Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Blocking

Blocking. I love it! When I first started knitting, I didn't block. Of course, when I first started knitting, I was doing god-awful Fun Fur garter stitch scarves (remember those? I know you do), so blocking really wasn't necessary. Once I moved on to garments, I still didn't truly believe in the power of blocking. If I was really feeling ambitious, I would give the pieces a quick steam before I seamed them, barely letting them set before whipping them off the ironing board. I strongly dislike finishing in general (I much prefer to start things), and blocking seemed like an unnecessary obstacle between me and my next project.

Once I started to do lacework, I really started to see the value of blocking. The Yarn Harlot has compared unblocked lace to a pile of ramen noodles, and she is right on the money. If you've ever knit a lace shawl in laceweight with smallish needles, you know what I'm talking about. However, once you give it a good soak in the bathtub and stretch it out, it becomes a whole new object. It's amazing.

The cool thing about the varied types of yarn available to us now is that it's not just laceweight and lace knitting that can be transformed by a good soak and block. Some yarns develop a beautiful bloom or haze to them. Some yarns lose weight density (without losing the density of your stitches - if that makes any sense) and drape in a way you didn't think they could. On the other hand, there are yarns that benefit from being put through the washer and/or dryer instead of being blocked. Superwash and acrylic, I'm looking at you. I just did a bunch of sweaters in Knit Pick's Swish DK and I found that I was happy with the way the yarn looked out of the washer (cold water, normal cycle), but thought they looked better being laid out to dry instead of going through the dryer. On the other hand, I've done baby blankets and other relatively large-scale projects in 'better' acrylics and I think they look and feel better after going through the dryer.

As I've made my way through this blocking maturation process, I've found a whole sub-debate. Aside from blocking vs. not, there's the use of pins vs. blocking wires. Once I began, I was strictly a pin girl. Except when you're blocking a wrap with a bajillion picot points on each side, pins get really tedious. Not to mention, I like to block relatively fiercely, which means I need to use even more pins to keep the edges straight. When I finally broke down and bought a set of blocking wires (I bought these, but you can also find them here or here), I fell in love. And the great thing is, you can use them on more than just lace! If you add a selvedge stitch to your garments (which you should totally do - either by just slipping the first stitch of each row or adding an extra stitch - because it makes seaming much easier), you can just slide the wires through the selvedges, pull them taut, and pin. They even work with the aforementioned wrap with picot points - just slip the wire through the tip of each picot. Much fewer pins and much faster blocking. Love. Love, love, love.

Now, if you are adamantly against blocking for whatever reason, I'm probably not going to change your mind. But if you're on the fence about it, feel that it's a pointless step, or are an evolving blocker like me, then give blocking a try. While you're at it, buy a pack of T-pins and a set of blocking wires (the Knit Picks set comes with some T-pins, but I like to have more on hand just in case). You might be surprised at the results - plus, if you've just put all that time and effort into knitting something it makes sense to take that extra step to make it look even better. Even if the recipient of your finished piece never blocks it again, at least you know it looked the best it could as it left your hands.

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