Thursday, August 26, 2010

The importance of blocking

Those of you who don't knit probably don't know that sometimes after casting-off the knitter has to work some extra magic. With sweaters we have to make sure that both sleeves are of equal length, with cardigans we need to check that both fronts are even. And when we knit lace, we want people to see the beauty of the pattern.

The thing that helps us do all of these is called blocking. Let me show you how it works.

I'm going to use a small piece of lace work, knitted with ostrich plumes pattern. This is what it looks like right after casting-off:

Not very lacy - and far from what can be seen in these shawls. Notice the rolling edges:

You don't want that with your lace, do you?

So let the magic begin...

1. Soak your piece

I usually leave it for several minutes in cool water with a few drops of fabric softener. But I do that only with fresh knitwear, something straight off the needles. When it's been used, and you wash it, sometimes you may need to repeat the process - it all depends on the yarn and pattern used. In that case just wash it in delicate wool detergent and rinse. Gently squeeze the water out and lay flat to dry. Don't let it dry completely - the piece should be moist before you put the pins in it:)

2. Stretch it out, pin it in

Lace patterns often form the most interesting edges: triangular, wavy, or even square. But sometimes they need our help to show off their entire beauty. You'll need pins and a large flat surface you can stick them in. Look at the pattern of your piece and figure out where exactly you need to place the pins. This is how you'll give your piece a proper shape. It's not very complicated - just lay your piece flat and pick the places that stick out the most. Like here:

When you put the pins in, remember to stretch the piece gently. Not too much, or it will tear, but you have to feel a little resistance. The stronger you pull, the flatter it will get - and the borders will be more prominent.

Do you see how the piece pulls back? That's how it's supposed to be:)

Oh, and if you forget you were going do some blocking, and your piece gets completely dry, don't worry, just spray some clean water on it. You can even pin it in first, and then do the spraying. Just remember to check if your piece is stretched enough - wet yarn is more flexible than dry one, so you may need to pull it a bit more.

3. Leave it to dry

Blocked knitwear dries faster - it has thinner yarn and larger surface. But it doesn't mean you have to unpin it five minutes later. I'm not good at physics, but I think that the longer you shape your piece, the more permanent that shape will be. So sometimes I grab my spray-bottle and wet it again:) And I take the pins out much, much later:)

But the shape stays:

And there are no rolling edges:

Not even when you move it:

And that's how the magic is done:)

Remember - you may not need to repeat this process every time you wash your knitwear. With some pieces you won't have to do it at all. It depends on the yarn (some fibers have better "memory" and need to be blocked just once). And with time, even the most stubborn thread will give up and stay exactly where you want it to stay:)

I hope this tutorial helps you bring out the beauty of your clothes or projects. If you have any questions, drop me a line or leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Two ostrich plumes

I knitted these when the World Cup was still on - they're part of my "knit while watching the game" project:)

Both were knitted using the ostrich plumes pattern. The first is kid mohair with some polyamid. I love its blue color:

I don't have words to describe the other one. Or to be more specific: I don't have words to describe its color. I've been running around with camera to catch that perfect shot that would show how beautiful it is, but somehow it always looks a bit washed out. It was supposed to be turquoise, but for me it's rather emerald. Deep and intensive. I love it.

And I totally love how light and soft it is. The yarn I used is a blend of alpaca, virgin wool and acrylic.It's definitely the thinnest thing I've ever knitted.

Both stoles (as well as other items I've shown before) are available at my Etsy store here. Check it out!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Simplicity #2: in lilac-blue

As you can see, I'm feeling a bit poetic today. Don't worry, it will pass:)

I've been a bit busy recently, but somehow I managed to finish a few projects. The one I'm showing today is Simplicity#2. I knitted it in June while watching a few final games of the World Cup finals. It's the same yarn (only different color), and the same pattern as the gray shawl from this post. Drums please:

Now for the interesting part: I showed the gray one to someone, and they told me that this is a "granny" shawl. I respectfully disagreed. And later I triumphed a little, because that shawl became very popular at Ravelry! And all the nice words from fellow-knitters matter so much more!:)
Anyway, I've been asked for the pattern, so here it is:

The simplicity shawl

The great thing about this pattern is that it is really... simple. And it does not to be followed that carefully - you can play with it a little:)
Cast on 9 stitches using the provisional method (it's not required, but it will make the central part of the shawl seamless. If you've never tried this method, here is a great video tutorial. If you go for the provisional cast-on, use the kitchener stitch to put the borders together.)

Row 1:  k1 p1 k1 p1 yo (place marker if necessary)  k1 yo p1 k1 p1 k1  (the green k1 is the center of the triangle - and it's symmetry line. Red marks the borders. It's important, because in every odd row you'll add 4 stitches in these places: after the border (on the inside), and before and after the center stitch)
Row 2 (and other even rows): purl
Row 3: k1 p1 k1 p1 yo k1 yo k1 yo k1 yo p1 k1 p1 k1
Row 5: k1 p1 k1 p1 yo k3 yo k1 yo k3 yo p1 k1 p1 k1
(notice where the yarn over is)

Repeat the line pattern (adding 4 sts in each odd row) for as long as you want (this is the creative part:)) For clarity I'll use the numbers from the my lilac shawl. So repeat to row 34.

Row 35: k1 p1 k1 p1 yo k1 *(yo sl1k1psso)* yo k1 yo *(yo sl1k1psso)* k1 yo p1 k1 p1 k1
(Alternative row 35 /probably most people will find this way easier/: k1 p1 k1 p1 yo *(k2tog yo)* k1 yo k1 yo k1 *(yo k2tog)* yo p1 k1 p1 k1

Row 35 is repeated 4 times, and the number of rows between the repetitions is identical. It's up to you how close these repetitions are. In lilac it's every 26 rows. So it goes like this:
Rows 37-62: knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side, remember the borders, the center stitch and the increase (4 sts on each odd row, as described)
Row 63: repeat row 35

After the 4th repeat continue as in rows 37-62 until you'll reach the number of stitches between YOs divisible by 12 + 1. Then switch to lace pattern according to the diagram:
empty square: knit on the right side, purl on the wrong side; o - yarn over
v upside-dawn - sl1k2togpsso (slip1, knit2tog, pass the slipped stitch over)

Repeat rows 1-10 five times (or more; again - it's up to you). Remember the increase! When you have enough added stitches to start a new repeat, do it. You can also start a repeat when you have half of required stitches - just remember that in the lace pattern for every YO there has to be a decrease of 1 st.

maybe you'll find this photo useful

When you feel that your shawl is big enough, this is what you do: 
Row 10 of the last vertical repeat (wrong side): knit.
Next 1-3 rows (again: up to you. This is to keep the edge from rolling, so if you feel you need more then one repeat, go ahead): garter stitch (knit on both sides).

Cast off loosely. And you're done:)

Now all that's left is to block the shawl. And wear it with pride:)

I hope I haven't made any mistakes in the description, but if you find something, let me know and I'll fix it.