Unblocked wool mittens.
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When I taught my first knitting class over a year ago, I decided to have a blocking demonstration. I thought it would be a good way to kill time during the second half of my class, even if everyone already knew about blocking. I was surprised when during the demo, I had everyone’s rapt attention. They were hanging on my every word! Sure, they knew what blocking was, but I think showing them how easy and quick it is really surprised them.
I’ve long wanted to do a blocking tutorial here on the blog, and I finally got my camera out today and documented the whole process. I bet most of you already know how to block your knitting, and if you do, great! This is not meant to be The Final Word on Blocking. Rather, it’s meant to give you some insight into my method.
The blocking method I am showing you is good for items knit with animal fibers (wool, alpaca, musk ox) or non-animal fibers that require hand washing. Take extra care to be super gentle when blocking delicate lace (and invest in blocking wires).
If you’ve never blocked anything (egads!) then this is a good place to start. After you give it a few tries, you’ll see that blocking is more than just a step to skip at the end of a pattern; blocking is a magical trick that makes your knitting look really good. Like, Taylor Lautner good. I’m not kidding.
- A bowl or sink.
- Warm water.
- Your favorite wool wash (not Woolite).
- An absorbent, old towel.
- And of course, something knitted out of wool or another animal fiber.
Step 1: Fill your sink or bowl with warm water.
I use a bowl for smaller items like mittens and hats. The sink would take too long to fill for just a small thing. If I have a whole sweater to block I use the sink.
Step 2: Drizzle in some wool wash.
Look on the bottle of wool wash to see how much is recommended.
I have been using Kookaburra for a number of years and I love it because you don’t need to rinse it out and the scent is awesome. I’ve also used Eucalan and Soak and they are both good. Your choice will depend on how smelly you want your finished knits to be, and overall personal preference.
Step 3: Drop your knitting in, let it soak.
Make sure the entire item is submerged, and the wool is soaking up water. Be gentle with your knitting; too much agitation will usually cause anything from slight shrinkage to downright felting. You can let your item soak for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more. Some yarns might take longer to absorb water, so use your best judgment. I’m usually ready to move to the next step after about 15 minutes.
Some wool washes need to be rinsed out. Use water that is the same temperature as the water in your bowl. You can either use a second bowl with fresh water or gently set your item aside to fill the bowl with fresh water. After rinsing, move on to step 4.
Step 4: Remove excess water.
Do not wring. As I’ve said all along, be gentle! Wet wool felts, and manhandling your knitting is out of the question. I usually wrap my item up in a towel and step on it (four-year-old helper optional) to get out as much water as I can. I also will spin things for 20 seconds in my washing machine to get more water out. For this mitten, the spin cycle wasn’t necessary.
I use an old, thick towel. Sometimes (as it happened with this mitten) any excess dye from the yarn will come off on the towel, so use one you don’t mind getting mucked up.
Step 5: Shape and lay flat to dry.
This is, by far, the best part. When you item is wet, it has a lot of give and it will do what you want it to do. Pins or blocking wires are useful tools for lace shawls or sweater pieces. For this mitten, all I needed was to straighten out the mitten, push down the braid cast on, and make sure the body of the mitten was a uniform width. I also made sure that pretty pointed top of the mitten was as pointy as I could get it. Now to wait for the mitten to dry!
This last picture shows the blocked mitten on the left, and it’s mate, still unblocked on the right. If I could show you the mittens in person, you would see the dramatic effect that blocking has had. The blocked mitten is smooth, the wool is softer, the smell of tea tree oil is intoxicating — the mitten looks finished. It makes me look like a better knitter and all I did was take the time to give it a little bath.
Although the difference between the blocked mitten and the unblocked mitten is not as glaring in the photo, I think you still could have been able to tell them apart. If you have not yet tried blocking, go for it! It just might blow you away.
(That mitten on the right did not stay unblocked for long — I couldn’t stand it looking all lumpy and forlorn! I will wait for them both to dry and report back soon with more details about this great pattern.)