So, you saw the perfect sweater pattern…
The perfect yarn called to you and you bought it…
You worked and worked on your sweater: a hated gauge swatch; knitting away on all of those pieces and all through the keeping track of increases, decreases, how wide and how long everything was supposed to be…
And now it looks like this:
Really? All that work and it looks nothing like a sweater, and now it has to be seamed?!?
Take a deep breath… Ahhhhhh, Ommmm. There is hope and a finished sweater in your future. The magic that will help is blocking. Blocking stretches each of your pieces (or your whole garment, if worked in one piece) into the correct size and shape and keeps it there so your finished piece meets expectations for drape and fit.
In my classes, the only things that elicits more groans than a gauge swatch (which is Knitting Magic Trick #1) is blocking. Knitting urban mythology circulates many tales about the difficulty and horrors of blocking. I am here to tell you: 1) blocking does not take expensive specialized equipment; 2) blocking can be fussy, but it is not hard.
Here is an exciting picture: my kitchen sink.
Really, this is in my house. If you do not want to use a sink, all you need is a large bowl or washing pan large enough to hold soapy water and your sweater pieces. Please note that you do not need to wash/soak everything at once! (You do not need to block everything at once.) You can use any detergent. I usually use a no scent/no dye, or else one where the scent rinses away. If your yarn is oily or dirty, then a brand like Dawn Dish Liquid, or another grease-cutting soap is a good choice. No rinse washes are fine. I like to rinse.
Tepid water. Cold is okay, hot is not. Some dyes, (reds, turquoise, and frequently indigo) are very hard to exhaust after dyeing. Have you ever washed a white tee shirt with a new pair of blue jeans? Same idea. Excess dye will tend to release in higher temperatures. This is important when blocking pieces made from semi-solid, speckled, or variegated yarns. Watch the wash water and pull out any pieces that may be releasing dye that you do not want to migrate elsewhere.
Above, all of the pieces are made from the same yarn. Submerge them and let them soak for 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water and blot with towels. Or, I like to put my pieces into a lingerie bag and run them through my washing machine spin cycle.
This is the complaint I hear the most: “All the blocking supplies are so expensive!”
I do have blocking boards. Some of my students went to big box discount stores and purchased kiddie alphabet/stick together floor tiles, or else industrial anti-vibration floor pads. Want to hear a secret? Both of these are made from the same material as knitting blocking boards. You can make your own with some plywood, quilt batting, and muslin covering. You can use a plain sheet or towel pinned to an unused bed or even carpeting. You can use an ironing board. A blocking board needs to be a flat surface, that will not transfer dyes or odors, to which pins can be applied. Safety Note: Keep your blocking projects away from children and pets.
Next, you need accurate measuring devices. I prefer metal straight edge rulers, and you can find these at art supply stores. Back to School time is a great opportunity to find metal straight edge rulers! If you use a measuring tape, be sure to check its accuracy against a reliable straight edge. Plastic and fabric measuring tapes can be inaccurately printed and will stretch over time.
You need stainless steel pins (T-pins from an office supply store are great) or quilting pins. If you inherited grandma’s sewing supplies and think her sorta rusty pins are cool, do not use them here. Rust transferred from carbon steel or damaged stainless steel pins will permanently stain your project.
I also cover my blocking boards with plain white lintless towels. If your synthetic blocking boards are very new, be aware that when they come out of the package they will smell! If you can, put them in full sun for a day or two and this will speed the outgassing that is causing odors. Otherwise, store your blocking boards away from sunlight.
Your most important tool is the schematic from your pattern. Circle or highlight the dimensions for your size for all pieces. If your pattern does not have a schematic, scan the pattern for relevant height and width dimensions and write them down.
Here is what my sweater pieces look like once they have been washed, rinse, and spun to damp dry. Looks even less like a sweater. Take heart, the magic is about to begin.
Pick one piece (in this case, the left front of a v-neck cardigan) and establish the correct width at the bottom edge.
Next, establish the correct height. In this case, there are two dimensions to track: height to the start of the v-neck and height from hem to start of the armhole. The left front opening edge is a straight vertical line, as is the line where decreases and increases were worked to create shaping. Pin the left front opening straight line first. I also place pins along the decrease/increase line.
Use a ruler or tape measure to establish the correct widths at waist and bust lines. Watch the grains of your knitted fabric! If something looks pulled or askew, unpin and rework. Remember: once dry, your pieces will retain the shape they are pinned.
Note the green locking ring marker, this denotes the start of armhole shaping and is invaluable for correctly establishing armhole depth. Use a straight edge and set this height next.
Done! Be sure to re-check all measurements and ensure that lines are straight and no grain lines are stretched out of square. Remove the locking ring markers.
Here is the blocked product!
What has this done for you? Flat and correctly sized and shaped pieces are much easier to seam and will drape as the designer intended once assembled. And isn’t a happy ending what you want?
I’d love to hear from you!