Grab a hot bevi, and let's talk about washing and blocking our woolens!!
I am passionate about blocking and truly believe it will take you to the next level as a knitter! My favorite wool wash company, Eucalan, also happens to be celebrating their 25th year! So I thought it was perfect timing to really delve into another of my favorite topics ;)
I know there is many a knitter out there who finds blocking their knits akin to cleaning the bathroom - it's just not high on your to do list, or maybe better stated, your want-to-do list. I hope today I can change your mind.
In my earlier days of knitting, I avoided blocking my knits - I just couldn't be bothered! I wanted to get back to the fun part - the knitting! (And don't even get me started on swatching!) Thankfully, thanks to the wisdom of Elizabeth Zimmerman, and some eye opening personal experiences, I am now a faithful blocker, and I actually really enjoy it!
I have two specific memories that helped change the way I feel about washing and blocking my woolly goodies. The first was a sweater - bulkier weight, hip length and full of big, squishy cables. The second it was off my needles and seamed, I tried it on and was so sad. It added about 10 pounds to my hips alone! The bulky yarn and the squishy cables I had dreamed of, were hugging me in all the wrong places and to say it was unflattering on me, was an understatement. I folded it up and gave it to a woman much more petite than myself. Guess what I didn't do? I didn't block it. Those beautiful cables never had the chance to open up - to really show themselves. The drape and fit of the sweater never got to bloom and relax thanks to a quick soak in the tub. The sweater was never given a chance to reach it's potential! Many sweaters later, I learned how powerful of a tool blocking can be, and how essential it really is. Had I blocked that sweater, it no longer would have been pulling in at odd angles from the freshly knit cables. It would have hung properly on my frame, given the opportunity to open up, thanks to a dip in some warm water and a few pins on the blocking boards.
Okay, so I learned to block my sweaters - a big step in the right direction. But hats? Really? Do I really NEEEEDDDD to block my hats??? YES!!! Oh the lumpy crowns of hats I see out in the real world, that could be so round and beautifully shaped, if just given a teensy bit of TLC. The laces and cables that would open; the perfect drape achieved for the slouchy hat we all love so much!! It was cables that did it for me again - taught me the lesson I kept pushing back against. I knit a really beautiful cabled hat, and then threw it on my head (like I would do with all of my hats the moment I bound them off - often times forgetting to weave in the ends.) Hmph, I thought, this really doesn't fit as nicely as it does in the picture. The crown squished together, and the cables sort of enveloped themselves. So what did I do?? Gave it away. Again. Fast forward a year, when I designed my first hat. Being a good little designer I did everything the proper way - swatches, samples, and of course blocking. Mind blown. The crown of my hat was so perfect. I couldn't believe it. How had I not put two and two together all these years?? So that was it. From there on out there isn't a swatch or knit that comes off my needles without a trip to the tub.
So let's get to the knitty gritty - this is how I block:
Water - think warm enough for a baby's bath (after all, these are your handknit babies you are about to wash). I opt for the kitchen sink, but the bathub, a bucket, a big bowl, anything that can hold a sufficient amount of water to soak your knit is just fine.
Soap - My current favorite is Eucalan Delicate Wash. It is non-toxic, eco-friendly, biodegradable, lanolin-rich and a big one for me - NO RINSE! When I first started blocking I would just use some gentle shampoo. Well if you have tried that, you might be able to feel me on trying to then rinse your woolen. I hated having to refill the basin a couple times to get the soap out. I have also just used a few drops of essential oils - but in my family, we really wear our woolens, and especially with a toddler, I wanted a little more oomph in my sweater bath. My favorite scent is Grapefruit, followed closely by the Lavender. The Grapefruit is scented with grapefruit essential oils which are also naturally antiseptic! The Lavendar is even more amazing - it's antiseptic, deters moths, is rich in lanolin to keep your woolens soft and static free and it's soothing scent is perfect for relaxing, especially for little ones! I love to use it for all of my daughters woolens. The best part is a little goes a long way. I find a capful in my sink is plenty, and my sink can fit a number of articles at once.
