Saturday, January 31, 2015

Adventures in Blocking

Knitting big items has some really good points. In its favor:

1. A sense of accomplishment. You get to demonstrate your sticktoitiveness and feel good about yourself, both for starting the project and for completing it.

2. Pride in your work. Others will be impressed that you made the item. When they ask, you can say "Yes, I made that!"

3. Warmth. More yarn = more warm. That's especially important when the winters are this cold.

That's all I can think of, really. Still, those are some pretty good reasons to Knit Big.

On the other hand, knitting large projects has its cons.

1. Time. More stitches take longer. Lots longer.

2. More yarn. It cost more, it's harder to store, and it makes the project less portable.

3. Blocking. Oh my, the blocking.

Some time ago, I decided to make a blanket. A warm blanket. A blanket made of worsted weight yarn, double knit. When it was finished, I was so excited. It was big! It was warm! It matched the couch!

Once the ends had been woven in, it came time to block. Well! It was too big to fit in the bathroom sink, where I usually block my handknits. Enter: the bathtub. First, I wanted the blanket to come out clean, so the tub needed scrubbing. Since I used Soft Scrub with Bleach, and wool and bleach don't play well together, I had to make sure to rinse away all traces of the cleaning product. A few minutes later, that was done. Next step: fill the tub with water and wool-wash. (I like Eucalan. It's gentle, it smells good, and it doesn't require rinsing.) Finally, put the blanket in to soak.

So far, so good. Here's what I didn't consider: the blanket contains about 3,300 yards of pure wool. Do you know how heavy that gets when it is wet? The answer: VERY. Wringing the excess water out was quite the adventure. It involved some experimenting with towels, squeezing by hand, and squishing the blanket with bare feet and a death grip on the bathtub hold-bars like I was stomping grapes to make wine. Finally, I wrapped it in beach towels, put the whole sodden mess in a laundry basket, and made a trip downstairs to the opposite end of the house to put the blanket in the washer on spin cycle. Fortunately, enough water came out to air-dry the blanket over the shower curtain rod with no mess. Yay! Now if I could only figure out why I feel the need to start projects like this at 11:00 at night.

Since this was my own pattern, I decided that the pattern needed to include washing instructions for any brave knitters who want to take it on. There's no need for trial and error for you, the knitter. Here, for your enjoyment and edification, are my instructions on how to hand-wash and block a large project. If you have any suggestions for a better way, please leave them in the comments!

A Word About Blocking
an excerpt from Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket by Caroline Steinford

This is a heavy blanket to begin with, and when it gets saturated, it becomes MUCH heavier. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't wet-block it. It's a utilitarian as well as a decorative object, so at some point it will need washing.

If you plan to machine wash, follow the instructions on your yarn label regarding water temperature and delicate cycles. After all the work you put into this project, you don't want to risk felting or shrinking it unintentionally.

If you are washing by hand, use a large container, such as a bathtub or (clean) utility sink. Soak the blanket according to the instructions on your chosen detergent. When soaking time has elapsed, drain the tub or sink. Now comes the tricky part: getting the water out. With your hands, wring out what you can. It probably won't be much. If you are using a bathtub, you may be able to VERY CAREFULLY use your bare feet to squeeze out some of the remaining water. Warning: wet surfaces are slippery! If you do this, be sure to take precautions so you don't fall.*

After as much water as possible has been removed, carry the blanket to the washing machine. (If you have a distance to go, try wrapping it in a large towel or two to prevent drips across your floor.) Use the spin cycle to remove the rest of the water. The blanket should now be manageable enough to air dry. You can use a large flat space like a bed or floor as for smaller blocked items as long as you make sure to flip the blanket periodically so both sides can dry thoroughly. Alternately, you can hang the blanket over a shower curtain rod. Pro: air can circulate freely, drying both sides of the blanket more quickly. Con: your bathroom will smell like wet wool until it does. To minimize this, use a fan to circulate more air and shorten drying time.

* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S. alone over a quarter of a million people are injured in the bathroom each year, and more than 80% of those are fall injuries. -

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