The last few steps of the knitting process aren’t about knitting at all. Rather, they’re focused on the final steps and touches that elevate your project from homemade to handmade. You can choose the best yarn in the world and use the highest quality tools, but unless you take the time to finish your knits, you run the risk of your project not living up to your high expectations!
While many tools and terms are familiar and available to knitters of all skill levels, it can be difficult to decipher how to use them without some assistance. This week, as a companion to our upcoming Stitch Lab on finishing, we’ll cover some of the methods and tools for blocking, seaming, and refining hours of knitting bliss into a finished piece.
This Mizutama shawl by OlgaJazzy is an excellent candidate for blocking using T-pins or blocking wires. As you can see, the finished piece is blocked to reveal the planned lace pattern of this shawl. Lace often needs aggressive blocking to look its best, so for this pattern we recommend you soak the project in lukewarm water, with a touch of wool wash (like Eucalan). The wool wash helps release any oils or dust that might have remained in the yarn after the spinning and dyeing process—it also has the added benefit of getting rid of the scent of vinegar that many hand-dyed yarns tend to have.
You’ll want to allow the piece to become thoroughly saturated—some wools retain more air than others, and may need to be gently nudged under the water. Be careful not to agitate, or your beautiful finished piece could felt! After the yarn is fully wet, drain the bath and carefully squish out any excess water. Roll your piece in a towel and push out a bit more of the water—when you unroll, your knit should be damp, but not dripping.
Blocking mats, like those from our cocoknits Knitter’s Block kit, are a must-have. These interlocking foam mats connect and reconfigure into a variety of work spaces ideal for any of your projects. Using T-pins (stainless steel pins coated to avoid rust), you can pin your piece out in half-inch increments along the edges. Don’t be afraid to pull and push the lace out completely, but don’t pull so hard that your knitting is strained. The last thing you’d want is to break a delicate piece you’ve spent hours working on!
If you’d like to use blocking wires, you’ll thread them into the piece as if you were creating a running stitch. If your lace has holes near the edge formed by yarn overs, this is a great place to insert your wire! If your piece is a more solid knit, continue below.
Sweaters or garments with pieces require additional blocking — but the extra work often results in more flawless finishing. After each piece is knit, steam-block by covering the pieces with a blocking cloth (one is provided in the Block kit, or you could use a clean tea towel.) This protects any mixed fibers from damage. Steam blocking is easiest when using the wool setting on your iron with the highest steam output. Fill the water reserve—you’ll be using lots of steam. If you find that you steam-block most of your knits, some light-weight knits can be easier to do on a hanger with a hand-steamer.
Pulse the steam button while moving just against the surface of the towel, pressing lightly. If your work is 100% wool, the towel is less necessary and you can get more direct results by pressing on the actual pieces. Be careful not to push or slide your iron, as this can alter the shape of the pieces. When the wool is slightly damp, measure against the schematics outlined in your pattern to make sure everything is the right size.
If pieces are too small, it is possible to increase their size through the use of blocking wires—thoroughly wet the piece and thread your wires through as if they were forming a running stitch, then pin out in the measurements of the schematic, using the blocking wire as a stabilizer to keep from forming points with the T-pins.
The next step is seaming. How you seam varies depending on where you are seaming, but generally a mattress stitch is the best choice. A tapestry needle is blunt-ended so you don’t split yarns or damage your work. Knitty has an excellent comprehensive article on seaming knits here, or you can be sure to stop by our Stitch Lab session on April 30 for more hands-on direction in this part of the process.
After your piece is completely assembled, but before you add any fixtures (buttons, eye hooks, etc.), you’ll want to block again. This time, soak the finished knit and lay it out flat, just like you will in the future when washing your handmade garment. An excellent tool for this step is a drying rack. A PVC frame with a netting stretched over it is an inexpensive option. Check the laundry department at your local all-purpose store. Place the garment in a well-ventilated, dry area. (If you’re blocking somewhere that tends to be damp, it could be handy to put a fan on nearby to help increase air flow around your knit.)
Armed with these blocking basics and the knowledge from your before-project swatch, you should be able to transform any knit into a professional-looking piece in no time at all!