Variations on a theme

You know how I’ve been telling you to block your knits?  And showing you how much of a difference it makes? And perhaps you recall that the project I knit most recently was a bit willful when it was on the needles?  Right.  So you might imagine that this one also benefited greatly from a little relaxing bath. DSC_0318

Huge difference, very very little effort.  Compared to how much time it takes to knit something, the time to block it is negligible.  I’m going to harass you into doing it if I possibly can.  (Though i have to say I’m tempted to find something else fun to do to take advantage of the shape that stitch makes…it’s rather fabulous on it’s own).

I’m off to take proper pics of these (and the other mitts) this afternoon.  They’ll be out soon, and I’ll be back soon with book plans and TNNA goodies and all sorts of fun stuff.  But for now, now I must catch up on laundry so I can leave the house today and be both decent and non-smelly.

I do, and you should too

To everyone who says ‘mine doesn’t look like yours,’ I have a confession.  Mine doesn’t look like mine either until it’s blocked.  Shall I show you?

Why you should block your knittingSee how one of those is all lovely and flow-y and smooth with clearly defined stitches, distinct ribbing, and pretty flared edges?  And see how one is a twisty, crumpled mess of disappointment with muddled lines and no flare to be seen?

Yeah, the only difference is that the first one has been tossed in the sink for a bit of a soak, gently patted into shape, and left to dry.  Total time expended, about 5 minutes.  That includes wiping out the sink before I started, because that’s always the first step in the process around here.  It doesn’t count the 15 minutes or so I let it soak, or the time it takes to dry, but that’s not exactly active time.  I think it’s a big enough improvement to be worth five minutes of my time, don’t you?  (Hint, the answer is yes.)

Truth in Advertising

This is for everyone who writes to me and says their knitting isn’t as pretty as mine.  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Mine isn’t either.  Or rather, the knitting when it falls off the needles isn’t as pretty as the carefully blocked and enthusiastically lint rollered knitting I usually show you in pictures. So just to make everyone else feel better, I’ll show you the before shot.  Ends flapping in the breeze, crown all wrinkly, stockinette less than smooth.

lt grey hatIt always looks like this at this stage.  Always.  If your knitting looks like this, you haven’t done anything wrong, you’re just not done yet.  The blocking makes it better (and I’ll show you that later, once the thing finishes drying).

Put a pin in it

Please do not suggest that I have been lazy with my blocking.  I may laugh manically and chase after you with a t-pin.

cuffs being blocked

Oh, and pro tip, the snow will re-wet your knitting, so be a smart kid and be sure it’s cleaned off and dry again before you pull out your pins.  Not that I’d know or anything…

The Proper Tools (with Eucalan Giveaway)

This Friday and Saturday, I’ll be off clambering over buildings, perching innocent friends on precarious railings, and spending way too much time lint rollering other people.  In other words, it’s the photoshoot for KCC3.  That means the last few days have been a giant blocking extravaganza here at  Chez Violence.

Just because I’m currently going a bit crazy doesn’t mean you should suffer though.  In fact, I’ve actually got a little treat for you.  Read on for a giveaway of one of my favorite blocking goodies.

blocking(Knitting pictures kept intentionally tiny because while I love you all, I don’t want to give away all my secrets just yet.  I’m sure you understand!)

So all this blocking has left me really smitten with three blocking tools.  The first is my blocking mats, which I have talked about before.  I have these, and I love them because they’re both cheaper and bigger than the ones sold specifically for knitting.  I was able to block both of these shawls at the same time on just one set of six tiles.  I’ve had mine for over a year now, and they’ve held up quite well.

_DSC8400The second is t-pins.  These are a new addition to my blocking arsenal.  I had been using regular sewing pins, but I never quite had enough, so I thought I’d augment my stash and give t-pins a shot.  Holy smokes are they ever better.  They’re much stiffer and sturdier, so you can put a good bit more force on them.  They’re also a tiny bit blunter, so you (or at least I) don’t stab yourself quite as much as you reach for the next one.  I’m completely taken with them, and I’ve ordered two more boxes (these are the ones I have), because the two shawls you see here used every single pin from the first two boxes.

