Tag Archives: blocking

Journal: The lesson is learned


Harlequin shirt blocking

So, I’ve finished the big knitting project I’ve been talking about recently. I am pretty unhappy with the result, unfortunately. On the other hand, I learned a *lot* from this project, and have positioned myself to make a much better attempt when I can muster the resolve to frog this thing and start over.

Ugh, curl. The back is actually worse, but harder to get photos of.

Ugh, curl. The back is actually worse, but harder to get photos of.

Lesson 1, which I should’ve known by now: knitting tends to curl, particularly at the edges. The part I learned new was that my oh-so-clever vertical-shaping technique, sections of (k1, slip 1)/(p1, slip 1) curls like nobody’s business. I was planning not to block this piece, thus I used a non-blocked swatch to get my measurements, but the relentless curling forced my hand.

Lesson 2, which I knew but didn’t think would be an issue, see above; blocking changes the size of knitted items, even if it’s not lace, even if you don’t stretch and pin it while it dries. In this particular case, it didn’t change the width (I measured while it was drying), but did change the length significantly—meaning that the arm holes gaped open to half again their desired length, and suddenly the careful waist shaping I had done was coming in around my hips, leaving the waist loose and flapping. Terribly, terribly unbecoming photos, before (curl) and after (bad fit):

Lesson 3: blocking helps with curl, but doesn’t entirely fix it, especially on drapey bits. Post-blocking, the curling up of the back neck, arm hole, and bottom edges was basically fixed, but I couldn’t get the front neck to drape nicely without curling all up (see photos above). Lesson I wouldn’t have learned without making this project, so I consider it a gain.

Lesson 4: horizontal stripes are really that bad. This comes back to the color of yarn I picked, which I was waffling about how much I liked all throughout this project. If I try a project like this again—knitting a shirt starting from the back armpit, over the shoulders, reconnecting at the front armpit, and in the round down—I will definitely use a non-variegated yarn, or one with a short enough repeat length that the effect is blotches rather than stripes. With this yarn, I think I will go back to the idea I started with, now that I have more confidence in my drafting abilities: working it diagonally.

Lesson 5, actually a positive one: drafting from sewing patterns works. I need to be a bit more careful in choosing the pattern to start from—some of the unflattering fit is because I started from a pattern eased to pull over one’s head when made from non-stretch fabric. Plus due to curl a drape-neck pattern is probably infeasible. However, on the whole the project came out exactly as I (should have) expected: the shaping scheme worked, and once I got the hang of it the translation from paper sewing pattern to written knitting pattern is not that hard to do.

Another way I came out ahead is I now have a very, very large swatch made up, in a yarn and needle size combination that I like working in, that’s blocked. The large swatch will help me get better measurements for future projects, including accounting for the effect of gravity on the length. I am lazy and impetuous enough that I never would’ve bothered making such a large swatch in advance of an actual project, so this is a fairly big win for me.

I’d love to hear any tips y’all have for better drafting/pattern design for knitting—I feel like I am groping in the dark a bit, and coming at this from a funny angle, and could benefit from others’ wisdom.

Journal: 7 June 2014

Since my last journal post I feel like I’ve gotten a lot done—mostly in that I finished the knit lace shawl that I’ve been working on. Also, wonder of wonders, I’ve completely cleared my backlog of sewing projects, although there’s plenty of yarn around and I manufactured a new sewing project out of thin air (read: my several cubic feet of scrap fabric).

First, the shawl. I have to give kudos to this pattern; it was a delight to work from start to finish. I did end up modifying a little: I am too much of a coward to work nupps on a shawl that’s already been in progress for a month, and I had enough yarn left as I was approaching the end that I added a few rows (repeated rows 3-10 of the “Lace Border” section). I mentioned on here that based on the yardage estimates I didn’t think two skeins would be enough, but I came in comfortably under and didn’t have to use the white yarn I bought. I’m a little tempted, actually, to rip it out and make something bigger that will use all three skeins—not very tempted, mind you, but a little. At any rate, I took a bunch of pictures of the finishing process and the finished shawl:


Purple mandarin-collar shirt

Meanwhile I was also working on a Mandarin-collar blouse, which I finished shortly before the shawl. This is Simplicity 5098 style D. I’ve had this pattern for a while, and in the meantime went up a size, so I freehand increased the size and moved the marks while I was cutting; I’m rather proud that it all came together so well. Not much to say about this one, other than that this style of shirt does well with busy prints that would be overwhelming on a button-down or something—at least in my opinion. Perhaps I should mention, I took out the zipper that the pattern calls for and made the shoulder buttons functional, which is a pretty easy alteration to make.


