Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blockin' with Ma

Indiana was a good place to rest and recuperate. Fresh air, open space, great stretches of soothing greenery, and this.

Rock Pile

Such a sight for a weary uncle's eyes. Gosh, did we have fun! We blew bubbles, and splashed in the pool, and read Proust, and played on the swing, and put all the animals into Noah's ark, and pet some doggies, and discussed the application of Kant's categorical imperative to the present political situation, and built a tower with alphabet blocks.

While I was there I finished the little hoodie I was working on–pictures in the next post–and got to check out the Baby Surprise Jacket that my mother made for Abigail. It was her first shaped garment and she did a bang-up job. She hadn't washed and blocked it, though, so we did that together.

When I first started knitting in earnest, I remember that blocking scared the daylights out of me. I didn't have anybody to show me what to do, and the instructions I found in books were labyrinthine. I remember one authority who wrote that it was impossible to block a sweater properly without a waterproof board–five feet square, marked with a grid of one inch squares–and a dozen clean, white bath towels.

I don't remember who she was, but I'm pretty sure she didn't live in a city apartment.

Since then other, kinder authorities have shown me how easy it is. I've also learned how vital it is not just for cleaning a piece, but for giving it a properly finished appearance. Not blocking is akin to not weaving in your ends.

If you're just beginning, here's what I've been taught to do. It works for me. There may be a better way, and I'm sure there are flourishes and refinements I have yet to learn, but so far I haven't turned any of my sweaters into potholders and that's good enough for me.

Mind you, these instructions are for wool. Wool from sheep. Other fibers or blends may have other requirements. If you need to wash and block the shrug knit from a cat/mohair/rayon mix, do your homework before you take the plunge.

Here's what you need to do the job.

Supplies

An absolutely clean, watertight basin. The kitchen sink is fine, if you make sure to get the stubborn, dried on pasta from last week's spaghetti dinner off the sides. Since we were doing baby clothes, we used a large pot.

A mild detergent. I am presently in love with Soak, but you can use a mild dishwashing liquid or baby shampoo–which is what we did.

A couple of bath towels. They don't need to be white, just clean.

Now, let us begin.

Step One. Fill the empty basin with tepid water. Lukewarm is fine. Don't use hot. Hot can shock wool fibers and encourage felting. When the basin is full and you've turned off the water, add a few drops–maybe a teaspoon per gallon–of your detergent. Swish the water gently to mix in the detergent, but try to avoid making suds.

Suds

Step Two. Place your knitted thing on top of the water and watch it sink like the Titanic. It can be fun to pretend to be the hand of God and push the knitted thing gently under the water and scream "Help me! Help me!" in a tiny voice as all the little Edwardian people are drowned for tempting Providence with their "unsinkable" ship. Fools!

Soak

Do not agitate the knitted thing. Agitation can cause friction, and wool plus friction plus water equals felting.

Let your knitted thing soak undisturbed for up to an hour. I soak stuff with thicker yarns for longer times to make sure the water penetrates completely. Just let the thing soak. Leave it. Walk away. Go.

Step Three. Gently lift the knitted thing from the water. Keep all of it well supported in both hands. Don't let the sleeves or other bits hang loose or they'll stretch like taffy. Somebody–Elizabeth Zimmermann?–compared this part to handling a baby.

Lift

If you are using a wool wash that doesn't require rinsing, go to the next step. Otherwise you may repeat the first three steps, omitting the detergent.

Step Four. Holding the knitted thing over the basin, squeeze it. Don't wring it or rub it, just give it a few good, firm squeezes to drain some of the water. (This part is not like handling a baby.)

Squish

Step Five. Wrap the knitted thing in a towel. Put the towel on the floor. Jump up and down on it to press out more water. You may enlist help with this process.

Jump!

Step Six. Lay the knitted thing out on another, dry towel which you have spread out in a space that is unlikely to be invaded by inquisitive pets, curious children, or nosy adults.

Measure

Arrange the thing into the shape you'd like it to hold when dry. This is an opportunity to make small adjustments to the fit, including length or width of sleeves, curve of the shoulders, and so forth. A yard stick is useful for making sure that you keep the hem even, the sleeves the same length, and so forth.

The yard stick is also useful for beating back inquisitive pets, curious children, or nosy adults.

