Tag Archive: finishing

Let’s talk about blocking handknits

Home and reunited with my favorite blocking tools, I finally gave my Stripe Study Shawl (rav link) a good soak and spread it out to block.  While it was drying, it occurred to me that I’ve never really talked with you about my blocking process. So that’s what I’m going to do today. I’ve found blocking to be a simple and inexpensive way to make my finished knits look dramatically better.  You see: yarn has a lot of twist in it already, and knitting it just kinks it up even more. Wetting it down and smoothing it out lets all the twist relax and settle in, resulting in a much neater finished garment for you.

Some of this likely won’t be all that illuminating to those yarnbenders among you who have been at this craft awhile and many of you probably have your own methods. The methods and tools featured here are just the ones I’ve personally found to be easiest and most useful so far. Of course, your mileage may vary. Let’s get started.

The first step is to finish knitting. In most cases, I like to weave in any ends before blocking. Once that’s done, out comes the wool wash and my trusty dishtub.

I’m currently using Eucalan wool wash, which is a gentle, no-rinse soap that I purchased at a yarn store. I currently like Eucalan because it smells like lavender (I’m obsessed with lavender), but any other nice wool wash (Soak, Kookaburra) would work just as well. You can also use other kinds of gentle soap, or even just plain water if you like, but I highly recommend taking the plunge and treating yourself to a bottle of nice wool wash. Even the most premium brand costs a mere fraction of the yarn you are likely using for your project and each bottle is likely to last a really long time. You use the stuff a spoonful or two at a time.

I take about a generous spoonful of the wool wash and put it in the bottom of this plastic dishpan I purchased for less than $5 at my local discount store—look for them in the dishrack aisle. I like having the dishpan for blocking because then I don’t tie up the sink (nor do I have to clean out the sink to block…bonus!).

I fill the dishpan about half full of lukewarm water and then add the knits. It’s a good idea not to use hot water for blocking and if your knits are wool, DO NOT put the knits in first and let the water run on top of them, unless you want to end up with felt.

After the knits soak awhile, I gently and carefully lift them out of the water with both hands and squeeze to get as much water as possible out.

Next I spread the knits on a clean towel that I don’t care about (in case dye comes out of the yarn) and I roll the whole thing up together. Next the fun part: I stomp all over the towel in my bare feet so the water moves out of the knitwear and into the towel.

Finally, it’s time for the blocking boards.

My blocking boards are these obnoxious green children’s playmats that I scored at a discount store long before yarn stores got smart and started selling them in less eyeball-searing colors. I like them because I can hook them together based on the shape I need for my garment.

I use blocking wires and t-pins for almost every project that is flat or has flat pieces. Blocking wires are heavy gauge stainless steel wires cut into pieces of various lengths. I like to run the wire through the stitches at the very edge of my knitting first. I then make sure the edges of the piece are nice and straight and all the corners look nice as I pin it down.

Any pins will work for this purpose, but T-pins are great because they are so easy to grab onto and to see. If you are stretching out a lace shawl, the big knit stitches also can’t accidentally lift over the pinheads. T-pins are often available at the yarn store, but you may find them cheaper at a chain fabric store (ie. Joann’s, Hobby Lobby) if you have one near you. I found mine with the quilting stuff.

Blocking wires are also available at the yarn store, which is where I got mine. I got a whole set for around $20 and they were worth every penny. There are tutorials out there for making your own, but I suspect it might not be that cost effective if you don’t have the right tools already.  If you get or make new blocking wires, make sure to clean them carefully with a paper towel before you get them near your knits; they can have grease/oil on them from the factory. Another DIY option: temporarily thread smooth cotton string through the edges of your knit pieces. Pulling the string taut can help you get a nice smooth edge while your piece dries.

That’s all there is to blocking! After that, you just have to wait patiently for your knitted goodness to dry.

A few last words about blocking on a budget, my total cost for all these tools was $50-60, which I spread out over time and I have found to be totally worth it. If you want to get serious about blocking your knits but it isn’t in your budget to buy all of this stuff at once, I recommend putting your money first toward a nice wool wash and some t-pins, followed by wires, followed by blocking boards. In my experience, having a gentle wool wash makes a huge difference in the character of finished knitted fabric. Other soaps can be too harsh for handknits and require lots of rinsing, which can make for fuzzy knits. Knitting on a real shoestring budget? You can always soak your knits in the sink or bathtub and pin your work out on a stack of old blankets if need be.

