Indiana was a good place to rest and recuperate. Fresh air, open space, great stretches of soothing greenery, and this.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
I think Abigail loves her jacket. I hope Nana's proud.