Let it dry. You may set a cool fan to play on it in order to hasten the process. But just leave it alone. Leave it! Walk away. Go!

When it's absolutely bone dry, put it on the recipient and have a fashion show.

Proud Nana

I think Abigail loves her jacket. I hope Nana's proud.

66 comments:

JennBrooks, Albuquerque said...

Thank you, Franklin. That was a lovely post and a nice thing to read to start my morning--Jenn

Nancy said...

Wow! When did Abigail turn into such a "little girl?" Seems like she was just a baby, still. Lovely jacket, and thanks for the blocking tutorial! I'm working on my own first Baby Surprise, so I'll take any tips I can get.

idaho-bound said...

When you wash this, which would be it's second time in water, do you have to block it out again adjusting the hem and sleeve lengths? What about every time you wash the sweater, is it the same procedure?

Heidi said...

Good lord, Abigail is cute! And you're funny! And your Mom's nails rock!

Sally Comes Unraveled said...

I think this is excellent for sweaters, but not so much for scarves and lace. I'm a little OCD about getting my edges to line up. (And I do want one of thos fancy blocking boards.)

I'll keep this in mind for sweaters, hats, etc.

How do you block lace? I'm slowly pinning my lace scarf with a gazillion t-pins and my Mom's quilting ruler. It's very tedious, but I don't have blocking wires.

Kathy said...

Is it just me.... ;)

Or is that an absolutely marvelous piece? It's truly lovely. Lovely on Miss A, lovely knitting by your mother, all around lovely!

Sandy said...

So adorable! Abigail is so growing up! (wipes tear) What a great post...your mother should be proud of her sweater!

Sue said...

great timing-I need to block a finished sweater and your helpful and humorous instructions have taken my fear away.

no-blog-rachel said...

Ohmygosh - Abigail's so grown up! And cute (still)!

And your mom did a fab job on the sweater. Nice work!

Stephanie said...

When did she get so big? The BSJ is awesome!

MicheleLB said...

The sweater is beautiful; Mom should be proud. Thanks for the blocking instructions, too. Now my cat wants me to enlist *her* help in the squishing out water process. Nope.

Abigail is beautiful!

Rosi G. said...

Oh, Franklin, she's gotten sooo big!! She continues to be beautiful.

Your mom did a great job on the jacket. I'm sure it will get TONS of use! Find Abigail a teddy bear that will fit that jacket so that when it doesn't fit HER anymore, her teddy can wear it. :o)

Rooie said...

Man, I wish all these Internet kids I see while reading my RSS would just stop it with the growing up! I feel so old.

That Abigail...she's a little beauty. (And you're such a good photographer, Franklin. I think that every time I read your blog, whether there are niecely photos or not.)

And hey, we know where your Mom gets her knitting talent! Oh wait, that's backwards...

Stacy said...

Gosh, if anyone deserves a little down time it would be you, Mr. Whirlwind Spring 2008 World Tour!! Glad you got some rest.

Lise in NJ said...

make sure to tell your Mom that we are all impressed with her Baby Surprise -- the striping is smashing. also thanks much for the tutorial -- your mother makes a great hand model.

quinn said...

WOW - for the sweater, for your mom, for your (so big now!) niece, for you taking some time to relax and recharge - WOW!

And good timing for me, because I've got my first BSJ ready to finish. I've been thoroughly daunted by the prospect of sewing/weaving the shoulder seams, but once I get over that hurdle, now I'll be prepared for perfect blocking. Thanks so much, Franklin and Franklin's Mom!

Susan said...

I just recently found your blog and wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your sense of humor and writing style! I'll be a frequent visitor.

Rudee said...

Yep. That's how I block too. Abigail is lovely and I think she may have a future in modeling.

Kristen said...

Yay for Nana!! (I have a Nana too, I heartily approve having Nanas.) I have to say I'm surprised to see Abigail has turned out to have light hair. She's still a doll.

Phro5gg said...

For a second there I had visions of babies stretching like taffy. Great tutorial Mr. Habit. I feel I should bring an apple to the teacher. My problem with blocking is the 3 small furry assistants who want to help!

christina said...

Oh my gosh Abigail is getting so big!! Even having a little one of my own running around, the change from baby to little girl/boy never ceases to amaze me.