Here’s to beautiful finished handknits! Happy blocking, everyone!

My Lace Panel Cardigan actually fits

It is a Christmas miracle, you guys! I actually finished my plum-colored Lace Panel Cardigan and it fits.

I apologize for this awful photo. With my photographer (aka husband) at work, this mirror-in-the-bathroom shot was the best I could do. I was so excited about making something so wearable, I wanted to share it with you right away though.

As you may remember, this was my NaKniSweMo project.  All of the knitting was done on schedule in November, but it took most of December for me to carve out time and energy for the sewing, collar and button band.  Note to self: next year go for a seamless NaKniSweMo project, for goodness sake.

I made a few modifications to Cecily’s original pattern. I added several inches of length to the body.  I worked the 38″ size aiming for 2″ of positive ease, based on measurements of some fine gauge sweaters I wear all the time.  This sweater fits well, and I’m glad there is no gaping on the button band, but I think I would have also been happy with less ease.

I shortened the armhole and ended up rewriting the sleevecap to adjust.  I’m sure Cecily’s original pattern involves a much more graceful sleevecap than my version, but mine gets the job done.

My last mod was to the collar. The original has a wide boatneck.  I shortened it to about 1.5″ and worked a hem to add some strength to it (I was worried the weight of this sweater would stretch out the narrow collar). To work the hem, I finished the 4×4 ribbing, worked a purl row on the right side, then worked 1.5″ of stockinette, decreasing about 10% of the stitches in the first row.  I sewed the hem down neatly on the inside of the sweater.

The knitting on this sweater was easy and fast. The finishing was much less so for me. I am most proud of that part though. I think this is probably my most successful buttonband and collar ever.

One last bit about the yarn, Berroco Vintage.  This yarn was an impulse buy from the Webs Closeout page while I was ordering something else last summer.  I ended up loving it! It’s a wool/acrylic blend and I think it combines all the best elements of those fibers. It’s warm, soft, and sproingy like all wool, but it also seems incredibly durable and is machine washable like acrylic.  I’m considering ordering some of this to make an affordable and durable Kerrera sweater for myself this spring.

As soon as I can get the camera in my husband’s hands, I’ll get some better pictures.

Find my project notes for this cardigan on Ravelry.

Wrapping up NaKniSweMo, Resuming Old Projects

Thanks to all of you lovely readers who provided compliments and encouragement for my NaKniSweMo cardigan in November.  Here it is, December 1, and I had hoped to give you a nice “reveal” photo of me wearing my finished NaKniSweMo cardigan.  Alas, it is not to be. Not just yet.

I’m fighting off a cold, as well as all trying to keep my head above water in the midst of the paper-writing and paper-grading nonsense that comes with the end of an academic semester in a humanities graduate program.

I did sew up the shoulders and set in the first sleeve of my cardigan.  At this stage, the sleeve looks to be a little too long. Argh! I’ve talked myself into pressing on with the finishing for now, since sometimes the final sewing and knitting on collars and such brings everything together.  If the sleeves still end up too long, I’m considering re-doing them from the shoulder down by picking up stitches/adding short row shaping.  I’ve heard a lot about that technique but have yet to try it. Of course, I’ll fill you all in on how it goes.

Finishing sweaters demands my full focus and attention, unfortunately, and I just don’t see myself having the energy for any more of it until the weekend.  In the meantime, I’ve been keeping my hands busy in the few odd moments I find for knitting with this:

It is a DK weight sock for my partner in the International Sock Swap I’m participating in.  What a saga of indecision this swap project has been for me! I could not make up my mind (as you regular readers of this blog will have noticed by now).  This is the third pattern and yarn match-up that I’ve pursued, but I think I’ve finally picked a winner.

The pattern is called Duckies, an adorable free offering by Samantha Hayes of Aquaknits (Rav link).  Concerned that my swap buddy wouldn’t want to have to handwash these socks, I finally settled on a superwash DK weight yarn from Cherry Tree Hill.  It is Supersock DK Select in the color called Wild Cherry.

I’m a little bit sad that these socks are knitting up so quickly because this stuff is so wonderful to work with! I’m glad though because this swap package needs to be in the mail before the end of December.  I’ll turn the heel on the first sock tonight (assuming I meet my paper grading quota for the day. . .) and I expect the second sock to fly off the needles next week as school starts to ease up (finally!).  After these, it’s back to slogging along.  I wonder how many WIPs I can get off the needles before New Years!

