When Mike read my last blog post, he commented that I seemed to have talked more about how to wash a sweater than how to block a sweater. Funny thing, that - its essentially the same process. Conveniently, I just finished knitting a sweater this weekend, so I thought I'd do a little follow up post to show you what I mean.
Exhibit A: A freshly knit sweater, with all seams sewn and ends woven in. (Sorry the lighting is a little flat - those ends took longer to weave in than I had planned (as always!) so I didn't get to the photo stage until after dark!). As you can see, the collar doesn't lie flat, the 'knit as you go' button bands keep rolling over, and the whole thing looks just a little bit, well, terrible. No one wants to wear a sweater that looks like this!
If you take a look inside this sweater, you will see that although all my ends are thoroughly woven in, I have left about an inch of yarn sticking out on each one. I do this for two reasons. First, as I'm still working on it, the cropped bits help me keep track of which ends have been woven in, and which haven't. Second, when I go to block the sweater, these ends leave just a little bit of back-up in case one of the woven ends decides to un-weave itself during blocking (or in case I forgot to weave one in!). When the sweater is dry, I go back and trim all these off so that they're level with the fabric - and then I will know that they're going to stay in place! Keep in mind, however, that cotton ends may eventually work their way out, due to the slipperiness of the fibre. But that's why you weave in 3-4" of each end - so that you can catch the end mid-unravel, before it has untied itself from a knot and created a hole!
After a double-check for all those ends, this sweater went straight into a sink full of tepid water (no Eucalan this time, for no particular reason). This is a 100% cotton sweater, so I was able to swish it around in the water quite a bit, making sure it got properly saturated, and helping to move around (and hopefully balance out!) any areas of uneven knitting.
After a 30 minute soak, a squeeze in two different towels (to help speed the drying process!), and I was able to lay the sweater out to dry.
Damp fabric is easy to manipulate, so you can smooth and nudge and reshape until its perfect (but be gentle so as not to cause undue damage!). My challenges with this sweater were getting the lace panels just about equal in width and height, while also keeping the button bands straight. I think it is easier to block a cardigan after you sew on the buttons (this makes it easier to align the button and button-hole bands), but I didn't want to wait on this one. The lace panels on the fronts of this cardigan are very simple, but I had to make sure to stretch them to equal widths - otherwise one front would have been a little wider than the other. And then there was the neckline, which isn't nearly as v-shaped as the pattern schematic would indicate, and therefore had to be massaged into a nice-looking shape. I suspect this neck issue was due to my row gauge being much larger than theirs (ie: fewer rows per inch because my yarn was thicker), but its really hard to say. This was one of those annoying patterns where part of the sweater is obscured in the beauty shot, so there's no way to know how its supposed to look. As you learn quickly with knitting, obscured pattern photos are never a good sign - but that's a subject for a completely different post!
Overall, I think my side seams could have been a little tidier (mattress stitch on reverse stocking stitch is hard to keep straight), but it wasn't enough to make me want to redo them. The sweater looks MUCH better than it did in the first photo, and that's really the goal. Hopefully this will be mostly dry by tomorrow, so I take it on my button run to Dressew and ButtonButton! :)
But back to blocking... hopefully this gives you a better understanding of how to wet block a sweater. This is a cotton sweater, so I probably could have steam blocked or 'pinned-then-spritzed' fronts to smooth everything out. That can be a finicky process, however, and I just find it so much easier to saturate the fabric and let the water do all the work. Questions? Comments? Post them below, and let's get this conversation started! :)