How to do it: Blocking Wool

How to do it: Blocking
Unblocked wool mittens.

Download a printable PDF of these instructions, all on 1 page!

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.

You’ll need:

  • 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.

How to do it: Blocking

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.

How to do it: Blocking

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.

How to do it: Blocking
How to do it: Blocking

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.

How to do it: Blocking
How to do it: Blocking
How to do it: Blocking

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.

How to do it: Blocking

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!

How to do it: Blocking

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.)

How to do it: Darn Socks

When I posted the poll about sock darning, 37% of respondents said they keep their holey socks stuffed at the back of the drawer because they don’t know how to darn.  I used to do the same with my handknit socks. But now I’m a darning maniac. You can be one, too.  It’ll be awesome.

large hole in handknit sock

The socks I am mending today are an odd choice.  They are EZ’s Moccasin Socks; it would be ideal to re-sole them completely instead of repairing the hole.  But because I am a darning maniac these are the last of my holey socks.  Besides, a hole is a hole is a hole.

Gather your supplies.

  • Holey sock.
  • Matching leftover sock yarn.  If you no longer have any leftovers, choose a close match.
  • Long darning needle, blunt tip if possible.
  • Scissors.
  • Darning egg or mushroom. As you can see, I do not own a tool specifically for darning.  I have used a softball but this plastic football is my current favorite.  You could also try a lightbulb, or a baseball, or anything round with a hard surface.

tools for darning

Before you begin darning, turn the sock inside out and pull off any fuzz balls that are in the sock.

inside out - get out the fuzzies

Begin now.

Turn the sock right side out again.  We’re going to darn from the right side.  With 3 or 4 yards of matching yarn (I’m using contrasting yarn so you can see what I’m doing), thread your darning needle.  The thread should be double — the needle is at the center, and the ends of the threads meet.

oops, missed one

A very long thread is used because the darn will be stronger if you have fewer breaks in the yarn.  Ideally, you would mend the entire hole with one length of yarn.

Insert your darning football, er, mushroom.

insert your "darning football"

Pull the sock tight, and center the hole over your darning tool.  Hold it with your non-sewing hand at the back.

how to hold while you darn

And here we are ready to begin.

darning football

The patch of darning will go beyond the edges of the hole, and it will be square (my personal preference – round is good, too).  Begin by sewing the needle through the knitted fabric in a running stitch.

how to put the needle in

Pull the thread through, leaving just 1/2″ – 1″ of a tail.  This will be trimmed later.  Insert the needle again, parallel and close to the first line of stitches, and work back down over the hole.

just the beginning

Continue in this manner, working up and down over the hole.

back and forth...

At the edges of the hole, the knitted fabric is very thin.  Keep this flap of fabric on the outside of the work by keeping the sewing needle under it as you prepare to cover the distance of the hole.  Like this:

keep the edge of the hole to the outside

Continue until these parallel running stitches completely cover the hole.

step one complete

Now sew the running stitches perpendicular to the first stitches.  I have changed my thread, but that is only for demonstration.  You will continue on with the same length of thread.

ready to weave

Continue back and forth, weaving the running stitch up and down through the fabric.

starting the perpendicular weaving

When you come to the hole, with no knitted fabric to sew through, weave the yarn over and under the threads that cover the hole.

beginning to weave over the hole

I never knew it, but when you darn a sock, you’re creating a woven patch to cover the hole.  Simple, really.

darning is weaving

When you’ve covered the hole with weaving, you’re done!  Well, almost.

darning complete!

All that’s left to do is neaten things up.  With scissors, trim the flap of fabric close to the work.

trimming the flap

Also trim the ends of thread close to the work.

trimming the extra yarn

Now you really are done!

darning complete - outside view

Admittedly, a darn is not the prettiest thing, especially in my garish colors here.  But the point is that a sock on the foot is a hundred times better than a sock at the back of your drawer.

A few thoughts.

  • Using a doubled thread is optional.  I prefer it because the repair is Very Strong.  Stronger than the original sock, in fact.
  • Darning a big hole takes about 30 minutes.  A smaller hole will take less time to mend.
  • You can use this same method to reinforce a weak spot even before a hole appears.
  • After wearing your mended socks the patch will begin to felt together.  It will even out and look pretty.  I promise.

RS or WS?

When you darn from the right side, the wrong of the sock is very, very neat and tidy.  Much prettier than the right side.

darning complete - inside view

Then why do we darn from the right side?  Wouldn’t we rather have the lovely, smooth surface on the outside?  No.  The smoothness of the inside is perfect for next-to-skin wear, and the outside will soon mat down with wear.

On the other hand, if a few bumps on the inside of the sock don’t bother you, then by all means, darn from the WS.

Thanks

Big shout out to my mother-in-law, Noreen, for teaching me how to do this.  Also, I should thank Cindy for bringing up the whole darning issue in the first place.

And dudes, in the poll I mentioned at the beginning,  33% of respondents answered the question “Do you darn socks” with , “Yes, of course I darn.  Doesn’t everybody?”  That made me pretty happy.  If you are an experienced darner, I’d love your input!

Phew, a whole post about mending socks with not a single “darn” pun.  Score!

The Toddlerized BSJ

I wanted to knit another Baby Surprise Jacket but didn’t have an actual baby around to make it for.  So instead, I toddlerized that sucker for Maggie!

toddlerized bsj

Following is an in-depth look at how I did it and everything you need to know to make one, too.

