Blocking Tips: Acrylic and Other Non-Woolly Fibers

Note from Sandi: There were so many questions on blocking different sorts of fibers when I ran last week's posts on blocking that I decided to expand a bit on some tips I gave when this series was originally published in July of 2007. Here's a few thoughts on blocking non-wool fibers…

(Are you the kind of person who learns by watching? Episode 103 of the first season of Knitting Daily TV has a great lace blocking demo, and Episode 201 of the upcoming second season shows how to block large projects! Buy the Season One DVD or pre-order the Season Two DVD.)

Choose the right method for your fiber
Which blocking method should you use for which fiber?

Do you block acrylic and other non-sheepy, non-planty fibers? I've heard blocking kills them! What kills acrylic and some other human-made fibers is direct application of heat. So: Don't iron them. (If you must apply steam, keep the iron or steamer high enough above the fabric so you don't melt or scorch the yarn.)

But Sandi, tell us the ANSWER: Do you NEED to block acrylic? Welllll. Here's where I have to make an admission. I have not knit with acrylic yarn since I was a teenager, so I don't actually have any personal experience with this. What I do know is that many experienced knitters say you don't need to block acrylic. Given that, and given that I believe deep in my knitter's heart that blocking has miraculous results, if I were to knit something out of acrylic (or any other unfamiliar fiber, for that matter), I would knit five swatches–yes, five–and then try a different blocking method on each one: immersion, steam, spray, jelly-roll-of-wet-towels, and no blocking at all. I might use pins on one or two, and just pat out the others. After they dried, I would evaluate the look, feel, and drape of each swatch. The swatch I liked best would be my guide for blocking the finished garment.

What about cotton? Cotton is extremely non-elastic, so the key here is to be very careful not to stretch the fabric out of shape during the blocking process. If you use a wetting method that gets the knitting thoroughly wet, make sure to support the fabric so that it doesn't hang and get pulled by its own weight. And of course, cotton will shrink with the application of too much heat, so watch the iron/steamer/hot water and keep the temperatures low to medium. 

How about linen? Ah, linen…fiber of Egyptian queens and kings. Linen is extraordinarily strong, and surprisingly, is actually stronger when wet. For the Spring 2006 issue of Interweave Crochet, I designed a lace capelet out of a green linen. That capelet took me so long to design that I was horribly afraid of damaging it during the blocking process, so I read everything I could get my hands on about blocking linen. Here's the method I came up with, based on my studies: I soaked the capelet in hot water and organic liquid detergent for forty-five minutes, to allow the fibers to get thoroughly wet. Then I rinsed the garment in cold water–the shock of the temperature change allows the fibers to break down and soften just a bit. I repeated this hot/cold cycle a couple of times, then soaked the capelet in hot water one more time. While the garment was dripping wet, I placed it in a Tupperware container, sprinkled lavender buds over it, sealed the container, and put it in the freezer overnight. (Yes, I am totally serious.) Next morning, I rinsed the garment in warm water until the ice melted, then whacked it against the counter a few times to loosen things up. I spread it out on a rack to let it drip dry a bit; then I took a hot iron and ironed every little lace flower into place, letting things cool completely before moving them off the ironing board. I know this sounds totally and completely wacky, but all the sources I read said to subject the linen to a little bit of abuse in order to soften the fibers. And I'm telling you: That capelet is the softest, shiniest, most durable garment I have ever owned. It's completely luscious to the touch and a joy to wear.

Which wetting method did you use for the Bonsai? My yarn is Berroco Bonsai, an absolutely lovely bamboo ribbon yarn, with drape and a teeny, tiny bit of "crunch" that adds texture and memory. I blocked my swatch using my garment steamer (I LOVE my garment steamer), but I wasn't thrilled with the results. The heat seemed to take away a bit of the sheen of this lovely yarn. So for the back of my tunic, I used the spray method, and sprayed liberally until the fabric was quite damp. I was really happy with how it came out. REMEMBER: You might prefer how your garment looks when steam-blocked! It's YOUR knitting, not mine. Experiment to find a way that works for you.

On Wednesday: What do you use if you don't have a blocking board?

Sandi's Picks For The Holidays

I always think of the holidays as a time of storytelling–we tell the stories of our traditions, our families, and our beliefs in our celebrations and in our gatherings. I like to listen to stories on CD while I am knitting and travelling–audiobooks make the stitches and the time fly by. May I suggest two audiobooks of knitting stories for you? Knitting Memories and Knitting Lessons, both edited by Lela Nargi and distributed by Interweave Press, are collections of tales by famous knitters such as Clara Parkes, Teva Durham, Vicki Howell, Trisha Malcolm, Kathryn Alexander, and more, narrated by an Audie-award winner (an Audie is the Oscar of the audiobook world). Listen to an excerpt from Knitting Memories; we have an excerpt from Knitting Lessons online as well. Look for these audiobooks at your local yarn shop, or buy them in our online store.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles this week? I took my Leaf and Nupp Shawl to Alabama with me, as well as the Aran Slippers. How far did I get? Check back later this week for photos!

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