Monday, September 20, 2010

Adventures in blocking

Confession: I'm terrible at blocking my knitted work. Explanation for my non-knitted readers - blocking is a 'finishing' process for a knitted item. When you knit something by hand, the stresses in the fabric may not be entirely equal; this can result in curling, twisting, and any other number of unfortunate side effects that can make your lovely item look like a wrinkled old piece of garbage. Blocking usually involves wetting the item with water, pinning it in the desired finished dimensions, and letting it dry. Doesn't this seem like a stupid part of the knitting process to be bad at? Does anyone else consistently have trouble with blocking, or is it just me??

I came to a sudden realization last Wednesday: the wedding that I was knitting Mystery Wedding Project for was only three days away. Now I'd long given up on getting MWP done in time, but I did want to finish my shawl so I could show off the hand-knits a little bit. All I needed to do was block.

I collected some advice from some of the ladies in the shawl-KAL, and based on their suggestions a (half-baked) plan began to brew - instead of using a million pins, I would make a wire frame. First, I picked up some low-gauge stainless steel wire from the local hardware store:

I washed the heck out of it, since it probably had residual oil and grime from the production process. I couldn't resist playing with it a little bit:

Fun for a girl and a boy! And a dog, apparently.

The first setback was the fact that the wire did not want to keep any shape but a coil. I applied my materials engineering knowledge to something useful (for once): the wire needed to be 'work hardened' before it would be useful. Basically, work hardening is the concept that a metal becomes stronger when you do 'work' on it.

In this case, I used my hands to bend the wire back and forth, and when those got tired:

Wrenches! I used the wrenches to pull small sections of the wire straight. With the wire primed, I bent it into a rectangle measuring 60" x 20". I fed the shawl onto the frame in a 'running stitch' style - basically passing the wire over/under the selvage stitches:


I did break down and use a few pins to hold the frame steady.

I moistened the fabric using a spray bottle filled with water. It dried within the course of a few hours.

Did it work? It did!

I couldn't really believe I had produced something so delicate (me = bull in a china shop).

Would I do it again? I would, but with the caveat that I'm really glad that I don't have to do the work hardening of the wire again--it took a while, and if I was to do it again, I would work with the wire long before I was ready to actually block the shawl, just to break up the tedium a little bit.


  1. Fantabulous job!

    I can tell you that my girls and I are all about the DIY, so I'm glad we could help.

  2. Your shawl is awesome!Great work there! :)What a great DIY idea, I kept scouring my local hardware shops for welding wire, but I caved in and ordered mine online. Unfortunately I never thought about residual oil, but that's another story..

  3. That is a great idea. I am also horrible when it comes to actually blocking things and tend to go the route of wetting it, then sticking it on a towel and hoping the towel keeps everything in place. Haha.

  4. I have never blocked anything I have knitted but shh don't tell anyone. I am seriously going to get some wire & try your idea. Your shawl came out beautifully.