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.

Before:

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  are Permutation (the pink one), Circumvolute (the gray speckled one) and Spicule (the white ones).  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.

Blocking 201 – Cowls

I posted a rather unassuming little picture on instagram a little while ago, and from the comments it got, it seems like you guys are as into blocking as I am.  So, as instagram is a bit impermanent, I thought I’d come chat about it a bit here too.

This is how I block cowls.

block a cowlLet’s break that down a bit.  I’ve got blocking wires (mine are from Inspinknity) threaded through the top and bottom edges.  Here I’ve passed the wire through the tips of the scallops because I want to emphasize the wavy edge.  If I wanted a smoother edge, I’d pass it through more points.

Then I’ve got a pair of long straight needles passed under the wire at the top.  They’re there to act as a sort of cross bracing when I set the whole thing down on a roll of paper towels.  You don’t have to use paper towels, they’re just usually handy and usually tall enough.  Anything that will fit inside the knitting and hold it up off the ground will work fine.

This setup is marvelous because you don’t have to worry about any sneaky creases.  If your cowl dries laying down flat, it will have a crease on each side where it’s folded.  You can sort of fix that by coming along and refolding it every hour or two, but that’s much more work, especially if you want to pin out scalloped edges every time like on this one.  The whole piece is held in tension, and there’s great air circulation so it dries much faster than if it were pinned to a mat or a towel.

And the result?  Well I think it’s rather lovely!

blocked

Zipping

This really has more or less just fallen off the needles.  It was faster than it has any right to be (even if it is only a tiny bit of knitting).  The first one has now had a proper blocking and had its ends all tidily tucked away.

DSC_6507 copyNumber two is off the needles (and here is shamelessly showing off its insides…which really I think are rather nifty) and waiting for its turn to be blocked.

DSC_6511 copyAnd speaking of blocking, I’ve found the easiest way to do these is actually over the top of a one liter water bottle.  Depending on how tall you make the wrist on yours, you can roll up a stiff piece of paper to make a little cylinder to fill out the top, but for shorties like these it’s not really needed.  The curve of the top part of the bottle is perfect for filling out the knitting.

DSC_6513 copyOh, and for those of you who have been waiting, the nifty little cabled mitts we’ve all been making eyes at are coming out Tuesday.  If you want an email (and a coupon) when they do, be sure you’re on the mailing list!

DSC_6309 copy

Ingenuity

The cowl is done.  Let me be more specific.  The first cowl is done.  A second version of it is currently on my needles and fighting me, but we’ll talk about that later.  But the first cowl is done, which means it needed to be blocked.

This is harder than you might think.  The most obvious approach would be to pin it out flat.  But that will give it a crease on each side where it’s folded (not a big deal for a sweater, but annoying in a cowl).  I considered stretching it over the dress form’s shoulders and pinning out the points, but that seemed inexact.  I considered making some sort of tube out of blocking mats, but that was both hard and inexact.  And neither method really took into account the taper of the piece (the bottom is one third wider than the top).

In the end, I did something decidedly odd, but quite effective.  It looked a little something like this.

blocking contraptionThat’s blocking wires run through the points on the top and bottom (mine are from Inspiknity and I love them).  They try to spring back out straight and the pressure from that pulls the knitting into a nice, even circle.  That held the top and the bottom out, but I still needed the stuff in the middle kept under a bit of tension, so I made some crossbeams out of my longest, smallest knitting needles and suspended the whole thing over a roll of paper towels.  The weight of the bottom provided the right tension for the middle.

blocking contraption closePhotogenic?  No, not even a little.  It looks like it might be auditioning for the title of Ugliest Lampshade Ever.  I even matched my binder clips to my yarn.  It didn’t help.  But it worked like a champ.

cowl 1Very tidy indeed!

cowl 3Now, to see if I can make the second version do something I like as much.