My third blocking friend is a lovely bottle of some sort of yummy smelling wool wash.  This time, that wool wash is Eucalan in their new Wrapture scent (which they were kind enough to send me to try out).  Now some folks will say this is more of a luxury than a necessity.  I suppose the good smell part might possibly be considered a luxury, but I’m not sure the wash part is.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t always manage to wash my hands before I sit down to knit.  And I’ve been known to wad my works in progress up and shove them in all sorts of places (cupholders, purses, movie theater seats) that might not be the cleanest spots around.  By the time a project (especially a big project) is done, it’s sometimes ready for a bath.  And even if your project is not quite dirty (because I’m assuming you guys are all much more tidy than I am), pretty much every project will benefit from a nice wash to get any leftovers from the spinning/dyeing process all whisked away before you start using it.  Eucalan’s no-rinse formula is marvelous for that.

As for the yummy smelling bit, I know that will be a matter of personal preference.  I’ll be totally honest and say that I was a bit leery when I heard this new scent was jasmine based.  I tend to wrinkle my nose and make funny faces at a lot of floral scents.  But I found myself pleasantly surprised.  It smells like the actual flower, not like your great aunt Mildred’s perfume (which I’m guessing is because Eucalan uses essential oils, not synthetic fragrances).  I’m not quite sure it will replace the Eucalyptus scent as my personal favorite, but it is a lovely addition to the line up.

The nice folks at Eucalan have three bottles of their new Wrapture scent to send off to three of you.  If you think one of them should find you, just leave a message telling me what you’d most like your freshly-washed woolens to smell like.  You can leave a comment through Sunday night, and I’ll announce a winner on Monday!

Meanwhile, if you’d all do your best to make sure the weather is photoshoot-suitable (cool, overcast, not too windy) in these parts tomorrow and Saturday, I’d very much appreciate it!

Pin Me Down

So let’s talk about blocking. You know those stitches that just, by their nature, don’t want to lie flat?  The ones that have a bit of ripple and curve to them?  Yeah.  There are a few ways you can go with them.  You can force them flat when you block, or you can exaggerate the the waves.  I think both can be fun, but what about you guys.  Would you freak out if the blocking instructions wanted you to do this?

You’d need either several (oh, maybe 12?) straight needles or a set of blocking wires or some super skinny dowels from the craft store or the snipped off bottom parts of some coated wire coat hangers or some other clever thing I’m sure I’m just overlooking.

Or what about something like this?

That’s the same swatch, just held in place with some tiny binder clips.  Clothes pins or even hair clips could work too.

The point is that you’d likely need to do some creative scavenging to block  this way, but it wouldn’t be all that hard.  And if you did need to buy something like dowels or binder clips, you could get what you needed for less than five bucks.

Would you be willing to try blocking something that way?  Or is that just too much to ask?  What if blocking it that way was presented as an alternative option…you could block it flat if you were feeling like it, but you had another option if you were feeling a bit more adventurous?

On the Value of Following Instructions

You know how that last instruction in most every pattern is something to do with blocking?  And you know how you may occasionally want to blatantly ignore that instruction?  Mmmm, yes.  Next time you’re tempted to do that?  Remember this picture.

Same yarn, same needles, same knitter, worked the same week.  One blocked and one not (yet) blocked.  Which do you think will look better on?

The goal is to have these blocked and dry for Sunday morning so The Boy and I can go traipsing around this neat half-collapsed greenhouse and take some pictures.  Should be cool, if we don’t find ourselves hassled by the local constabulary for blatant trespassing.  I’m sure they’ll understand the need for nifty backgrounds for knitting pictures, right?  Should be fine.

Why Yes, I am Rather Exacting

I explained last time how I deeply truly love flared cuffs.  They fit beautifully, make my hands look all pretty and girly, and are ridiculously convenient.  The only thing they have against them is that they can be tricky to block.  But no more, I have found the solution.

Graph paper and shampoo bottles.  No really.  Hear me out.  The problem with blocking cuffs like this is getting the flare nice and distinct and even.  To do that, you need a way to make it bigger than the part on your wrist, and you need keep the points uniformly spaced.  You can do that by laying it flat and pinning it out, but I find that leaves a crease along the fold lines.  Popping it over a shampoo bottle (or liquor bottle or a vase or whatever else you have on hand) to keep it standing up and then pinning out the points works beautifully.