Love the toddler help with the blocking process too.

So proud of Nana's sweater!!

We're also really glad that you got some well deserved R&R with your favorite bundle of energy.

LesleyD said...

Wow! I really needed a tutorial on blocking! Especially for when I finally finish Adamas shawl. Abigail is getting so big!! She is beautiful too. It seems like only yesterday you were posting pics of her when she was a new born. Time flies!! Your mom did an awesome job on the coat!! I've got to knit one of those.

MezzoDiva said...

Abigail is stylin'. Love how she's workin' that BSJ! Adorable and chic (how does she do that?) Kudos to your Mom.

Thanks for the blocking tutorial. It might well be the most straightforward one I've seen.

Knittingand said...

OMG, she's growing so quickly!

That's freaking me out especially because I recently found out I'll be having one around New Years :P

I have about 8 bazillion baby hats on my knitting list and mine is due in Summer, lol.

rams said...

Franklin, your nails look great. But you're supposed to bury the child to the waist in sand, not gravel.

Daisy said...

How did Abigail get so big? Your blog has turned into a daytime soap. One show the kid is a baby and then the next episode she is a teenager. What a beautiful BSJ!

Bobbi said...

What a great tutorial. STOP
I can't believe how big Abigail is already! STOP I detect a definite familial resemblance through the eyes. STOP Great job Mom on BSJ! STOP
Hope the recuperation was a total success. STOP
Do people still send telegrams!?! STOP

Sara in WI said...

Excellent tutorial, Franklin! Elizabeth would be proud! Your mom is great and Abigail is just the cutest!

AliP said...

Wonderful tutorial Franklin. Abigail is growing into a beautiful child. I too have an adoration for SOAK and currently have a bottle of Aqueous(?) frangrance in the laundry cabinet. Before I had SOAK though I used Pantene 2 in 1. :oD

anne marie in philly said...

W-O-W! I haven't seen a pix of abigail in a l-o-n-g time; such a beautiful princess!

your mom rocks (and so does her BSJ)!

smooches! :-)

Barb said...

Your blog makes me smile -- thanks!

KnitNana said...

What a fun post and I love the family photos! And this Nana thinks that Nana should be very proud!
(((hugs)))

Christy D. said...

That niece of yours is just precious, and very lucky to have such nice handknits. Thanks for the blocking info, also. It scares me a little, also, so I like the tutorial.

Angelina (in Oakland) said...

Thank you for the fun blocking walk-through. I've blocked and am not afraid, but your fun take on it (like a baby, not like a baby) was definitely enjoyable. Thank you, also, for the gratuitous baby-feet picture! Abigail the Amazing, is truly darling.
As always, a truly wonderful post! Have fun in Indiana! Did you take the bus? :)

dale-harriet said...

I want them. Both. I want your mom as a tea-and-chinwag partner; I want your niece as an adopted 'Nother Grandkid, on account of she is so CUTE! Also she is girlie and I'm heavy on the boy-flavored grandkids. Please tell your mom I bow in her direction with unabashed awe; I tried a BSJ and it is three rows on a needle somewhere; it intimidated me right out the door at the outset. You got a lot of Powerful Good Stuff in your DNA. Nana's lucky. Abigail's lucky. The whole lot o' youse, lucky. (Oh wait..WE're lucky! Thanks for the lessons, too!)

inkberryblue said...

What a gorgeous post! Abigail is so sweet ~ and so is her jacket. Thanks for the tutorial too ~ it's going to be really helpful.

Yvonne said...

Oh, Franklin, she is adorable. But you knew that. Thanks for the tutorial. I wonder if Abigail will realize, ever, that she is famous among knitters.

Ginger Beer said...

The Jacket is Goooorgeous!

Mrs J said...

Thank you! I have read miles on blocking lace but not alot on blocking a 'thing'. Baby shampoo- I will remember that! Cute pictures of your niece too.

Sock Knitter said...

Oh, Franklin -- she has gotten so big! And so, so cute!!

Please tell Nana she did great -- LOVE IT!! And thanks for the 'strcutions on blocking, too!

Faustus, M.D. said...

Franklin, this is the clearest explanation of blocking I've ever read. I have not gotten completely over blocking-phobia, and this gives me hope.

Tameson O'Brien said...

She's wicked cute!