Button detail

I finally pulled out the sewing machine again and finished my second tote bag; I don’t have any pictures because it looks just like the other one, but I’m happy to finally bust this months-old WIP. I had stalled out because my sewing machine was throwing a fit over stitching so many layers of canvas, and just didn’t want to deal with it any more—but when I got it back out after a long break, it was surprisingly well-behaved (read: I only had to rip out and re-do about half the stitching due to tension issues or thread breakage; I seriously need a better machine).


Flannel capris. Seriously I cannot emphasize enough how comfy these are.

Finally, I made myself a new pair of wear-around-the-house flannel flare capris. They are so comfortable; I am a little sad that I need to be presentable this evening, or I’d’ve worn them today after finishing them off last night. These are made from the same pattern as I used for slacks recently, but cut with each leg being one piece (front and back panels connected) so they have no inseam to rub and annoy. They’re also flared on the outside leg seams, have a side zipper and two-button closure, and an in-seam pocket on the other side, all made of soft flannel. If anybody’s interested I can put up a real tutorial on these, but it requires having a pants pattern that fits you already, and I guess not many people have made their own pants before? Anyway, register interest in the comments.


Pieces for blue patchwork shirt; front on the left and back on the right.

Finally, because I can’t sit still for long, I cut fabric and started in on a new patchwork blouse, this time in shades of light blue. Again I am using Simplicity 1462, the same pattern I used for the brown patchwork shirt which is currently my favorite item of clothing. Hopefully I will like this one just as much—it’s entirely from stash scraps, like the other, although with a less pronounced color gradient and overall fewer different fabrics. The sleeves came from a single quarter flat, so, note to future self: that is doable, although it required some creative pattern placement and I cut into the seam allowances in places to make it fit.

Pattern: Blackbird shawl


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That’s the back of a full-sized couch with my shawl spread over it.

Just in time for it to stop being shawl and sweater season, I finally finished the knit shawl I have been working on since January. It’s only my second/third (second to start, third to finish) serious knitting project ever, so there were some hitches along the way, but I am all kinds of happy with the result. Despite being unable to wear it for more than ten minutes at a time because it is too warm out.

100_1198 (1024x768)The design is supposed to look like a red-wing blackbird’s wing, with a vivid red bar set in black. What can I say, I was feeling nostalgic for the marshy woods that I rambled through as a child, and all the lovely critters therein. If I could knit a bard owl’s hoot or a mourning dove’s song you better believe I would. Anyway, I chose to use a dark gray instead of glossy black for the bulk of it and omit the smaller yellow bar because what am I going to do with the leftover yellow yarn? I also wanted to do lace and wanted to play with way oversized needles in sock yarn; I don’t remember why but I regret nothing.

I wrote up a PDF pattern for Ravelry, so I’ll post that here as well: blackbird shawl. More than the pattern itself, though, I want to document the drafting process here, along with what I learned.

The pattern started with a design inspiration in my head, rather than with yarns in front of me, so hitch #1: I went to the yarn store and I found myself some dark-grey (well, more on that later) sock yarn, but I could not find a single skein of bright red yarn in the shop. That may be a lie, there may have been some cheap acrylic stuff in bright red, but nothing of remotely the right weight or in decent fibers. Fortunately I had a fall-back plan: red wool-blend something or other left over from crochet scarf experiments I made in the tenth grade. Unfortunately it wasn’t the same weight as my beloved serenity sock weight yarn, so: hitch #1. I decided to roll with it, see how it went, and resign myself to maybe frogging the thing after a few rows and trying something else.

