Blocking A Revolution

As you will probably know from previous blog posts (or if you’ve ever talked to me about knitting projects!) I’m not a fan of finishing. I’m especially bad at getting around to doing my blocking, partly because it’s a lot of effort but also because it requires a lot of space if it’s a large item. When I started working on the Rowan Afghan KAL I realised there was going to be a lot of blocking to do! I blocked my first few squares by pinning them to my ironing board and steaming them with the iron, but I found it took a long time to get them all pinned out properly and then more time to leave them pinned out to dry after steaming. Not very convenient, especially if you need your ironing board for, you know, actual ironing!

In the past with garments I have usually pinned them out on a towel to dry after wet blocking them. Since moving house in February, I now have a house with mostly hard floors (laminate, tiles or vinyl) and very little carpet. This makes me reluctant to pin on the floor because I don’t want to risk damaging the flooring in my rented house with pins and also I can’t secure the towel on the floor with pins to stop it moving around or shrinking while it dries.

It seemed about time to get some better blocking techniques in my repertoire so that I didn’t have any more excuse for letting my blocking languish for months on end. After some online research I found this amazing blog post all about how to make blocking easier and more convenient. It’s a long post and well worth reading, but to summarise if you’re in a rush…

Fabric Cutting Board

Block your knitting on a fabric cutting board. It’s pre-printed with measurement lines making it easier to get your item to the right size and if you are short on permanently available floor space (or have inquisitive pets/children), the board can be stood against a wall out of the way whilst the blocked items dry. Genius!

These boards are even strong enough to withstand steam blocking your knitting. I was not convinced, but the blog post was so confident that I just had to try it. So far I’ve blocked three sets of Afghan squares on my board and it’s taken no damage from it at all!

Fabric Cutting BoardFabric Cutting Board

Blocking Wires

If you haven’t seen these before, the set I ordered is made by KnitPro and looked like this, containing 12 solid wires (6 long, 6 short) and 3 flexible wires:

Blocking Wires SetBlocking Wires SetBlocking Wires Set

You can use blocking wires even if you aren’t blocking something complicated like a lace shawl, they allow you to use fewer pins because the wires hold the knitting to shape and you just need a few pins to hold the wires in position. This has been especially helpful for my Afghan squares because I can thread one of the longest wires in my set through the top of three squares and another through the bottom. With just three pins to the top and bottom of each square, plus one or two down each side, that’s far fewer pins than I would otherwise have to use and produces perfectly straight edges. Brilliant!

Squares blocked on board

Good Pins

I’d previously been blocking with safety pins as they were what I already had. It was fiddly, annoying and hurt my fingers. The set of blocking wires that I ordered came with a few T pins, which I immediately loved. So much easier to pin and remove! I ordered a full set immediately to complement the few I already had.

T pins

The pins came in a little plastic box which was fiddly to get them out of when trying to hold knitting in place, so I decided that I needed a good pin cushion to complete my new blocking kit to perfection. Luckily for me, I knew just where to go for one because Steph of Netty Not makes the cutest pincushions. I bought this little guy from her and now my pins have a lovely and convenient home.

Mouse Pin Cushion

 

One of the great benefits of this techniques is that once you’ve pinned your work to the board, you can stand it up against a wall or in an otherwise out of the way position so that you’re not tripping over it whilst it dries. I love it!

Board Standing Up

And here’s the result – unblocked vs blocked squares. Just a small difference!

Unblocked & Blocked Squares

What new tip or technique have you learned recently that you’ve really enjoyed?

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Tip – Knitting sleeves together

This week I’ve cast on the sleeves for my current project, Aphrodite. The front and back of the jumper are knit separately, which means the sleeves are knit flat and joined into the garment at the final, making up stage.

Knitting sleeves flat is my least favourite way of doing so for a few reasons:

  • It’s harder to judge length and width correctly as the sleeves are knitted from the cuff up. I much prefer knitting raglan jumpers/cardigans as the sleeves are generally knitted down from the live stitches of the shoulder so you can try on as you go to judge width and length.
  • Flat sleeves have to be sewn up along their whole length and, as I’ve mentioned a few times before, I find sewing terribly boring. They then also have to be sewn in to the shoulder opening which can be tricky if the sizes don’t match perfectly.
  • It just seems to take forever, especially as you finish one and then you have to knit the same thing over again. Sometimes it feels like being stuck in a knitting version of Groundhog Day!

The Method

A couple of years ago I got a fantastic tip for knitting flat sleeves which I’ve used ever since. I’m using it right now with my current project so I wanted to share it with you in case it helps make your life easier too:

Cast both sleeves on at the same time!

It’s so simple and yet so brilliantly helpful. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cast on your first sleeve as per usual
  2. Push the first set of sleeve stitches along your needle to make room for more stitches.
  3. Take a second ball of yarn and cast on the other sleeve
  4. You now have two independent, unconnected pieces of knitting cast on to your needle, both facing the same way and ready to be worked
  5. Turn your needle and knit the first row of the first sleeve
  6. Drop the yarn connected to this first sleeve
  7. Your right needle now has the first sleeve on it and your left needle still has the other sleeve on it
  8. Pick up the yarn that is connected to the sleeve still on the left needled and knit the first row of the second sleeve
  9. Repeat until the sleeves are finished

Rather than use two balls of yarn, you can also do this with one ball of yarn.

  • The steps are exactly the same as described above but instead of using a second ball of yarn to cast on the second sleeve, you find the other end of your existing ball of yarn and cast on with that. You’re now knitting the first sleeve from one end of the ball and the second sleeve from the other end of the ball.
  • This is particularly useful if you’ll need less than one ball of yarn to make both sleeves, as it saves you from using half of two balls which is a bit annoying if you could have managed it without opening a second ball.
  • It also means you don’t have two balls of yarn tangling while you work. You may occasionally need to untangle the yarn coming from the one ball, it depends on how your ball is wound, but I certainly find it less problematic than using two balls.

The Benefits

The two main benefits of this method are:

  • Once you’ve finished, you’ve really finished. No need to cast on a second time and repeat!
  • Your sleeves will be completely identical. Sometimes sleeve patterns tell you to knit until a certain length but measuring is a tricky business! How flat was your work lying? How much did you stretch it when you pulled it flat? Did you knit to the right length and then have to knit another row to end with the desired side facing? Getting all this the exactly same on the second sleeve as it was on the first sleeve is not easy, but if you knit them together then you will naturally do your increases, decreases, repeats, and everything at the same time. Magic!

Important Tips

A couple of things to remember if you’re going to try this method:

  • If you are using a row counter or otherwise marking your rows as you go, it is important to only count off a row once you have knitted that row on both sleeves. It’s easy to accidentally count after you finish a row on just one sleeve, and then you can get a bit confused as to which sleeve is where in the pattern.
  • Try to only put your knitting down when you’ve finished working a row on both sleeves. If you come back to a sleeve hanging off each needle, you may get confused a bit confused.

And that’s it! It’s so simple once you know how and is fantastically useful. Let me know if you try it and how you get on!

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