Phyllis said...

Wonderful blocking instructions, thank you!
I add to the supplies a colander, to put the soaking item into so it can lose some of the water before the towels.
Kudos to your mom for her first shaped project, it's lovely.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, non scary method for blocking

Laiane said...

Best blocking tutorial ever. I intend to drown little Edwardian people in my next blocking go-round, including the voice over.

The Baby Surprise Jacket kicked my butt. I could never get my stitch counts right. Your Mom did a great job!

Riin said...

Wow, she's growing so fast! And the jacket is really cute on her!

Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann said...

[edit to correct spelling error] Love the photos, love the instructions. Instead of the towel-stomp, I use my salad spinner to extract the water in small things (baby sweaters, hats, scarves) and the spin cycle of my washer for the bigger ones.

You know, I was going to be jealous of Abigail's ability to discuss philosophy. The Tiny Prince of Wails is reading Dostoyevsky in the original, even though I suggested to his parents that the French translations are more readable. He's not so big on the discussion part. But then, he's not talking yet, so there's the difference.

Perhaps next summer they can get together and talk about some of the renaissance writers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Franklin for the tutorial. The baby sweater I just finished this morning is trying to sink in the basin. It is 100% wool, the pattern is Knitting Pure and Simple #275 baby Bolero. I did it in 3 days.Deadline is Tuesday, Baby shower.I will need to use a fan, because the humidity is awful today in Boston. Rita

Anne O'Nymous said...

What a talented, brilliant, good-looking family y'all are! (Not surprised in the least.)

Mo said...

The Zimmermann jacket by your Mom looks great on Abigail and it's alao a great pic of two important ladies in your life!

Thanks for the blocking instruction - they are very simple and easy to follow.

Pixiepurls said...

fantastic tutorial, I've been blocking for ages and didn't know a few of those tips (the baby part in particular, makes total sense now that I think about it!).

Anonymous said...

?Proust?

Wow - Abigail has "grown up" since the last picture I recall.

Franklin's mother - CONGRATULATIONS on a lovely knit - I got discouraged about matching decreases and gave up on the baby surprise!
Margie from Maryland

Penny said...

She is so dang cute!

Cheri said...

Babies grow too fast. It's hard to believe that Abigail has gotten so big!
Beautiful baby, beautiful sweater (and beautiful nana).

Betsy said...

You have a wonderful knack for letting personalities shine through your photos!

I have a feeling your sister will need ALL of her school teacher talents to deal with the results of the twinkle in that child's eye!

Way to go grandma!

Laura Sue said...

Lovely combination of helpful tutorial with utterly delightful story with pictures. I just wanted the fun to last a bit longer. Oh, and I'm definitely going to try that Titanic thing, including the little voice.

Lester's Mama said...

Thanks for the instructions. I have been putting off blocking my very first lacy wrap for 3 weeks because I was scared. Tonight I'm tackling it. You're a doll.

Anne said...

I get the most water out by squeezing the sweater over the sink, then carrying it to the washing machine and setting it to the spin part of the delicate cycle. Takes only a few minutes and the sweater dries much more quickly. I even do this with (gasp!) cashmere sweaters!

Kelly (fairieknits) said...

Thanks for the tutorial! I'm about to start on my very first wool baby sweater and this post was perfect timing.

Oh, and Abigail, if she got any cuter it would be illegal!

Melissa said...

Very nice tutorial, and I wanted to say that I enjoyed your article in Piecework! Those Interweave folks do like your work, and for good reason!

Alwen said...

Did anybody stay home last week?

We were in Columbus OH for the Origins Gamers convention, but we did go outside to clap and whistle at the local gay pride parade. (With my husband in full Army ACU.)

StringPlay said...

Great looking BSJ and on a beautiful little girl. My Piecework arrived today. As soon as I can quit drooling over Nancy Bush's Estonian shawl pattern, I'm going to read YOUR article!

Anonymous said...

Coming out of lurkdom to tell you that niece Abigail is just adorable and I love all the sweaters, etc, you have knitted for her.

Barbara

essie said...

You have solved a personal dilemma. I have arthritis and can't press on the towels with my hands to squeeze out water. Standing on it-who knew?! Thanks so much for these instructions, and always for your humor.

Crystal said...

Thanks for the great blocking tutorial!