Is Starshower the new Honey Cowl? Only time will tell (but it looks good).

The Passion of the Blocking

Dear Kay,
Here’s a pile of Sassy, off the needles, ready for its destiny in my basement, ready to meet Rowenta the Steamy and the Tomato of Pins.
pileosassy.jpg
There’s always that last triste moment when I’ve actually, finally reached the last stitch of knitting. Oh, chenille, sorry for that time when I was so ugly to you. You are a good yarn. Stay sweet, OK? And have a great summer.
sassyblocked.jpg
Proof of blocking.
Heresy
Our reading this Sunday comes from the Book of Hiatt,* page 392, paragraph 1:
“Many people erroneously believe that they can block a fabric out in order to adjust the overall size of the garment, counting on this process to correct problems with the fit. There is also a popular misconception that blocking a sweater is in some way permanent. In fact, cleaning a knitted fabric has some analogy with what happens when human hair is washed and set to give it curl.”
And paragaraph 5: “Since the advent of steam irons, blocking with pins or stretchers is no longer necessary unless the fiber cannot tolerate steam and the stitch pattern must be stretched open beyond what can be done by hand. A situation when both of these things are true is quite rare. Once dry, most garments can be dressed simply and easily with just steam. But tradition dies hard, and many knitters today go to a great deal of trouble not only to measure and pin out a garment just the way their grandmothers did, but then when they are dry, they steam them. The steam immediately relaxes the fibers and erases the dimensions so painstakingly achieved with the pins. Pinning out was the most tedious aspect of washing a handknit; aren’t you glad you don’t have to do that anymore?”
As you know, I LOVE BLOCKING. I have seen every sweater I’ve so painstakingly pinned achieve new heights of smoothitude and loveliness. I have seen edges made easier to sew up, I have seen curling edges vanish, I have seen the dead rise up and–OK maybe not. You can’t make a size medium into a size large, but you can get a piece of knitting (your Sassy, for example) to open up and behave better by pinning it.
No matter what the good book of Hiatt says, I will keep pinning, wetting AND steaming simultaenously, then letting it all dry.
And of course, I am talking about blocking only before I sew up a sweater. Once it’s finished, it joins the ranks of plain old clothes–it gets its one spa treatment when it’s born, and that’s all.
Sermon over.
Love,
Ann
*June Hemmons Hiatt’s Principles of Knitting continues to be my very most favoritest knitting reference. It continues to amaze me that the folks at my long-ago employer, Simon & Schuster, could not figure out that putting this 1988 book back into print would be a) easy; b) profitable; and c) smart. I wonder what the story is.

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Hey Ann, it looks gorgeous! I want to see it sewn up.
    Polly

  2. I look forward to seeing the cast-on for Glenesk, now that you’ve kept your promise to Kay.

  3. With openwork and lace I really do think pinning out whilst wet is the only way to go.Everything else gets the steam iron ,or a wash and pat ! Life’s too short and all that.
    Are you fait isle swatching next ? I’d better swatch mine too…when I find a spare minute.

  4. Ann, I admire your passion for blocking. It certainly puts Sassy in all its/her glory, but I’m with Emma, blocking only when I have to. My son’s “Mask” sweater in DK cotton didn’t get “blocked” until it was ready to be laundered the first time (and then I cheated still further and sent it to the cleaners!) I know you love your million pins, but have you ever thought of investing in those blocking wires? They do happily streamline the process when I absolutely must block.

  5. Every time I look at *Principi Knittingii* (what we call it at my house) I shudder all over to think what the production of that monster must have been like in 1988. (Note to people who don’t know: I do book production, especially large illustrated volumes like the Hiatt tome.) No Adobe Illustrator, no Quark Xpress, every one of those exquisite little line drawings done by hand and lovingly placed on the copy board of a giant graphics camera, the film hand-stripped into the giant flat, the type set in galleys and pasted up, corrections stripped in line by line, the color separations a whole department in themselves, I could go on and on . . .
    I’m guessing the hangover from that job has lasted 16 years at S&S. No one wants to go there ever again. Even if it would be easier this time.
    By the way, thank you, again, for my copy.

