Blocking Makes a Difference

Blocking a piece of knitting is when you use steam or water to set the stitches of the knitted piece. It is considered the final step in most knitting projects, especially projects knit with wool.

I am a convert to the idea that blocking a finished project has any real value at all. I first noticed it when I washed a sweater I’d made recently. I was unhappy with the sweater. It has some bunchiness in places, and the braid at the hem and sleeves didn’t quite sit right. Well, after I washed the sweater, I laid it out to dry and decided to smooth out some stitches and generally see if I could set the knitting right.

By gum, it worked! In fact, it turned it from a sweater I wasn’t entirely happy with to a lovely creation that I am happy I made.

I know blocking will not solve every problem you encounter in knitting, but it does cure that “slightly sloppy and homemade”1 look you sometimes get when you bind off a project and weave in the ends.

I am making a pair of mittens for my son to match a hat he’s fond of. I just finished the first mitten, and since it is stranded colorwork, I decided to try out this new world of blocking.

On the left is my pre-baptismal knitting. Notice the stitches are a bit bunchy and don’t lie neatly. I gave it a good dunk in water, and being raised Southern Baptist, I did hold it under until it bubbled.2 Then I gently squeezed out some of the water, rolled it in a towel and got some more water out. With the piece damp, it is fairly easy to coax the stitches into proper shape. You can see on the right how the pattern is much cleaner and clearer, the stitches neater. When they dry, they’ll dry in place giving a nicer-looking mitten.


1 As opposed to hand-made. My grandmother used to differentiate between the two. Quality custom was hand-made. Half-assed, sloppy work was home-made.

2 One of the advantages of wool is that it doesn’t saturate quickly and retains insulation holding up to 30% of its weight in water. It takes some time to get it properly wet for blocking. Cotton wicks quickly, which is why you wear it when you desire cooling by evaporation, and why you hear the expression “Cotton kills” among people for whom hypothermia is a concern.

I Hate Stitching and Seaming

I’ve mentioned before that I knit in the round because I hate stitching and seaming sweaters. But even a sweater knit in the round will need some finishing. You have some “live” stitches at least under each arm when you attach your sweater to the body, and those stitches need to be taken care of.

There are several options. You could knit and graft a gusset. I’ve never done this, but if you needed greater range of motion than a knit fabric will usually give you (I’m presuming you’ll be doing yoga in it or something, as knitted fabrics generally don’t bind much), or if you have very very large upper arm, attaching a gusset might not be a bad idea. (I sometimes do that in the crotch of pants because I do have heavy thighs).

Otherwise, you’ll just be grafting together your knitted pieces.


The first picture shows the live stitches. They’re not attached to anything. The second picture shows those live stitches attached by the Kitchener stitch. I mostly hate the stich because I’m not very good at it. I actually have to knit a couple of swatches and practice before I try it on a sweater I am making. That may sound a bit retentive, but I’ve put a long time into making a sweater, so I don’t mind a little refresher to try to make a structural seam work properly.

Knitting Help has a great video on how to do the Kitchener stitch.

And yes, I have to chant to myself, “Knit, slip, purl, purl, slip, knit,” as I am doing it. Stop laughing at me. I can’t help it.

Not a Real Knitter

I’ve been reading Knitting Rules: The Yarn Harlot’s Bag of Tricks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not a real knitter. I have a yarn stash, yes. It’s contained in one, one bin in the bottom of my closet and is mostly made of leftover yarn from former projects. If I go to a yarn store, I know exactly what I need for my current project, and I buy exactly that. I do not fondle yarn. I’m not in love with yarn. While I do prefer 100% wool for my knitting, friends, Wool of the Andes is my go-to yarn.1 I don’t fondle the skeins and think about what the yarn “wants” to be. I think about what I want to make, then select the appropriate yarn. It’s not that I don’t love good construction materials. I live in Northern New England and there is a reason I love wool!

But apparently the real knitter has a stash that’s big enough to be embarrassing, but not so embarrassing that there isn’t a bit of brag going on. The real knitter hides how much one spends on yarn from partners. The real knitter could happily use the stash as a mattress. The real knitter is obsessed in yarn stores, fondles the different yarns and consults with it so that it is possible to discover what that yarn wants to be.

I admit it. I’m not a real knitter. I just make sweaters and socks and hats with sticks and string.


1 It’s about as inexpensive as you can get and still be knitting in 100% wool.

How to Know a Geek Knitter Loves You

The Yarn Harlot is knitting a Doctor scarf.