Hitch #2: when I got home and started entering the project on Ravelry, I noticed that the colorway of the dark-gray yarn, instead of being “charcoal” as I had assumed (having worked with the charcoal colorway of the same yarn before), it was “navy”. To me, there was not a trace of blue in the yarn, but when I went to show this ridiculous colorway name to a friend, he guessed right away it was navy and insisted it was a slightly grayish blue. I’ve shown it to a couple more people, and some of them agree with me, and some of them agree with him. Depending on lighting conditions, too, some photos appear more blue than the yarn does in life, but some appear perfectly gray. I am torn between thinking the friend is silly and wondering if there is some strange dye in the yarn that hits different people’s eyes differently. Anyway, it’s a hitch in that it’s not going to look anything like a blackbird to the people who see blue in it, but the friend likes how it looks anyway, so only a minor hitch.

Hitches aside, I set to gauge-swatching and drafting. I settled on size 10 needles, which gave me 21 st and 22 rows to 4″ in stockinette. Measuring around my shoulders gave a desired length of 40″, and from shoulder past my elbow gave a desired width of 15″. I decided to work the shawl sideways so I could change the length on the fly, and this pattern (ravelry) inspired me to work in trapezoidal repeats, making the bottom edge of the shawl twice as long as the top edge. The 15″ width gave me 79 stitches as a starting number for my cast-on. The trapezoidal pattern, though, and my plan to work in lace because stockinette would bore me to death, puts some restrictions on the cast-on.

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Gauge swatch, materials and my thinkin’ notebook.

First, I was thinking about lace. I’ve found that basically all lace in knitting comes down to yarn overs, which make a hole, and decreases of various sorts, which make up for the fact that yarn overs are increases. One of the simplest lace patterns you can do is yarn-over, knit-2-together, slip-slip-knit, yarn over, separated from each other by some number of knit stitches. It’s symmetrical, it’s easy once you get the hang of the ssk, and it looks good just by itself. After making a couple of different swatches, I settled on separating the lace motifs by 6 knit stitches (or 3 on each side), purling every wrong side stitch, and offsetting every other right-side row so the lace motifs were centered between the lace motifs of the previous row. This gave me a couple more starting numbers to work with: the shawl had to be a multiple of 10 stitches wide, plus maybe a couple buffer stitches on the ends, and a multiple of 4 rows (2 right-side and 2 wrong-side) long.

Second I needed to think about my trapezoids. I planned to do some number of full rows, then the same number of short rows, decreasing evenly in length. This wanted to be a multiple of my lace repeat, and 4 each just seemed like too few, so I went with 8 full rows and 8 short rows. To decrease evenly from the full row to the shortest short row, this meant that my cast-on had to be a multiple of 8+1=9 stitches. I took my starting number of 79 and rounded up to 9×9=81. This also went well with my lace motif of 10 stitches; I added one stitch of buffer at the top, and didn’t have a lot of dead space like I would’ve with 9 buffer stitches.

General rule for a repeating-trapezoid shawl: choose some even number, N, of full rows and make the same number of short rows. If your cast-on is X stitches, each short row should be X/(N+1) stitches shorter than the previous row, and the last short row should be X/(N+1) stitches long. This includes the wrong-side, purl rows: coming back, slip X/(N+1) stitches before you begin purling so that the row of new stitches will be shorter. This means that ideally X will be a multiple of N; otherwise you will have to fudge things a bit.

Hitch #3: you may notice my lace motif length (10 stitches) and my short row length increment (81/9=9 stitches) are not the same. This means that some short row ends fall in the middle of lace motifs and some fall at the edges, which doesn’t work if the last stitch of a row is a yarn over. So some finessing and replacing lace by knit stitches is required.

I had to figure out how the lace interacted with the trapezoids, and I decided to keep it fairly simple: if I could fit a full repeat of the lace in a group of short rows, I would; otherwise, I’d replace it throughout the group with knit stitches. So, in the first short row of the first group of 4, there’s 72 stitches, meaning 7 lace repeats, but the fourth short row has only 45 stitches, meaning only 4 repeats. Actually I fudged this one a little and made it 5. The last short row has only 9 stitches, so there shouldn’t be any lace repeats in this one, but again I fudged it on the first row of the group and made one. The third short row of each group has one fewer repeat, just like in the full rows. The goal was to not have sections where a lace row #1 followed a lace row #1 without a lace row #3 in between, as well as to avoid ending the row and turning the work in the middle of a yarn over.

