to see in pictures (it’s more dramatic in person).  But look especially at the stretches of stockinette at the broadest part of the leaf.  See how it’s filled in?  And the spaces between each leg of the stitches are much smaller?  And the holes made by the yarnovers are more distinct (because the general stockinette background is denser and more solid)?  The yarn really poofs up and nuzzles up against its neighbors when it gets wet.

This is why you block your swatches folks.  If I’d just knit a swatch and not washed it, I’d have gone down one or two needle sizes and swatched again.  But now that I see what it looks like after a rinse, I know I actually want to stay just where I am.  This one changes a bit more than some (and I love how it looks after it’s blocked), but it’s important for every yarn.  You really really do want to take the time to do this, I promise it’s worth it!

The yarn is Blend 1 from Ysolda, and it’s delightful!

Blocking 201 – Hats

So instagram seems to be a place that starts all sorts of fun discussions.  I posted a blocking picture of a cowl the other day, and that turned into a post about blocking cowls.  Now the same thing has happened again with a picture of a hat.  I mentioned how important I thought blocking was, yes even for hats, and some folks asked just how you block a hat, so I thought I’d share.  But first, how about a little reminder of just why it matters.

block your hatsI promise those wouldn’t be *nearly* as pretty without a good blocking!

Now I admit, I am lucky enough to have an assortment of vintage hat forms I use for blocking.  What can I say, my job leads me to collect a whole array of odd things.  But I totally understand that this may be a somewhat unrealistic purchase if you don’t spend an awful lot of time showing off hats.  But I suspect you have something around the house you can use.

First choice is probably a mixing bowl.  The blog archives offer photogenic proof of many mixing bowls used as blocking aids  in my pre-hat form days.  I also know I’ve used an ice bucket (we were in a hotel, my options were limited) and even a vase.  Go raid your kitchen.  You’ve probably got something that will work.

If you want something a bit more adjustable, you can also use a balloon.  This is a good approach because you can blow it up to match the size of the head of the person who will wear the hat (do yourself a favor and measure, it’s surprisingly hard to eyeball that).  If you’re going to go this route, look for the thickest balloons you can find (like the ones they sell as punch balloon toys).  They’ll stand up to the wet hat just fine, and they’ll last for quite a while.

If you don’t mind something you need to store, you can also get styrofoam mannequin heads.  They’re meant to hold wigs, but they make great hat blockers (and they’re shockingly cheap too, like five bucks).  They do tend to run a little small (though I totally have a big head and so could be biased).  So I’d recommend considering the guy version for blocking most hats and the girl version only for blocking kids’ or small adult’s hats.

And of course, if you find you just can’t live without one, you can totally track down vintage hat forms on either etsy or ebay.  I use mine enough it’s totally worth it (and they look cute on the shelf when I’m not using them).

But regardless of how you do it (even if it’s just patting it out flat and letting it dry), please please please block your hats.  All your lovely knitting will be shown off to much better effect if you do!

Oh, and because someone will ask, the top center hat is Pelagic.  The blue ones are Carom.  The others aren’t out yet, but the white ones should be out in November, the gray and pink one in December, and the gray and yellow one some time early next year.  They’ll all be over here when they are (in case you’re coming to this later), and if you want me to let you know when they (and other patterns) come you, you can make that happen over here.