Friday, July 11, 2014

Pattern Loves/Hates: On Blocking & Washing & All That Jazz

A million thanks to all commenters who have provided responses to my what do/don't you love in knitting pattern question?  Some excellent, excellent points, and I'll be discussing them - and likely quoting them -- liberally in the upcoming book.

Over the next little while, I might be writing about some of the points raised in the comments. One came in last night that I really wanted to talk about.

In particular...
Finally, large, rectangular things (afghans, blankets, scarves, stoles, table runners, etc.) should NOT need to be blocked! (They also should not recommend a yarn that needs to be hand-washed and/or laid flat to dry!)
This comment is useful and interesting for a couple of reasons. Designers tend to have easy access to lots of beautiful, luxurious yarns. And - being completely honest here - we're often not paying full retail price for those yarns. So we choose wonderful, wonderful yarns.

And these yarns are often delicate. Requiring handwash.

But it's good to be reminded that not everyone can - or wants - to buy these yarns. For a lot of knitters, easy-care is paramount. For a lot of knitters, yarns should be machine-washable and dryable.

But on the point about blocking... this is a common misconception that's worth dispelling. Unless you're talking about a lace fabric, a wash is sufficient to block your pieces.

Yes, a wash.

Indeed, I never declare a project finished until it’s been washed and dried. It’s essential if you’re going to be doing any seaming. If pieces are going to stretch or shrink that needs to happen before you sew up so the seams don’t pucker.

But even if it’s not going to be seamed, washing a piece makes it look so much better. The stitches even out and the surface gets smoother. The yarns bloom - a silk-based yarn gets shinier and prettier. A wool yarn softens and fluff up. A linen yarn loses the 'crunch'. Your cables will tidy up and pop, your ribbing become more even, your stockinette get smoother.

And chances are, the yarn you worked with is pretty dirty – as it moves from the mill to packaging to shipping and to the yarn shop, yarns gathers machine oils from the spinning, dust from the mill air, other fibre strands and fluff from the yarn shop, and lint from whatever else it’s been stored with.

And of course, as you knit it, it might gather coffee stains, pet hair, cookie crumbs. In short, after a good wash, you knitting just looks better. Try it next time you knit two of something – socks, mitts, sleeves. Wash one and compare it against the other. You’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

In fact, this is what blocking is. For most things, when a pattern says to block, all that needs to happen is to wash it. The only type of knitting that needs special blocking treatment is lace; lace requires stretching to open up the stitchwork and make it look its best. (This is when you might need to worry about mats and wires and pins and all that jazz. Otherwise, nope.)

Washing is absolutely the best way to block. Neither pressing nor steam blocking can be fully guaranteed to take care of whatever stretching or shrinking is going to happen; and pressing can flatten out your knitting – for example, pressing an aran sweater squishes up all that lovely cabling.

Wash it according to the washing instructions on the ball band for the yarn – handwash or machine wash. I tend to air dry most things, even if they are dryer-safe – it saves energy and wear-and-tear on the garment. If you’re air-drying, find somewhere you can lay the items flat, if possible. For small items, drape them over a towel rail. Or over a laundry rack.

But, equally, if the yarn you're using is machine dryable, go for it.

No matter how you do it, the important thing is that you do do it.

Just wash it.

Want to know more? Try my Craftsy class!


Dr. Steph said...

Washing also inhibits moths and other yarn eating beasties. They like the dirt in yarn to munch on.

Washing is part of all fibre work: sewing spinning, weaving all involve wetting the product.

shellyjc said...

I missed your request for pattern issues and concerns. Right now I'm knitting a simple baby sweater, top down. My biggest beef is "Increase 15 stitches evenly over the next row". Would it be too hard to provide the more detailed instruction? I ended up doing all kinds of calculations (on a plane) and writing in my own modified instructions for the increase rows.

Thanks -- this sounds like a useful endeavour!