Soak - So you've got your warm (NOT hot) water, a bit of wool wash and now it is time to add your woolens! Just toss them in the water and give a gentle squeeze. If you are washing 100% wool that is not superwash, you want to be careful with how much you agitate the knit in the water. We don't want to felt anything, so just gently squeeze it to help it absorb the water. Then leave it to soak for about 15 minutes.
Remove Moisture - This step is pretty important, as you don't want a waterlogged woolen taking days to dry and left smelling like it needs another bath. First, drain the water and then gently squeeze as much excess water as you can with your hands. Next, some brave souls throw it in their washer and run a spin cycle. I have found a big bath towel does the trick just fine for me. I lay out my towel and gently spread my knit out on it. Roll it up like a burrito, and use your full body weight to help press the water out (in other words, go ahead and stand or sit on it!) If your woolen was still really saturated when you pulled it from its bath, you may want to repeat this once more with a dry towel. Not to get repetitive - but do remember to be gentle, damp stitches are heavier, and can get stretched easier if you aren't careful. I find this to be especially true of superwash yarns, which doesn't seem to have quite the same elasticity as their untreated brothers.
Lay Flat to Dry - Time to lay it out and let it dry! I opt for blocking mats, as I find them extremely useful. But you can easily use any large surface you've got! For years - I overtook our dining room table. A word to the wise - do not lay your knits out on towels to dry! The towels will soak in the moisture and now you just have damp garments on top of damp towels getting stinky together and taking forever to dry. If you aren't using blocking mats, I would suggest laying everything out onto garbage bags. The bags can't soak up moisture, so instead the moisture is forced to evaporate. If you need to pin, you can lay the garbage bags over a rug or on your bed, ect...
Blocking Pins and Wires - Some knits are going to want to curl at the edges, so you will need to pin them down. Other items (lace, cables..) need to be more aggressively blocked, and to keep them open you must use pins. In my opinion, pins are essential for blocking, even though you may not use them for every single project, you will most likely use them for most. Wires are great for us shawl lovers out there. They help give a nice straight edge and can be used in all kinds of creative ways when you need to do a "harder block" (i.e. opening up lace or cables.)
Shawls - shawls have to be blocked to obtain their desired shape and look.
Swatches - If you really want to be sure you can trust your swatch, block it the same way you would the finished item you plan to knit. Be amazed at how much tidier your stitches and tension look after a dip in the tub.
Hats - You can block hats flat, or, to really help with the crown shaping they do great draped over something. My favorite is a 6" cake pan turned upside down over a mason jar. An appropriately sized bowl would work great, too. If you want to have even more fun with it - blow up a balloon inside the hat to get the perfect, round head shape!
Our knits take so much of our time, love, and effort, let's take care of them so we can continue to enjoy them for years to come! I am so excited to be able to giveaway a collection of Eucalan's different washes! I am fascinated by these washes and their amazing properties! I touched on the Grapefruit and Lavender above. The Eucalyptus is a great unisex scent that is also a moth and flea inhibitor. If you store your sweaters for the warmer seasons, I highly recommend washing them in this first to help protect them while they are stored! The Natural is perfect for anyone with skin sensitivities, or if you have asthma that is easily effected by any scents. It is still lanolin-rich to keep your knits soft and static free. Lastly, Jasmine is the most intoxicating of the scents! Also rich in lanolin and antiseptic. It would be great one to use for your lingerie as well as your woolens. One lucky winner will win all of 5 of these! Just leave me a comment below with your email address and tell me what you plan to get in your wool bath first! The giveaway will close Saturday, 1/23/16 at midnight PST.
Do you have some great blocking tips?? Share with us in the comments below!
Congratulations to Vicky, our winner of the last week's giveaway!!