I have to confess that I did not block any of my knitting until probably 2008. I am a self-taught knitter and had been mostly a solo practitioner, so I wasn’t getting the helpful hints from better knitters that I look for now. I just made stuff and put it on. Then I knit a fair-isle hat and my stitches were so uneven, and bad-looking, I really did not care for my results. I must have seen someone’s blocking success on Ravelry or elsewhere on the internet. So I tried it. It really helped. Since then it has been a finishing step I never skip.
Now that I am in the yarn business, I find it necessary to knit a lot of samples to show (and sometimes loan, or give) to shops to help them sell the yarn they order from my Creative Partners. Like many stitchers, I have way too many projects going at one time, but eventually some of them are completed, and need to be blocked so that they can look and feel their best.
I have used a lot of wool wash, and my favorite is from one of the companies I represent, the Unicorn Fibre Wash and Rinse.
For most fibers, I find that I like to rinse out all of the cleaning products, so even though it is a multi-step process, I don’t mind the extra time and effort. It’s kind of like when you wash your hair–you lather and rinse with shampoo (I never have to “repeat”) and then apply conditioner and rinse. Sometimes if my hair is really dry, or too straight, I will leave the conditioner in. Depending on the yarn, sometimes I do want to use a leave-in product, and for that I choose Soak–I also sell this product through Louet. Many shops carry more than one wool wash, and many spinners and knitters have different uses for different cleaning products, depending on the stage of their project.
So here’s some of what I did this last hot Sunday…
I knit this rectangle out of 4 skeins of Mountain Meadow Wool’s Sheridan, a 3-ply bulky natural, minimally processed merino. This yarn is a treat to use. Very bouncy with a lot of body. I recently found out that Mountain Meadow Wool uses Unicorn Fibre Products at their mill. There are several good reasons for this, including the earth-friendliness of the products, the efficient work they do, which means less time and utilities used, and the great customer service from Anna, Pino, and Melanie at Unicorn headquarters.
Anyway, you can see that the ribbing is pulling in and the piece does not want to be flat and even (not yet.) What you can’t see is the rustic feel of the wool. Not that it is not soft, but since the gals at Mountain Meadow Wool don’t want to over-process the natural merino, it is not super-soft. This piece will be outerwear, but after the Unicorn Wash and Rinse have done their magic, all of the “prickle factor” will have been abated, and I this wool would be fine for next to the skin wear,as seen here where our model is wearing the Morning On The River Kimono, also out of Mountain Meadow Wool’s Sheridan, over just a tank top.
My goal for this piece is a little more drape, although I knit it pretty densely so I can use the Jul Closures. I also wanted the stitch pattern to look nicer, and for the piece to be flat and rectangular.
I have a couple tubs and pails from the dollar store that I use for washing fleeces and soaking my finished knitting, but for smaller pieces I will often just use a glass bowl. There are really great tubs that I might get later, Carrie and Phil (get it?) I don’t like to just use the sink with a stopper in it since the water can be taken outside and used to water my plants instead of just going down the drain. Plus, then I would have to make sure my sink was really clean, and that is not my idea of a good time. I fill up my small tub with warm water
and then just a little bit of the Fibre Wash, just enough to get a little bit of suds going. It takes a some experimentation to find out just how much product to use for different jobs, but, in general, remember that a little really goes a long way. In my travels it surprises me how many knitters think you can only put wool in cold water. Warm and even hot temperatures are fine to use. It helps the soaps perform better, and as long as you don’t agitate, your piece should not felt or shrink.
I then take the tub outside and put the knitting into the suds. Sometimes I let it sink down on it’s own, but usually I help it submerge into the water with a little push.
Next, I go do something else. I think in this case, I mowed the lawn, until our electric mower died. Now I have partially mowed grass and there’s a new lawnmower on its way. I let the piece soak for a good long while. I want all of the fiber to be completely wet. Then I dump out the water, and do a clean water rinse, a second soak in Fibre Rinse (really good for adding softness, combatting static electricity, and lends a nice, light scent.) Then another clean water rinse, and I’m ready to get the water out and let this guy dry to measurements.
My beautiful assistant, Rooney, helps–or is she supervising? I am careful to support the wet wool as much as I can. It is heavy from soaking up so much water, and I don’t want gravity to stretch out any parts of the piece too much.
To me, the stitches already look more uniform and more “relaxed.” To get more water out, gentle squeezing is fine, wringing is not.
I roll the piece up in a towel out on the deck (if it is cold out, the bathtub would work too) and then I step on it.
You can see that quite a bit of water is still coming out. Next, I arrange the piece as nicely as I can on my blocking boards. For lace, and garments with more shaping (like sweater parts) I will usually use my t-pins. For this piece, I just patted it into place as well as I could and used my yardstick to try to make the edges more straight and to help ensure evenness of length and width.
I also gave all of these “traveling” stitches a little pinch to help them stand out from the rest of the background textures. One of the great things about wool is its memory, and “micro-blocking” at the individual stitch level can really yield nice results. Don’t be afraid to put those pattern repeats and even individual stitches right where you want them!
Not 100% straight, but much flatter.
And I can really see the stitch pattern better, which I love. Once dry, I weave in the ends and set the piece aside until I am ready to round up a model and get some photos of the garment in action.
The other piece I finished this weekend is my Avery Cowl, a really fun and beautiful FREE pattern by Kate Gagnon Osbourne, in The Fibre Company’s new delicious yarn, Acadia. These shots are pre-blocking, and the cowl is not laying flat, and I can’t really see the structure of the Frost Flowers lace pattern as well as I would like. Also, I want to make sure all of the dye comes out of the piece, so it doesn’t rub off on clothing or skin later.
So back to the sink and another tub full of Fibre Wash.
Then later, clean water rinse and another Fibre Rinse Soak. You can kind of see that the water looks just a little cloudy. Not much dye was released in the rinse, but I can be sure what was in there is out and maybe took some dirt and oils from my skin along with it. I do think there is a noticeable difference in the color. Kind of reminds me of Poomboy.
Ah, much more defined with the stitch pattern. Great soft feel,
and because the stitches are laying nicely, I can really notice the silk noils in the Acadia. With this fiber blend (60% merino, 20% baby alpaca and 20% silk) I would only use a rinse-out product, since I do not like to leave any cleaner residue on the softest, fluffiest fibers.
I could have been more “aggressive” with this blocking job. I may redo it and pin it out so that I can open up the lace even more. You can see the curve of the edges, and I think I will want that to be a little more pronounced and regular. Not having the last finishing touches done will not stop me from wearing this piece once the weather cools, and I will most likely reblock this in a couple months when I am sitting bored in my hotel room somewhere.
I am now a confirmed believer in blocking every piece of knitting. What are your preferences for wool wash, and helpful hints for blocking?