Project Spectrum and Killing Acrylic

Project Spectrum... again?

Lolly, purveyor of colour-focused projects for years (and photographer of the image above), is about to launch the fifth round of Project Spectrum. If you've managed to miss this incredibly popular project, PS is a seven-month-long guided exploration of colour in the context of creating and creativity. This round's theme is primary and secondary colours, so it's a great way to get intimately acquainted with the basics (and not-so-basics) of colour theory. I've intended to participate in Project Spectrum in the past, but my limited crafting time right now makes me determined to use this round as a guide and a nudge to keep creativity at the forefront of my otherwise addled-by-sleep-deprivation mind.

The project isn't limited to any particular medium — you can participate through crafting, sure, but also through photography, writing, cooking, whatever. There's a Flickr group and a Ravelry group for connecting with other participants and sharing your creations, and Lolly's started a Tumblr for the project too.

So, about that killing of acrylic. "Killing" is what some crafters call it when you steam block acrylic or other synthetic yarns. Now, many people skip blocking when they use synthetic yarns, as these yarns tend to drape well on their own (depending on how they've been crocheted, of course). Also, synthetics aren't as versatile in blocking as natural fibres are. With natural plant- and animal-based fibers, often all it takes is some pinning and a spritz of water to completely alter the quality of the fabric. Pinning and spritzing synthetics usually results in nothing but damp fabric.

When I finished my sample of the Bullseye Pet Mat pattern, the centre of the motif wasn't lying flat. I'd tugged at it a bit as I worked, but it still bulged out a bit. So when I was finished, I steam blocked the mat. I didn't pin it, I just held my steaming iron a couple of inches over the centre of the mat for a few seconds. Worked like a charm.

When I tweated about the magic steam blocking can work on acrylic, designer Amy O'Neill Houck replied that I'd "killed" the fabric – that even washing it will never result in the fabric springing back to its original, unblocked state. Which, frankly, was fine for the pet mat. I didn't want that bulge ever to come back, and I imagine the mat will be washed fairly frequently.

But killing fabric may not be desirable if you're making a garment. One of the great things about natural fibres is their tendency to sproing back. Even cotton, that can be heavy and stretch out, can be pretty much shrunk back to its original size after washing. Not so with killed synthetics.

Amy recently linked to a great blog post over at The Laughing Willow about this very topic. The blogger does a side-by-side comparison of blocking methods with acrylic yarn. It's worth a read!

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