Five for Friday: Online Tutorials for Knitting Techniques

This week I went hunting on the web for some information on how to bind off sweater shoulders without those annoying (and hard to sew) stair steps.  I was amazed at all of the tutorials out there on Google.  I eventually found what I needed, but I realized that searching for tutorials in your search engine can be downright intimidating these days!  I usually save myself some time by bookmarking excellent tutorials for knitting techniques as I encounter them so I will always know where to find them when I actually need them.

Along these lines, I thought some of you might appreciate seeing my list of most useful tutorial links. There are many great tutorials out there, but these are a few I keep coming back to over and over.

1. Lucy Neatby’s Explanation of the Crochet Provisional Cast On

Raise your hand if you have ever tried a crochet provisional cast on, intending to zip out the crochet waste-yarn chain to expose your new stitches in one quick motion, but ending up picking them out one by one with embroidery scissors? I know I am not alone in this. Fortunately, Lucy Neatby has saved all of us from this depressing fate. This tutorial is the ONLY such explanation that has ever worked for me. If I can get it to work, trust me: you can too!

2. Cirilia Rose Demonstrating Picking Up Stitches, via Berroco.com

Watching this video helped the idea of picking up stitches “click” for me.  Ever since, there are no more of those terrible ruffly ribbing edges along my sweater necks and cardigan fronts. Or at least that is what I like to tell myself. . .  Berroco has a bunch of other helpful tutorial videos that are worth a look on their website as well.

3. The Purl Bee’s Photo Tutorial on Kitchener Stitch

There are many, many tutorials out there on Kitchener Stitch and not all presentations are effective for every knitter.  This photo tutorial from the Purl Bee is my go-to helper when I get jammed up on grafting. The big, clear photos and logical explanations make this slightly counter-intuitive stitch crystal clear to me.

4. Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off

This deceptively simple technique can really rescue toe-up socks and top down hats. Without this, many such creations of mine likely would have been unwearable.

5. Grumperina’s Explanation of Jogless Stripes in the Round

If you are like me, you may have to read through this a time or two before it falls into place, but if you want to make striped hats/socks/mittens/EZ raglan sweaters, this will change your life by helping you overcome those annoying columns where the stripes don’t line up.

Last but not least, the Wool Durham Lifetime Achievement Award in this category definitely goes to TECHKnitting, a blog with so many helpful technique explanations that it will blow your mind. If you don’t have this one bookmarked, what are you waiting for?

Have any tutorials you love that are not on my list? Please don’t be shy! Share them with me and other readers in the comments.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Five for Friday is a series of (mostly) weekly posts to highlight five favorite fiber-related links or items I’d like to share with my readers. Got an idea/request for a future feature? Email me or post to the comments.

To the frog pond (probably)

With the tiny bit of knitting time I had during the brief parts of this weekend that weren’t about schoolwork, I debated finally finishing the green Tilted Duster (rav link) that has been sitting in pieces ready for finishing for months now. Those of you who have been with me for awhile may remember this sweater from this earlier post.

Before I dug out the pieces from the closet, I started thinking about why it has been so hard for me to finish this puppy.  An interesting thought occurred to me: I do not LIKE this sweater! This mental admission came as both a huge relief and a huge disappointment at the same time.

I think part of my dislike is related to a photo. Check out how the partially finished sweater looks on Minime (my duct tape fitting assistant):

It’s part meh and part ugh, right? Granted, it is not blocked or finished in this photo, but it just doesn’t play up Minime’s assets, which brings me to the second reason why I don’t think I like this sweater: I don’t think it will be flattering on me.  This year I feel like I have learned a lot about dressing for my particular shape. I owe these lessons to several fabulous bloggers, including the girls at Academichic and Already Pretty.  Most importantly, I learned a ton from this huge, had-to-be-labor-intensive series on knitting to fit and flatter by Amy Herzog of stash, knit, repeat. This should be mandatory reading for anyone who has ever been disappointed with a finished handknit sweater!

Bit by bit, I am warming up to the idea of just unraveling this entire sweater. On one hand, it feels like a big waste. But on the other, I think of all the possibilities for this great heathered olive yarn (it’s Berroco Peruvia in a color called Dragon) and get excited.  It does make me feel slightly better that this knit up so fast I don’t even remember the knitting. It was one of those times when my husband and I watched a disc or two of episodes of The Wire and I looked down and had a sweater.  And you all know by now I am mostly in this for the process part.

What do you guys think? Will I regret it if I just frog this sucker and start over?