the ritual

The Ritual

When I am finished knitting a project, it’s not really finished finished until I’ve blocked it. And as I blocked this hat today it got me thinking. With many of you perhaps knitting or crocheting things to give as gifts for Christmas (or whatever holidays you celebrate), I wanted to remind you of my Blocking Tutorial. It should be a PSA. Don’t Give Unblocked Knitting as Gifts!  If you’re one of the hopefully few people who haven’t tried blocking yet, or you think it’s too hard, or takes too long, then please check out that tutorial.

For the rest of you, I’m sure you know at least one last hold out, a knitter friend who thinks they don’t need to block their FOs. Here’s a little gift, then, from me to you. Print out this shiny new one page PDF blocking tutorial (reprinted from The Red Collection) and give it to your friend with a little bottle of your favorite wool wash. She or he will love you for it, I promise. (Yes, the file says “personal use only” and you may not print out one hundred and sell them or give them away at a yarn shop. Just be reasonable, people.)

Today I blocked Jerry’s new Girdwood hat (pattern soon!), with that unruly curled edge that was driving me nuts.

blocking

The Ritual

The Ritual

Ahhh. Curly edge tamed. I am the boss of my own knitting! Now we wait for it to dry.

**Don’t forget, the Asheboro Hat is still just $3, but tomorrow is the last day to get that deal! A HUGE thank you to everyone who has already purchased the pattern! There’s already a few other projects, YAY!**

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!