If you are not a knitter, but you are a Doctor Who fan, you might want one of the scarves of your very own. You might even think, “Hey, I wouldn’t think of asking someone to knit me the 7th Doctor vest,1 but a simple scarf? Surely (s)he wouldn’t mind!”

No, it’s not that the scarf would be hard to knit. It’s just 12 feet of garter stitch.

That’s the point. Twelve feet of garter stitch. Friends, unless you’re a knitter, you have no idea in the world how tedious that can get. I mean, you can talk about the idiot knitting of a sweater all you want to, but twelve feet of garter stitch… My word. Yes, I’ve done it, though it was years ago, and it turned me off learning any more complex knitting for about fifteen years.

What brings this to mind?

The sweater I am knitting for my son. I asked him what he wanted in a sweater. He wants a plain color –red. He doesn’t want any fancy patterning in the stitches, but a simple knitted hem and raglan sleeves. Thank goodness for sleeve and neckline shaping (I’m making a Seamless Raglan Sweater from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Without Tears) or it would be almost as bad as that Doctor scarf.

If you have ever been knitted a Fourth Doctor scarf, never doubt that you are loved by that knitter!


1 Reality check: This would be a pleasantly challenging but not too insane knit, especially if you could figure out way to do it in the round.

Knitting Around

I hate knitting flat. This is mostly because I just plain hate to sew up sweaters.

I have been doing some reading on knitting boards lately and it seems that people are passionate about whether or not to knit sweaters flat and then sew them up, or to knit them in the round. One lady commented that she only knits flat because she is a seamstress and simply cannot imagine constructing a garment in the round.


I found that really peculiar. You see, I am also a seamstress. The only thing I can figure is that the person discussing this tends to follow patterns exactly. I’ve noticed people who prefer to knit in the round have a high tendency to be their own designer as well. I’m sure there’s some Elizabeth Zimmerman influence there!

So, yeah, I prefer knitting in the round. I can add design elements for shaping, make choices about yarn, gauge and other things to control how the garment ultimately hangs, and just like the classical look of sweaters knit in the round, anyway. Oh, and I suck at seaming sweaters, as you can see from the pic at the right! That was the last sweater I knit flat. It was six years ago!

However, there are genuine advantages to knitting flat, if that’s your fancy. Your project is more portable. Since you’re working in a minimum of four pieces you don’t have to lug the whole thing around with you. Yes, you can knit the sleeves separately up to a point when knitting in the round, but there’s no doubt that ultimately the project will become a bit heavy and cumbersome come the finish. You can block your project before you sew it up to get a neater look. If you screw up, you might very well only have to correct one piece. Makes frogging easier without having to chuck the project.

Not that those advantages are enough to make me switch from knitting in the round, but they might be for many!

Knitters: What’s Your Thing?

I’ve started a sweater and I was perusing some knitting blogs when I noticed something cute about knitters. They tend to gravitate to specific types of projects. Me? Sweaters are definitely my thing. Oh, the first thing I ever knit was a scarf, same as most people, but my fondness for knitting really took off when I found a way to make sweaters I like.

I have another friend whose thing seems to be hats, especially hats that show off especially fine or elegantly-colored yarn. Sure, she spins and I think that’s part of what influences it, but she’s been into knitting hats for close on to ten years that I know of, and that was before she started spinning.

I know of another knitter who loves making lace shawls, and still another whose obsession seems to be socks. (My own secondary obsession. Hey, I live in Northern New England!)

But the common thread is that they’re all knitters and tend to have their knitting thing that they go back to and it makes them happy.

What’s your thing?

AutoBots, Roll Out!


I finished this sweater in January of 2009. The design is a slightly-modified Autobots logo. One of those things you have to blink to realize what it is like the We Call Them Pirates design. I call the sweater Autobots! Roll Out! It’s based on Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Seamless Yoke Sweater, and I’d like to think that she would approve of creating a geeky design for a kid fond of autobots.

Almost four years later, it is still a favorite sweater. Yes, a bit tighter, because my son is bigger. And while I can’t really do anything about the chest measurement, the arms and body were getting short. So, I did knit a few inches on the bottom and add a bit more to the sleeves.

But I don’t think this sweater is going to make it to his full growth!