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Work in progress: one trapezoid and the next two full rows done

Last I needed to figure out my colorwork. I didn’t want to mess with floats, my tension is very bad, but I wanted the red bars to be fully enclosed by the dark gray. So I put the red on the insides of the short rows, where I could keep the main color yarn down at the bottom edge, and the full rows (and longer short rows; I only put the red on the second set of 4) would enclose the top edge. I switched colors on the 5th stitch, which fell between the k2tog and ssk of the lace motif and gave a pretty good width.

Hitch #4: short rows. I don’t actually know much about short rows, or rather I started this project before looking up how to do them correctly. If you are interested, go to youtube for some great tutorials. So I didn’t realize that short rows were more involved than just, y’know, doing some number of stitches and then turning the work and coming back—turns out doing this leaves some holes in your work. Ah well, I’m doing a lace pattern anyway, a couple extra holes don’t matter.

Hitch #5: also short rows. I’m not actually sure how you’re supposed to do shallow trapezoids like I wanted in knitting. Maybe you just shouldn’t do it. Maybe you are supposed to do slip stitches like I did, but leave this great long float behind the work. I decided to weave the float into the slipped stitches, alternating whether the yarn is in front or in back. I am not entirely pleased with how it came out, since it creates these stark vertical lines in the shawl, but happier than I would have been with any of the alternatives I could think of.

So, I started working: 81 stitches cast on, 8 full rows of lace, 4 short rows in gray, 4 short rows with red. Repeat, working the first full row straight into all these abandoned stitches and slipped stitches built up on the needle. Repeat 29 more times, worrying sometimes that I didn’t have enough yarn and sometimes that I had too much and would have an awkward amount left over. This is three months of intermittent work I’m eliding here, by the way. Run out of yarn on the second short row of a set, work backwards to pull out the two short rows, cast off. Now it’s time for blocking.

100_1185 (1024x768)Now, I’ve never blocked anything before, but I had done my research, so I (thoroughly cleaned my bathroom sink and) gently washed my precious precious shawl in warm water and a little detergent and laid it out on all the clean towels in my house. By the way, 35″x60″ bath towels are like, the best thing humankind has invented to date. I was prepared with some sewing pins, since I don’t have fancy blocking tools, and somewhat worried that they’d rust all over my precious precious shawl, and ended up not using them because it lay flat and shape-able quite well just with the weight of the water and friction with the towel.

100_1177 (1024x802) I hadn’t done enough research to be prepared for quite how much it stretched out. Call this hitch #6. I did my gauge swatches, but didn’t want to waste yarn or time, so I didn’t block them. Mistake! So suddenly my made-to-fit shawl had expanded by 20%+ in each dimension and wasn’t really made-to-fit any more. Compare the two pictures at right, before and after blocking; before shows my elbows a100_1200 (1024x968)nd after overhangs them by a ways. Good thing I like oversized snuggly things. I am not sure if this is a property of lace in general, or if my way oversized needles contributed. In any case, I am going to consider this another in a long line of lessons to me about taking my time at the beginning of projects, similar to all the sewing projects I didn’t pre-wash and then could only wear once because they shrunk in the first washing. Yes, that took more than one instance for me to learn it. Anyway, the shawl is not too huge, even stretched, it is just larger than I intended.

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Wrong side, not as pretty as the right side but not too bad either

Hitch #7, the final hitch. I had been carrying the red yarn along behind the work between sections, catching it in the thread every second row, because I hate cutting yarn before the project is finished, and I would rather carry it along than have to weave in ends or make lots of knots. I was planning to leave it this way—the floats were tidy and pretty much invisible behind the gray—until I blocked it! Blocking the lace made it pretty much functionally transparent. Plus, somehow it had never occurred to me that in a shawl, the wrong side is going to be pretty visible a lot of the time, and my floats were tidy but not that tidy. So I went through clipping the red thread between wedges, tying it off, and weaving in the ends, and now am much happier with how it looks both from the right and wrong sides.

Anyway, despite all the hitches along the way I am quite pleased, and will be wearing this a lot just as soon as the colder weather comes back.

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