  6. you are making me jealous with talk of that book! I took one of June’s classes at a Stitches East a few years ago — how I would love to have her book. She mentioned at the time that they were thinking of republishing! dare to dream!

  7. Oh, Thomas, you rat! I know, I know. I am sewing on sleeves at the moment, going kind of slowly because I know my date with destiny looms. I need to do a swatch, just to get the feel for Fair Isle. I confess that I wound yarn yesterday, not an hour after I pinned up Sassy. “Finished” is a fluid term, don’t you think?
    Mary Neal–The mind boggles at what that book required in terms of production. I remember another book that no one ever believed would be published: The Encyclopedia of Dolls, which burned through at least three editors in six years. The two little lady authors regularly showed up at the office to do . . . something about the book. It was like Bleak House–Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the legal case that never ended.
    And Ann–you have laid eyes on La Hiatt? What’s she like? Details, please!

  8. oooh, Ann — here’s sum fun:
    Go on over to one of the knit lists — high end knit lists will work best for this, though just plain ol’ knit list should work, and naively post the question, “I’ve heard that there’s a new printing of Hiatt’s tome in the works! this is great! Does anybody have the details?”
    thsn step back and wait.
    Result will be (I predict, having see it happen several times) pronouncements of when the book is coming back out, refutations thereof, direct attacks on Hiatt herself, tearful denoucements of said attacks from people who once lived next door to her —
    you can get a good four days out of it on a good week.
    (Have I ever done this myself? Nope. I just watch the carnage when it erupts.)
    Net result: No real and trustworthy information. Many forms of information PRESENTED as real and trustworthy.

  9. The Priciples currently sell on Amazon’s Used List for 229US$ upwards, just in case anyone wanted to part with hers/his.
    Anne, you mean like this:http://www.knittersreview.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9665&whichpage=1

  10. BEAUTIFUL. You sassy southern knitter, you. ;)
    Since you have blocking down to a science, if I send squares PLUS pieces needing to be blocked, do they qualify for Ann’s spa treatment?

  11. I guess I’m with Emma–I don’t do all the pins and spraying. I have a garment steamer (a Jiffy with the long hose) and I just steam everything and put a few pins on sleeve caps if absolutely necessary. Works great for me!

  12. Well, I’ve been busy too! I went all the way to Lis’s house, drank more vino of course, and picked up the sleeves to Olive. Now I’ve just got to remember what size I was making so I can finish the last sleevehead, get out Rowenta’s Baby (did I tell you Rowenta had a darling baby? It’s a steamer! It’s a travel iron! It’s a clothes brush! It’s a girl!), and sew up masses of charcoal tweediness. Hold onto Sassy so we can simu-exchange! All our debts to the Elfin Knitalong will be paid, with nary an Elfin in sight. (I am a bit jealous, seeing all the glorious Elfins over at Curls and Purls.) xox Kay

  13. don’t listen to anybody. Block your little heart out. Even if it were worthless, even if everything you believed about blocking turned out to be a lie, even if….god forbid, it turned out to be bad for knitting…carry on. I love to block too. Love it. It is part of my knitting ritual, and it is a joyous and fulfilling time that I share with my pins. Screw Hiatt. (Well, not her per say….her opinion, well, her book….you know what I mean).

  14. Rumor has it that Ms. Hemmons Hiatt is working on an update to POK. (OK – so I heard it from her lips… is that still a rumor?) She seems to be a bit on the obsessive side and wants it perfect, though… she’s been working on it for years and there’s no clue of a publish date. I think the old one should be republished first, then give her another 10 years to work out the new one…. but then, I already own POK.

