What is “blocking” when it comes to knitting?

When I first started hearing people talking about “blocking” a piece of knit wear I really thought it all sounded a bit pretentious. Everyone seemed to have a different theory on what was the “correct” way to block various items, which seemed to take a lot of time and result in precious little added value.  Everyone seemed very anxious about doing it “correctly” in the most acceptable current method, but I mostly ignored it.

When I complete a knitting project the first thing I want to do is wear it!  It doesn’t matter if it is a shawl, a sweater, mittens or a hat.  I want an excuse to wear it – and then I want people to notice it and think it’s pretty.  I am not proud, if that sounds very shallow, then I am sorry, but I love to knit and I love for my pieces of knitting to find favor with others.

Over time, of course, my opinions about blocking have changed, and now I think that blocking CAN be (not always, but sometimes) VITAL to knitting – but in a calm, laid-back, easy going kind of way.

The Spinfoolish Guide to Blocking

Sweater Blocking

Sweater dryingI found it amusing some years ago, to find that what I considered the easiest way to dry a wool sweater is apparently considered “blocking” by experts.  Really? If I wash a pair of pants or a turtleneck I put them in the dryer. If I wash my sheets I like to put them out on the line to dry.  But a hand-knit wool sweater is a special beast; it doesn’t like a dryer, and hanging is not the best choice, so I either lay it out flat on the guest room bed, or on a drying rack.  It’s simple.  If the sweater has been knit the correct size then you don’t need to pull or stretch or mess with it, just lay it out and let it dry. Congratulations, you now know how to block a sweater.

Mitten & Hat Blocking

When I finish a new sweater I always wash it first, and “block it” (see above) because it helps to even out the stitches.   I think it’s a good idea to do that, but no one is going to die if I don’t.  Mittens and hats don’t need that!  You are going to get them dirty when you wear them and they will get washed, and dried (or “blocked” if you insist) eventually, but honestly, it’s just a pair of mittens – wear them for heaven’s sake, they look fine!

Some hats are different – for example if you make a tam and you want it to look like a tam and not a slouch hat, then you have to block it.  Generally the way I block a tam is to put a plate inside the hat to create the shape I want then put the plate on a drinking glass to give it some air around it to help it dry.

Sock Blocking

Socks drying 2Whether I take the time to “block” a pair of socks depends on the pattern.  If it is a lace patterned sock then the first time I wash it – right after I finish it, before I wear it, I will wash them and then put them on the sock stretchers to dry.  I do this to open up the lace.  But the next time I wash them, they go on the rack like every other pair. In the picture I have a very thick pair of socks on the sock stretchers and hung from the heat vent…I was in a hurry – this isn’t what I normally do!

Socks dryingI have a rack on the back of my bathroom door. I think it is supposed to be for towels, maybe.  Anyway, when I wash my socks I just hang them on there and leave them for a few days.  It depends on the weather and the humidity in the house of course, but they rarely take longer than that.

Blocking 04When the socks are dry I take them down and put one sock inside the other (like this) to store them in my sock drawer.  This keeps the pairs together, but doesn’t create that stretched-out thing at the top that you get if you fold them over each other like I used to do with my store bought socks.

Shawl Blocking

OK, now this is where blocking gets REAL, and really interesting.  If I knit a shawl, a shawlette, most cowls, or a lacy scarf I will block it.  And I mean REALLY block it.

I use blocking wires, T-pins, and  foam board.  Wires go along the straight lines, to keep them straight.  Pins go on the point to Blocking 03Blocking 05keep them pointy.

The white shawl used both, the green shawl only used pins.  It is time consuming, fairly annoying, and totally worth it.

For example, look at this beautiful shawl I recently made for a friend.  [Green The Whole Year Round]Here is what the shawl looked like laid out on the bench on our front porch right after I finished it.

Blocking 01

And here is a closeup of the lace at that time.

Blocking 01-a

Here is the same shawl, 24 hours later (same dully rainy sky giving NO light!) laid on the same bench. Notice how much longer it is, and how you can actually see the pattern in the lace?

Blocking 02

And here is a close up of the lace after it was blocked.  Totally different beast, isn’t it?

Blocking 02-a

This was an easy one to block.  It has a straight spine, where I put wires, and then every point had a pin. It probably took me about 30 minutes to stake it out, then 24 hours to dry.  But look at the difference.

When you knit lace blocking is really vital to open up the holes in the lace, as well as to even out the stitches.  I will usually wear a shawl two or three times before I feel the need to block it again, unless I spin something on it. (That happens a lot, unfortunately!)

Bottom Line RE: Blocking

The bottom line about blocking for me is WHY.  If it’s lace it gets blocked, no question.  But if it’s a lacy sweater that is going to get stretched out simply by being wet – then probably not.  If there is a purpose and a noticeable result then I will happily haul out the wires and the pins.  But otherwise, probably not.  And either way, no one dies if I choose not to.


