Monday, April 05, 2010

Violent Disagreement: On Blocking & Sewing Up

I teach a Finishing class on a regular basis. It's a popular class, as finishing is one of those things that tends to make knitter nervous.

In the class, I talk about blocking. The first thing I try to do is demystify it: to help knitters understand that it's not some arcane process that requires special equipment and training, or a separate room in your house. All you need it some water - give your knitting a bath!

You need to pay attention to the washing instructions for the yarn, of course. A machine-washable yarn can be treated a bit more vigorously than a non-machine washable yarn. I tend not to steam block, or use spray bottles or any of that.

Here's my rationale: if you're making a garment, it's going to get washed at some stage. So block it the way you'll wash it. (And yes, this is how I block my swatches, too.)

If it's machine washable, send it through an appropriate wash. If it's hand wash only, dunk it in the sink, let it soak for a while, roll it in a towel to wring it out, and lay it flat to dry.

Do I pin it as it dries? Depends on what is it. If it's lace, it needs to be stretched and pinned to open up the pattern stitches.

For garments, if it's the right size and shape, I don't worry about pinning.

If you are sewing something up, blocking is a critically important part of that process. Always block your pieces before you sew up. Three reasons: one cosmetic, two practical.

The cosmetic reason: blocking something magically evens everything out and makes it look more finished. Try it with a pair of socks, or two sleeves, or two mittens - wash one and not the other, and compare how they look. I never declare a piece of knitting done until it's had a bath. Even if it's a piece that doesn't need sewing up or stretching.

Practical reason #1: blocking reduces that pesky rolling on the edges stocking stitch. It doesn't remove it entirely - nothing will - but it will make your edges a fair bit flatter. This helps enormously when you're seaming.

Practical reason #2: If the garment is going to change size or shape - to grow or shrink - you need this to happen before you sew up.

Here's the Violent Disagreement bit: someone recently pointed out that Debbie Stoller, in the first Stitch and Bitch book says that she doesn't know anyone who blocks before sewing up, and she doesn't see the point.

I was shocked.

She's so wrong on this it's not funny. If you sew something together and then wash it, and it shrinks, your seams will be all puckery. And if you sew something together, wash it, and it stretches, your seams will not stretch with it. (Especially because we don't always use the knitting yarn for the sewing up.)

Oh Debbie - your book is otherwise so very good.... I am saddened that we have come to this.


travellersyarn said...

I'm with you. I always block first (even if only with steam), then seam.

Sherri said...

You are so right - I learned the hard way. The sweater stretched 6" everywhere but in the seams. Disaster.

northernknitter said...

I find it's every so much easier to block and then seam - less rolling of edges etc. Where i get confused is - do you block and then pick up bands etc or before blocking? perphoI've seen instruction for doing both ways.

Lisa R-R said...

It took me a long time to understand blocking.
I was just too impatient to wear a garment.
I also started out knitting with acrylic ...
Sometimes humans have to learn the hard way.
thanks for the reminder

V said...

It's SO important to block as the washing instructions direct. Remember the pink and blue fiddlehead mitten (the outer one), completed for the second class at the Purple Purl? I popped that baby in the wash, and was both wider and longer when I pulled it out of the machine. You really only see the true nature of the yarn--good or bad--with a blocking. That thing gained at least 1.5 inches in length after it had been hand-blocked in the class.

Blocking = win, every time.

Ali P said...

I am surprised someone didn't challenge Stoller on that bit. Makes me kind of sad though because how many newer knitters read that and then didn't block and had their knitting ruined.

Anonymous said...

People are still spreading the "blocking is more optional that gauge swatching" line. This week in Crochet Corner in Ravelry, the article's author posted that you don't need to wash an FO as a gift as long as you're careful with it and wash your hands before you knit. No joke.

"The only time you may need to do that is if blocking in necessary. [...] If it makes you feel better, you certainly can wash your gifts."

I think that's so gross. Has nobody ever sneezed while knitting?