  15. Generally, I just don’t do blocking – steaming, yes, blocking, no.
    That is, until Archie from Rowan Babies – no amount of plain steam would get that 4ply soft to uncurl – I had to get the pins out.
    Of course, it looked dead cute pinned out on the ironing board (I don’t possess a blocking board) but it was still attempting to roll inspite of a gazillion pins. It wouldn’t be so bad except this very cute, tiny little jacket has facings simply everywhere; a collar that’s knitted as a separate pieces & pockets (even the tops of the pockets are rolling). I blasted the thing with steam as far as I could & then got the water spray out. It’s now dry but still rolling (slightly) – but after all those pins I’ve now lost the enthusiasm to sew it up.
    Please send enthusiasm – Archie’s owner is going to arrive in approx. 10 weeks & the curtains for his room are still unmade.
    Jo
    xxx

  16. Blocking at its best! I admire the care (and number of pins) you put into it – definitely makes all the difference.

  17. Hi Kay,
    How would you recommend blocking mohair, soft kid? I’m finishing a scarf with sleeves, the sleeves are stocknette and the scarf is fisherman’s rib.
    Should I gently wash and pin, or should I steam to minimize loss of halo?

  18. sorry, I meant hi ann, blocking guru!

  19. Hi Andree! I’m no blocking guru–no higher contact with The Great Blocker, but I do find it a weirdly meditative thing to do after finishing the knitting.
    A scarf with sleeves? Wowee–is it like a shrug? I never heard of such a thing. Cool.
    Anyhoo, are the sleeves knitted in the round or flat? If they’re flat, I’d say to pin the thing down, then squirt it liberally with water and let it dry. I think on my Birch scarf (Rowan Kidsilk Haze) I pinned, spritzed, then went ahead and steamed it too before it dried, just because a little heat seemed like it would help the fibers behave.
    If the sleeves are knitted in the round, you know what? I have never blocked anything done in the round, so I’m no help there.
    In any event, I don’t press ribbing, ever, because it loses its dimension. Come to think of it, I don’t press anything, even when Rowan magazines suggest gently pressing under a damp cloth. It just seems cruel.

  20. Dear Ann, You do too have contact with the Great Blocker. There is no other explanation for the state that you attain when blocking. You are One with the Universe, or at least the Blocking Board, or maybe only Rowenta. But you are One with something.
    Don’t hide your steam under a bushel.
    I might add that for us cotton knitters, the Ralph Bunche method–get the thing wringing wet, then flatten it out against a hard surface and wait until it dries–is the only sure bet. While June HH is correct that as with ironing your clothes, the blocking effect is temporary, it is crucial, for me, to get that temporary effect on the pieces before I sew up. If I can’t get a nice even row-to-row or rows-to-stitches matchup when seaming, the finished garment will never be Right. I sewed up my daughter’s second ‘Mary, Mary’ cardi from Tadpoles and Tiddlers while on a trip, sitting on a futon without benefit of the Ralph Bunche method, and to this day the thing skews every which way.
    (I call it the Ralph Bunche method because, when I was a kid, I read in one of those orange biographies from the school library that this was the way Ralph Bunche, who was a very poor youth, ironed his shirts to make a clean-cut impression. He washed them and then plastered them to the wall until they were dry. (This image struck my heart, perhaps because in those days my mother dampened all her ironing with water she shook from an old 7-Up bottle with a sprinkler-cork stuck in the top. Dang! Wish I had THAT thing.) xox Kay

  21. Link for Ralph Bunche: http://www.pbs.org/ralphbunche/.
    I was unable to verify my recollection of that story about his shirts. I devoured those orange biographies in elementary school (30 plus years ago!! they’re probably not orange anymore!), so it could very well be that Babe Ruth or Mark Twain plastered his shirts to the wall. But I still think it was Ralph Bunche.
    Anyway. Where was I? xox Kay

  22. You go on with your bad blocking self, Ann…I can’t even imaging not blocking my knitted pieces. I think pinning is darn fun.
    It looks like the Afghanalong is going great! What lovely squares you are collecting! I hope to add mine to your collection this week.

  23. Zen and the Art of Blocking. I’m with Ann, Carrie and Stephanie on this one. My most recent addition is a new blocking board and for me that plus my big red tomato of pins, some seriously curled stockinette, music to block by and my iron and it’s nirvana.

  24. My mother still has her Tab bottle with the sprinkler cork.
    TAB!