I Teach Knitting

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never had any children, my garden patch is a perennial mess, and it’s unlikely that I can affect any change in social conditions, but I have taught people to knit.

That may not sound like much, but I am proud of that fact.  I am not going to win any Nobel prizes, save any lives, or cure any diseases, but I know that those I have taught to knit, those who really wanted to learn, and continued to practice after our class…I know that their lives have been genuinely improved by knowing how to knit.

I know that knitting has sustained them through a grief, or has calmed them during a crisis, or has helped them to breath easier at some point in their lives.  It’s a simple unassuming habit, knitting, but it brings such joy into our lives.  It centers us, it renews us, and it puts all things into perspective. It makes us proud, it sometimes humbles us, and it always keeps us mentally active – no matter how old we get.

Over the years I have taught hundreds of people to knit. If even 1% of those who I have had in a class go on to improve and enjoy their knitting then I feel that was a worthy contribution to this world.

Heavy thoughts to precede a list of classes? Probably, yes, but as the year closes and I hear everywhere evaluations of who has and who hasn’t “succeeded” in the past year I take comfort and satisfaction in knowing that many of us have knitted things that kept kids cozy, have expanded our minds by learning new skills, or helped others by sharing what we love.

Winter 2015 Classes

That being said, There are some new classes I have coming up this winter.  They are all held at the Crooked Stitch in Rocky Mount, VA and you can sign up through the Franklin County Parks & Recreation or by contacting me at Spinfoolish@spinfoolish.com.  You must sign up in advance to be accepted into a class.

Alee Socks2I teach a sock class, and a learn to knit class every month.  They are fun to teach, and fun to take!  I love having pictures of my student’s work. Here is one I got last week from the December class.  Aren’t they awesome!!

The sweater class in January is really intense.  We talk about EVERYTHING sweater related while working on the skills necessary to knit a simple top down sweater. There is a lot of room for experimentation, asking questions, and polishing skills you might find challenging.

New Shawl Class

3650795690_217dc096b2_zI am excited about all of the classes, but the one that is new this year is the shawl class.  In March we will be knitting the Aestlight Shawl by Gudrun Johnston.  Aestlight means “east light” in the dialect spoken in Shetland.  3598128995_9861a41025_zThis is the perfect shawl to learn about shawls with because there will be a bit of straight knitting (garter stitch triangle), practice learning to pick up stitches, some non-threatening lace, practice learning to use a chart, and ends with a beautiful introductions to edgings.

This is what Gadrun, the author has to say about it:

3598129431_fed2547395_zThis shawl is knit using a traditional Shetland construction. It begins with a garter stitch triangle increasing from the point outwards. Stitches are then easily picked up from the very visible yarn over loops along the edges and the border is worked outwards from the triangle. The shawl is finished with an edging that is knitted sideways and attached to the live stitches of the border as it is being worked.

3598130367_8acf46c41e_zThere are two sizes, so you need either 450 (smaller) or 550 (larger) yards of sock yarn.  I think it would look super in either a solid color, a tonal, a multicolor or a combination!  I am really excited to share this shawl with students!!  If you can’t wait until March let me know and we can organize an earlier session.  If the class fills up (4 students) we will arrange a second class, so let me know if you are interested!!

What About You?

What type of class would you like to take?  A hat class? A color-work class?   What would you like to learn?  What sounds like fun to you?




Sock Class at my LYS

I love teaching.

I always have. In my life I have taught classes in English Literature, Japanese Literature, English grammar, Irish Literature, English as a Foreign Language, and SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) among other fun topics.  I ran a non-profit for many years whose basic purpose was to educate people.  I will teach almost anything given almost any provocation.

In recent years I have taught a number of fiber related classes. Hand spinning, wheel spinning, basic knitting, sock knitting, sweater knitting…OK, I admit it: ANY kind of knitting!   I love to see that moment when someone who is just learning, and is sure they aren’t ever going to become comfortable with knitting suddenly knits a stitch without even thinking about it.  The look of bewildered wonderment on their faces that says “Yes, in fact, I CAN do this” is something that gets to me every single time.

Sock Class

I recently taught a class with some very lovely ladies, all knitting their first socks.  They were fun, the class was fun, the sock knitting was fun –  we even had a class mascot. But the best thing  was that the learning, as always, went both ways.  This is what I learned:

  1. People who knit are very, very cool people. (I actually already knew this, of course, but it is so nice to be reminded!)
  2. Contrary to popular opinion it is absolutely possible for one (or three ones) to go from not knowing how to knit at all to completing a perfect sock in way less than two months.
  3. Babies grow really, really, really fast

Additionally I was reminded of WHY I love to teach.  Why it means more to me to help someone figure out something new and make it their own than almost anything I have ever done in my life.  Teaching, any kind of teaching, really gives purpose to my life.

This is what they learned:

Feb 2014 Sock collage

Thanks Ladies!

It was a pleasure and a privilege.

And the fun isn’t over yet!  I get to start the next sock class in less than two weeks!