Things You Should Know

  • You must have a copy of the pattern to follow along.  The Baby Surprise Jacket is available in The Opinionated Knitter, Knitting Workshop, a couple of back issues of Knitter’s and as a $3 single pattern leaflet from Schoolhouse Press.  You have no reason not to own your own copy. [Ravelry]
  • It would be very helpful if you have already knit a regular BSJ without modifications.
  • I have a hunch that two- and three-year-olds have the same chest circumference as sweet little infant babies.  Mine did, maybe yours do, too.  That’s good here because then the key numbers in the pattern don’t change.
  • Like EZ says, slip the first stitch of every row.  I do it knit-wise, though I have never been quite sure this was correct.
  • I eliminated the sleeve increases, and instead began with 18 additional stitches when I cast on.  This is explained briefly in The Opinionated Knitter on page 106.
  • Overall there are very few changes to the original pattern, but the little tweaks I’ll discuss below make all the difference in the toddlerization process.  Keep your headlights on.
  • Gauge: 19 sts = 4″ over garter stitch.  With the sport weight yarn I used [Hello Yarn Fat Sock, Marzipan, 2 skeins] this gauge produces a stretcy, loose and nearly lightweight material.

Ready?

Change #1 Provisionally cast on the specified number of stitches using a smooth yarn.  I did this by casting on (long tail, as usual) with cotton yarn, knitting a row, then joining in the sweater yarn and starting immediately with row 1 of the pattern.  Cotton is important for the cast-on if you’re using wool for the sweater, so that the provisional stitches are easier to free later on.

bsj

Solid green yarn above is the provisional cast-on.

Now knit the pattern as normal, through decreases and increases until you get to the point in the pattern that says “…work on center 90 sts. only, for 10 ridges…”

Change #2 This section of the pattern determines body length and for a toddler you’ll want it a bit longer.  I knit the center section for 14 ridges.

After picking up stitches along the edges of the section just completed continue again as written except for:

Change #3 Make the sweater slightly wider by knitting more ridges before the buttonholes.  I did nine ridges before the buttonholes and two after.  NB: I only made buttonholes on one side, but that is neither here nor there, and makes very little difference in the end.

Now for the fun part.  Or the tedious part, if that’s how you wish to look at it.  I thought of it as fun because without all the tedium you just have a pile of knitted garter stitch that doesn’t look like anything.  Although come to think of it that doesn’t sound too bad.  Moving on.

The order of things to follow, in brief.

  • Cast off live stitches.
  • Put all provisionally cast on stitches on threads until you are ready to knit them.
  • Lengthen sleeves.
  • Join tops of sleeves to back and seam.  Simultaneously.
  • Bind off remaining stitches.

Here’s how I did it.

From the right side, and using a needle one size smaller than you used for the body, cast off using the i-cord cast-off method using three stitches (I used the one described on pg. 55 of The Opinionated Knitter).  Begin at the neck edge, continue down the front edge, around the back bottom edge, up the opposite edge, around the neck to where the sleeve joins the back.  Here, I’ll show you.

The star shows where to begin and the arrow shows the direction of the knitting (not that I needed to explain that to you, smart knitter that you are).  When you get to the end, leave the last three i-cord stitches on a holder.  Like this (except put them on an actual holder, not a needle, because the needle will indubitably fall out).

top of sleeve

Now the time has come to liberate those cast-on stitches from so long ago.  Put the stitches from both ends of the cast-on row — the stitches before the first line of decreases and after the second line of decreases — onto separate holders.  That is where you’ll lengthen the sleeves.  The center stitches go on their own holder.

To lengthen the sleeve, join in the yarn on one end section and knit back and forth until the sleeve is the desired length.  I added thirteen ridges and probably could have done a few more.  Do not bind off.  Repeat on the other sleeve.

toddlerized bsj

Oh, please don’t look so confused.  We’re getting there now.

You are ready to join the top of the sleeve to the back using a three-needle i-cord cast-off.  Count the number of stitches on the sleeve top (excluding cuff), then put a matching number of back stitches on a needle ready to join.  Begin at the star…

…and perform the magical trick known as the three-needle i-cord cast-off down the top edge until you reach the cuff.  Go back to regular i-cording around the cuff edge until all the stitches are cast-off.  Finish off the i-cord then sew it neatly where it meets the corner.  So far so good.

toddlerized bsj

How beautiful is that seam?  And no sewing needle required!

But back to business.  Do the same for the second sleeve, but this time start at the cuff, i-cord cast-off around, then join the top sleeve stitches to an equal number of back stitches with the the three-needle i-cord cast-off.    You will also i-cord around the second half of the neck to join up with the beginning of these i-cord escapades. Thusly:

We’re nearly there now.  All that’s left to i-cord is the remaining live stitches at the back of the neck.

Ta-da!

Some Other Notes

  • When you i-cord cast-off around an outside corner, add a row of i-cord that doesn’t connect.  This helps keeps those corners neat and square.
  • If you have remembered to slip the first stitch of each row, it will be so much easier to do all the i-cording.  If you have forgotten, well there’s not much to do.  Use a tiny needle to pick up the stitches, maybe?  That might work.  Try not to forget the slipping.

I had such fun making this sweater and wrestling with the finishing details.  Please enjoy this little unvention of mine and let me know if you try it, have any trouble with the instructions or have any suggestions.  I bet if you toddlerize your own BSJ, you’ll probably do some unventing of your own along the way.  Yippee!

toddlerized bsj

One last picture for good measure.
OH!  I almost forgot.  There’s one little “mistake” that I know you won’t believe me when I say I did it on purpose.  I did.  If you find the mistake you may award yourself 15 Cool Points.  Good luck.