The trick is in how you pull out the points.  You could eyeball it, or you could get some custom graph paper (it’s free) and use that to space everything just so.  You simply set the paper to have as many spokes as your project has points and pin away.  It’s unreasonably satisfying.  It works especially well if you’re dealing with 7 points on 9 or some other number that’s harder to just fudge.  I’ve done it several times now and it works beautifully.  See, isn’t that tidy?  And no crease from being folded while it dried.

Blocked

One morning next month I will wake up, collect a large box of knitting and props, and head off to do the photo shoot for KCC2.  This is both exciting (because holy wow is seeing all the pictures fun) and terrifying (because it’s the point in the process where the greatest number of things have to go right at the same time in order for the day to go well).  I deal with this tension in a variety of ways, some rational (lists, lists, and more lists) and some irrational (like asking everyone I know to keep their fingers crossed for good weather that day).

One of the rational reasonable things I do as I get ready is block everything.  Again.  Just to be sure.  I generally give stuff a light blocking when it comes in from the (noble and esteemed) sample knitters.  That lets me confirm that there aren’t any problems or surprises.  But there’s a period between when the samples arrive and when the photo shoot happens.  During that time, the knitting can lose some of its crispness.  So I spend the week or two before the shoot reblocking everything.  I’ve started that now, or at least I’ve tried to start it.  It’s been raining for days, nothing is drying, and my office smells like a damp sheep.

I’m starting to think this means I should just wait a day or two, but I have awesome new blocking mats and I’m eager to play with them.  Oh, and if any of you are looking for blocking mats, do yourself a favor and check out the ones they sell as generic ‘interlocking foam mats’ rather than the ones sold specifically as blocking mats.  These are the ones I got, and they’re less than half the price per square foot (and yes, that calculation includes shipping) as the ones from somewhere like Knit Picks.  The ones I got are also 2 feet per side, which means I can often block things on just one tile, which makes it easier to set it aside somewhere to dry without feeling like it will fall apart in transport.  Plus there’s the not-inconsiderable amusement of co-opting non-knitting supplies for knitterly purposes.  Now if it would just stop raining, I could get this stuff done.

Today’s Lesson

You know how all the instructions in every knitting book ever strongly encourage you to block your swatches?  Yeah.  I’m here to remind you of the same thing.  This time with a demonstration.

You see, I’m working on a little cowl.  It’s a lovely fabric, open without being lacy, structured without being stiff.  I’m rather taken with it.  The yarn was new to me (Handmaiden’s Silk Twist), so of course I swatched.  And because I’m lazy and only want to knit it once, I blocked my swatch.  It’s a good thing I did, because the swatch grew by about 50% when blocked (it’s because of the stitch pattern, not the yarn).

I took my measurements from the blocked swatch, did a bit of math, and cast on.  As I worked, I got to feeling a little nervous.  My drapey, open, lovely swatch was great, I loved it.  The fabric on my needles?  Not so much.  It was bunchy and stiff and scrunched up.  I was not loving it.  See?

Not horrible, but not what I was going for.  I kept tugging on it and pulling it and thinking it was too small and fearing it was all wrong.  But I knew I’d swatched the right way, and I trusted my math.  But I also know that swatches sometimes lie.  So I decided to indulge my paranoia and double check.  I slipped the stitches onto a bit of extra yarn, tossed the cowl in the sink (securing the ball of yarn so kitten overlords didn’t dunk it in the sink too), and gave it a swish.  I took it out, blotted it dry, and laid it out.  I didn’t even pin it out under any strain.  I just sort of patted and shook it.  It relaxed more or less instantly.  The bunchy mess was soft and lovely.  See?

Much much better.  The size and the fabric are both right on track.

So, we’ll call this a reminder that you should just about always block your swatches.  I’ll grant an exception if you’re making your second pair of socks using the exact same yarn and pattern and you just know it will work, or if you’re making a market bag and don’t really care about the finished dimensions.  But if you want the finished object to be a particular size, you really need to block.  And if you’re ever doubting your work, blocking in the middle can be marvelously reassuring.