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December 16, 2005

Blocking is the new Botox.

Finally, the last installment of The Annotated History Of One Very Orange Scarf, also known as "Obviously I Am Still Stunned By My Divorce, Avoiding The Holidays, Whacked Out On Cold Medicine And So I Fixated On This Scarf."

How are ya'll?

I went home last night with every intention of falling straight into bed and sleeping a lovely benadryl sleep. (I got a flu shot and I do believe it gave me the flu. Probably the Evian Flu.) Obviously, I had a fever or something because I went home and ... got busy blocking!

Blocking is the cosmetic surgery of handknits. It is the one technique that can make a short, stubby cheeto-scarf stretch into a long, lean lovely scarf. It smooths out the stitches and helps the fibers relax into their new positions.

My psychotic adoration of blocking is completely the responsibility of one Annie Modesitt, who showed me the magic and miracle of steam blocking. Until she came to visit a few months ago, I had only blocked a kitty pi (here) and my favorite thing ever -- a Noro Transitions scarf (here). But Annie brought her steamer to town ... and once she saw me trying to hold it hostage, she gave me one as a hostess gift! I have been hooked on steam blocking ever since. Steam blocking isn't for every fiber, but it works great on wool.

A big part of blocking is the simple shaping of an item. Annie showed me that you don't have to be afraid of your knitting -- you can tug on your stitches and guide them into shape by pulling and stretching the fabric. I guess I was afraid I'd hurt the knitting or something, but truth is ... knitting likes a little tug now and then. Knitting is maybe a little kinky that way.

There are lots of different ways to block stuff. I like the steamer because it's fast and the scarf won't take forever to dry. Oh, who am I kidding? It's a proven theory that any task is way more fun when you have nifty tools. (God experimented with this theory, too, the result was "men.") I'm definitely not a blocking expert, but so far I've had great results from a short application of steam, some gentle tugging and shaping the item with my fingers, then pinning it in shape to dry.

The steamer got filled with water and plugged in, and as it heated up I prepared The Blocking Surface (a.k.a. the twin bed in the guest room.) Folded a big clean sheet in half and set it on top of the mattress. Got out my long straight pins and tried to avoid attracting the attention of many sleeping felines. Once the scarf had been steamed and tugged on, I would shape it, pin it, and let it dry overnight.

blocking knits

A terrycloth towel provides a good backdrop for steaming, because this stuff is potent HOT and you don't want to hurt yourself.

Lay the scarf on the towel. Steam a section of it real good. Tug and shape with your hands. Repeat! I could see the wool relaxing and getting longer before my very eyes. Then I quickly pinned it out, stetching it as I went along. The whole thing took less than five minutes. Five minutes, folks!

blocking knits

blocking knits

blocking knits

After it was thoroughly pinned, I steamed the whole thing once-over for good measure. Then folded the sheet over it so no felines could intervene and body-block it. Sleep well, little scarf!


My desired results for the cheeto scarf: I definitely needed this piece to grow longer. It was stubby -- way too short for an adult! I wanted the stitches to calm down a little bit since the whole scarf was kind of jumbly and bumpy. And I wanted to make the seam of my three-needle bind off look a little flatter.

[Just an aside here. No, I have no idea how to do the Kitchener stitch. I'm a total novice on all this. I'm always surprised when I figure out how to do something, like loops or whatever, because it feels like I just climbed Mt. Everest! So! Exciting! And I figure if someone as remedial as me can figure it out, I should take pictures of it. But I have many and diverse knitting challenges ... see "I can't read a pattern" and "never knits anything but scarves and hats" and "fuzzyfeet" for more details.]

This morning my scarf was dry and shaped into perfection. You can see how this piece managed to grow long just like I wanted:

blocking knits

blocking knits

I definitely did NOT steam the loopy edges or tug on them at all, I loved their loopy, nutty fringe. But the stitches got super-blocked and stretched and the scarf is soft and long and ... still very orange. The final result is ... funky. Whether it's funky-good or funky-bad is hard to say ...

After my big evening of blocking, I melted into the sofa with my fur blankets. Here's some Franklin Delano Rosencat action for Kellie:


Have a great weekend! Ask Santa for a steamer!

Posted by laurie at December 16, 2005 10:31 AM