Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Make Friends With Blocking Your Work

There are things experienced knitters do that newer knitters don't, and they make the knitting look much better.  Among them are ripping back, gauge swatching, knitting flat pieces on circular needles, and blocking, just for starters.

Today let's look at blocking.  (Specifically spray blocking.  We'll cover others on another day.)  What is it?  It's the process whereby your finished knitted work is smoothed out and set into the shape and dimensions specified by the pattern.  Look at the hat below.
I designed this pattern based on thistles that grow outside in my yard.  The pattern is achieved by using a variety of cable techniques.  The characteristic beret/tam shape is achieved by both the knitting pattern and the blocking.  Before blocking, this looked like a wrinkly gnome hat.  The pattern was un-recognizable, and the shape was more like a Hershey's Kiss.  The decreases to make the circle nearly always want to be a point, and this hat was no exception.  How to make the pointy FO into the tam in the pattern photo?

Blocking to the rescue!  (Spray blocking, that is.)  This blocking was achieved by locating a plate with the same diameter as the finished hat was supposed to have.  The finished hat was sprayed down with a water bottle until evenly damp.  The plate was inserted into the hat, causing it to stretch by about an inch all directions.  This is about right for a cabled pattern, as they need to stretch a bit more than flat patterns to lay properly.  The hat was then shaped around the plate to make sure that the thistle pattern in each panel opened up evenly.  The plate was balanced on a cereal bowl which allowed us to smooth out the ribbing on the bottom of the hat.  Then the hat was allowed to dry.

Now that the hat is dry after blocking, it always looks like a tam, and never reverts to the funny looking thing it was when it came off the needles. 

Remember, this hat was knit by an expert knitter.  Even so, it looked nothing like the photo when it came off the needles.  Nothing was done wrong; it's just a fact that most patterns require blocking to look their best.  It is really the knitting equivalent of ironing.

Knitters come into the shop all the time with a finished piece of knitting complaining that that pattern "didn't work" because though they followed the directions, the garment looks all wrong.  And they MaryAnn (the shop owner) blocks the garment.  The knitter is always amazed!  They fall in love with their project all over again. 

Blocking will not correct all sins.  It will even out the occasional loose stitch, make matching up seams much easier, allow lace to be lacey (not lumpy), and even help your garment wear better and last longer.  Try it.  After all the time and effort you put into knitting your project, don't you want it to look its best?


Wendy Rhook said...

I am in love with this tam and I'm wondering if the pattern is available.

Until I read this I never knew blocking was so easy, thank you.

Elisabeth Marino said...

Thanks for the kind words! I hope you'll start blocking and loving it.

The Thistle Tam pattern will be posted on Ravelry in early July. It was a Gift Knit Kit Club pattern, and I promise club members 3 months of exclusivity before I make a pattern public.

Anonymous said...

I recently bought a set of plastic paper plate holders to use to block my berets & tams, much better air flow than a regular plate, so my tam dries faster. BTW love this hat & can't wait to knit it when the pattern becomes available.