I’m a messy blocker

There’s no getting away from it. There are knitters who carefully take the finished pieces of their garments, wet them and then carefully pin the pieces out to size, blocking them gently to exactly the right measurements before letting them dry.

Then there’s me, armed with an iron and a wet tea-towel.

You can just see the steam rising…

It’s my mother’s method, not that she called it ‘blocking’. It was just pressing the pieces. And I can’t even claim support from my knitting guru, Mary Thomas. She simply says ‘the old knitters never pressed any pure wool garments, but dressed them over steam and patted them into position afterwards.’

Presumably the modern equivalent would be using a steam iron, but I think that would still qualify as pressing. I’m not sure how I could do otherwise with a whole garment without causing massive damage to my walls. In a sauna, yes, it would be possible; in my kitchen, no. However, my method works, especially if I’m careful. And I’ve been blocking my red sweater. At last.

The problem I had was that my injury meant that my tension was all to cock (ever the mistress of the elegant phrase, ahem), so I had to block the unevenness out. The yarn itself is somewhat uneven, but pressing made a great difference, and I couldn’t resist before and after shots:

The finished sweater will be fine. Phew.

I’ve occasionally thought about getting a wooly board (or sweater frame) for my fair isles, but there’s a problem. Wooly boards, while they are wonderful things in some circumstances, are for sweaters which are basically square – well, rectangular; straight-sided, anyway – and mine are not.

That’s not surprising. I’m not square, rectangular or straight-sided in any way whatsoever.

I am, and it’s probably just as well, much more meticulous with shawls. Let’s face it: lace knitting in its raw state usually looks terrible and depressing.

Dressing large shawls properly requires a special frame:

Blocking shawls in Lerwick, from Shetland Museum and Archives

But my shawls are smaller – probably just as well. Yet again I block shawls my way, and I’m sure lots of other knitters use the ‘great pile of towels on the floor of the spare bedroom’ method too. I have learned from experience to make the towel mattress thick enough (otherwise the pins go through into the carpet, and emerge bent and sticky with traces of carpet backing), and to put an old piece of calico on top (following an unfortunate incident with a cream towel and a purple shawl).

But I do think some blocking wires might help, and making a shawl frame is always possible, given the help of a competent woodworker. Plus cake for the competent woodworker, of course. Or beer.

There are alternatives, naturally: some people use cork floor tiles, others go for foam blocks. I’ve even come across the ‘staking it out on the lawn’ suggestion, which seems a) a bit extreme; b) too similar to some form of torture in a bad Western movie and c) utterly unrealistic here in west Wales (there’s a reason why the west is so green: copious amounts of rain; plus we do birds, notably seagulls. Ergh).

No, for the moment I’ll stick to my towel pile. I’m quite happy with the results:

Though if any visitors to Wonderwool Wales see a distracted-looking woman wearing a red sweater and trying not to kill people with the sharp blocking wires sticking out of her bag, you’ll know I’ve changed my mind.


8 thoughts on “I’m a messy blocker

  1. Knitsister

    Blocking wires are great for really large shawls, stick to your towel method or make large board: I x large piece of chip-board, some quilters wadding, some cotton materils and a good staple gun…thakes about 30min to make and is perfect.
    Pin out shawl, spray with water (not soggin) and leave to dry.
    Never-ever use steam and an iron on shawls!!!
    From your friendly tutor friend

    1. kate Post author

      Making a large board is a fab idea and you make it sound really easy (I still think I’ll get the Competent Woodworker to do it, though). I could prop it up! Thanks, friendly tutor!

  2. del

    I’m one of those “careful” blockers, I guess. It can take quite a while to do all those pins but I’m always happier when i do it. Must be OCD.

    1. kate Post author

      I’m impressed — I can do it with a shawl, but I just can’t make myself do the pinning thing for other items… the next thing I finish, I’ll make a pact with myself to be careful!

  3. Anne

    Isn’t it always amazing the difference blocking makes ? I too block garments before sewing together and use the towel on the floor method. I did try those jigsaw foam blocks but to be honest I still rather the floor .
    We saw some of those blocking frames up in Scotland a while back , for the life of me I can’t remember where ;it might have been a museum of sorts !!!

    1. kate Post author

      It’s magic… and I was wondering about those foam blocks, but the floor’s already there, so I probably won’t bother. I’d still like a frame though…

  4. Harriet

    This is where I found you via needled – isn’t she a wonderful blogger? You’ve evoked memories of my mother and a hot iron and damp tea-towel – her version of blocking too! I, like you, have progressed to blocking, having even ‘aggressively’ blocked, following Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed’s instructions. I was terrified I’d ruin the piece but it worked! I’m now converted.

    1. kate Post author

      Hiya, welcome — and glad you found me through Needled (such an intelligent blog)… Our mothers cetainly had the right idea, it makes such a difference. I shall investigate aggressive blocking immediately and see if I should graduate to that too!


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