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Fun with Soggy Wool

Wool is my friend. I love knitting it, spinning with it, making handmade felt with it, wearing it, touching it, thinking about it. I talk to my knitting students about wool as though it were a person at times. It does have a personality, of sorts.

Wool loves water. It’s a miracle fiber without petroleum content – a natural miracle. If you get caught in the rain wearing a wool jacket or sweater, the fiber can absorb about 30% of its weight in water before it feels wet.

Not only that, wool is warm even when it is wet. This is why hunters have historically worn heavy wool socks. Even if the occasional puddle splashes or floods the socks,  warmth is still assured.

The Dreaded B Word

Many new knitters hear about “blocking” knitting by looking at photos of elegant and fancy lace shawls blocked out with a lot of pins, to a beautiful shape. This is in fact one excellent example of how much wool will benefit from water.

When one knits lace, it looks like a horrible crumpled mess when it comes off the needles. However, a nice soak in water with a little bit of detergent or wool wash in it, and a gentle roll in a towel prepares it for magic.

Amazing lace comes out of this damp experience… after being pinned carefully (with rust-free pins) and dried fully. Once the pins come out, the fabric is nothing like the crumple it started out as, and quite magical instead.

Just look at these first two photos. Heather knit this version of my Colorama Crescent Shawl in a single yarn… Spectre by my friend Rita of Yarn Hollow. In these photos the shawl drapes beautifully at the edge, in a way that knitting straight off the needles can’t do. It had to be blocked to become its fully-beautiful self.

Simple, Make-You-Look-Good Blocking

There is a lot of knitting, though, which is not lace. It does not need any pins at all. It just wants to even out its stitches a bit, to look more finished. Water can make that happen.

If you go to a textile museum and look at old knitting, it may appear that the knitter of old was able to make every stitch totally even. It appears that all the stitches would be flat and perfect.

In reality, that item has likely been washed dozens of times. Each wash allows the stitches to even themselves out more. Voila! Perfectly even stitches.

Going with What Is

Here is an example. I knit two versions of my Sprite Cowl for KnitCircus and sent them off for a photo shoot followed by a traveling trunk show. However, I wanted one for myself.

I found two similar purple yarns in my stash, one 50gm ball each, and knit for myself. I ran out of those yarns at the very end of the main knitting. I had none of the yarn left for the i-cord (knitted tube) edging.

Fortunately, neither of the yarns was a solid color. When you have flecks or subtle color changes in a yarn, you need not *match,* you need only find something that will *go* with it.

I found a lighter magenta yarn in silk/alpaca, which worked well with flecks in one of the two yarns. I made lengths of i-cord with the yarn alone, and then held along with a light purple mohair laceweight yarn. (See photo at right; the left side has i-cord with one strand, the left shows two strands.)

The two-stranded version looked tweedy like the fabric of the main piece. I made my edgings from that. I’m pleased with how that turned out.

Imperfect = Good Enough

Once I finished the edgings, I took a look at what I had. It was rather amusing. The dense gauge I’d knit (to keep out the wind on a winter walk) had a shape of its own.

Even though the yarns were soft on their own, the knitted structure I’d made was rather firm. Take a look.

It made an amusing hat on me, yes? I had fun with taking this photo. A chuckle is a good thing.

Wool Bath

I’m glad I knew the easy solution. I filled up a basin with warm water, added a little wool wash (a detergent which does not require rinsing out – it helps break the surface tension of the water), and let it soak a while.

Here my purple Sprite is in her inaugural bath:

Once she’d soaked long enough to be fully saturated, I pulled the plug and let the water drain out slowly. I pressed the piece gently (no wringing, to avoid shrinking) and then rolled it in an old, clean towel.

At this point I stretched the piece gently from top to bottom. I then stretched it from side to side. At that point I allowed it to relax mostly into the size of stitches it wanted to have.

It was clear that the points would need a little more encouragement. I tugged and pinched a bit on the i-cord edges top and bottom, to make the wet item look closer to my vision of a zigzag/chevron.

I made a choice to use just a few pins, to make more exaggerated points on the piece. However, hand-worked points would have still shown off the basic shape.

At that point, I let it dry. I used a sweater drying rack near our old heat vent.

The next morning, it was dry and ready to wear. The cool part? That blocking made the stitches settle in to a softer and drapeable fabric. See how the story ends?

I love this piece! I wear it a lot when I go on my evening walks.

Can you see how even those stitches appear? Trust me, I’m not a consistent knitter. Creative, yes. Quick, mostly. Consistent? Nope.

Yes, I meant it. Wool loves water!

5 Responses to “Fun with Soggy Wool”

  1. kathy b Says:

    this is by far and away the best thing I’ve read about knitting and wool in a very long time!! Hooray> I’m going to send some readers here……You make me want to block socks now!! Before I give them as gifts!!!!

  2. Otterwise Says:

    I like wool, and wool likes me. Together we are happy, as happy as can be! SO glad I am not allergic to wool.
    Much rather have wool than oranges!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Blocking gift socks makes the gift look better, and shows off your work. Totally recommended!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I’m with you (and thanks for the rhyme). I’d much rather be allergic to a list of foods than miss out on wool. Yay!

  5. Jamworks Says:

    Coming in late to comment… that I love your Sprite Cowl and got such a laugh over the before-blocking-photo (where you’re wearing the cowl on your head). Blocking transformed it into such a beauty. Thanks for taking the time to describe the process of blocking.

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