Learning About Learning

I’m well into Tri-Aran-Angle — a wonderfully-designed shawl for a cold climate, by the way. If you want to practice making pretty cables, this is definitely a great pattern to use! I’ve have learned some things about my mental block in following knitting patterns.

The convention in knitting patterns is to give line by line instructions for the creation of a garment. If you follow it line by line, and trust the designer, you’ll get a nice product.

I don’t think step by step for anything I do. I need to understand the principles of the whole, why I’m performing an action, and then not only will I be able to do what’s needed, I might be able to create variations on it. I think one of the reasons I found Knitting Without Tears such a delightful knitting instruction book was that Ms. Zimmerman spent a lot of time teaching the principles behind what she was doing along with the instructions for how to create the garments – whether it was the percentage system for constructing a sweater, or why wool acts the way it does.

This type of learning style has had its consequences in other areas of my life. Probably one of the reasons I never became much of a pianist (other than the fact I was not willing to practice enough. That was the biggie!) was that I was not taught musical theory anywhere near early enough in my studies. Not blaming my piano teacher. I’m sure to her eyes not only was I too young and not nearly interested enough in music, I was far too unskilled to handle theory before I got the process down. I am a theory-based learner, no doubt about it. As an adult, knowing that has big advantages. It means that I can pretty much learn anything I want to without being at the mercy of teaching style. Heh… I ought to thank my third grade teacher for being such a rotten teacher, actually. She might have turned me off to school and caused me to distrust teachers, but that’s when I started trying (with inconsistent success) to learn things on my own.

So, back to knitting. Instead of following knitting patterns, I’m deconstructing them to get the theory behind the techniques. I really wish Elizabeth Zimmerman’s style of pattern description were more common than the line by line convention that’s so common, but I can understand why it’s not. That much expository writing is pretty time-consuming.

Do you ever think about your learning style? What is it, and why does it work for you? (Why yes, that is of professional interest to me!)

Charity Knitting and Challenges

So, having set myself the challenge of learning to knit from patterns properly, I started simply, and am going the Tri-Aran-Angle shawl.  Since it’s a shawl, getting the size wrong isn’t really a concern.  Also, I’m learning to do cables and such.

I’m actually doing the shawl for a the local hospital.  Like many places where people are in need of comfort, there is a Comfort Shawl project going on.   People who are caregivers for the elderly, or caring for very ill relatives, can get a hand-knit or hand-crocheted shawl if they want one.  There are people who find them a help in time of trial.  This one is a fairly heavy one, so it’s going to be like wrapping yourself in a security blanket.  Also, it’s appropriate for the cold winter weather.

So, what the heck?  I have yarn, the project looks like it’ll go fine, and someone can have a little something to feel better at a difficult time of life.  That works for me.

Knitting Confession

I’ve been knitting seriously for about six years. I can make basic socks, a scarf, mittens, whatever. I’ve posted pictures of some of my work, and it’s decent stuff. Wearable and attractive. Even creative. But most of the detail work in my knitting has been from stranded colorwork.

Confession. I don’t really know how to read a knitting pattern. Not well, anyway. Mostly, this is because I never knit to other people’s pattern, but use some design templates I’ve found such as Elizabeth Zimmerman’s seamless yoke sweater, or Wendy’s Generic Toe Up Socks, then added color details as it suited me. The colorwork? Mostly easy, because I learned how to do stranded colorwork from the We Call Them Pirates hat. Yes, that is a pattern, but using some really simple stitch techniques so I didn’t get bogged down in the chart. I’m confident enough with this kind of thing that a steeked Nordic sweater only presents the problem of what sort of pattern and colorwork would look cool on it.

However, I’d like to branch out. I’d like to make an Aran sweater; I’d like to add texture detail on socks. But for the most part, the charts with their symbols weren’t making sense to me.

Why? I was expecting to be able to skim them.

You can’t skim when you don’t know the language. Just sayin’.

I get this with my computer students all the time. They don’t have the vocabulary for whatever it is we’re doing, and it short circuits their brains. Abbreviations and symbols are difficult to decipher until you’re actually fluent in the language. When you’re used to things being easy and fluent, going back to it being tedious to decipher can be a bit of a difficult leap.

The simple fact is that while I can knit some classes of garments quite well, and am a structural thinker, until I’m fluent with the language, puzzling out the charts and patterns for textured knitting is going to be hard. Nothing wrong with that mind, but I’d gotten too used to knitting being easy and automatic and had forgotten that tacking on a new skill is going to require more concentration.