Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Little Bit Of Blocking

I don't know what is wrong with me. I ought to be writing a post most days, there is certainly lots to write about, but I just don't seem to have the time. My excuse is going to be that I have been knitting like mad over the last few weeks in an effort to make all the things that I want to give as Christmas presents. I've even managed to find time to knit a few commissions, a hat and mittens for one of my knitting group friends who is too busy to knit herself because she has started to make beautiful knitting project bags and is inundated with orders, and a lace scarf for her daughter to give to her Mum (she couldn't knit herself because Mum would have seen it and know it was for her).

It is this scarf that caused me to dream up the title for this post. The blocking concerned is not writer's block, but the blocking that is required to get a piece of knitting to its proper size and shape. You should really block all knitting before you start joining seams and doing the finishing touches, but I have never done that, because I know that I knit to tension and I am sure that the various pieces of any garment that I make will fit together easily.

But when it comes to lace knitting then blocking is essential. This is generally because you knit lace on much larger needles than would be expected for the thickness of the yarn. The resultant knitting usually curls around itself and has no real shape whatsoever. In order to block something you have to first soak it for some time so that every fibre of the yarn gets wetted, then you drain the water out of the bowl and squeeze out the excess water from the item to be blocked, first by squeezing it with your hands making sure that it is a squeezing action and not a wringing one, and then wrapping it in an absorbent towel to get rid of as much water as possible.

The scarf that I had to block this morning was knitted in a lovely yarn made from kid mohair and silk. The yarn is a delight to knit with but as anyone who is familiar with mohair will know the yarn has lots of fibres protruding from the yarn; it's these that give mohair its tremendous warmth capability. I put the scarf into the bowl of tepid water and it just floated on the top of it. The water just wasn't getting into the fabric at all. It took a good five minutes of prodding and poking to make sure that every stitch of the scarf had absorbed the water. Half an hour later with the scarf damp and creased from the squeezing action it was time to get the blocking wires and pins out and lay the scarf out on a couple of towels, pull it to shape, then insert the wires and add a few pins to make sure that it was kept stretched to shape while it dried.

Eight hours later I took the pins and wires out and lifted the scarf from the towels. I held up a beautiful scarf with its lace pattern clearly visible and the points at each end of the scarf firmly shaped. It will be going to knitting group with me tomorrow so that I can hand it over to the person who commissioned me to make it.

I have another scarf on the floor now. This one is a far more elaborate lace design and is made from a yarn that is a mix of baby alpaca, cashmere and silk. This one absorbed the water far more readily but I was surprised to find that the water had changed colour when I came to drain it away. Then I remembered that the yarn is from a company that uses natural dyes and so a certain amount of colour should be expected to come out of the yarn when it is first wetted.

This scarf was a little easier to apply the wires to because of the eyelets that are a few stitches in from the edge on all four sides. I'm hoping that it will be dry in the morning and I can block another scarf before I head off for knitting group. I have five scarves and I shawl to block in total and the shawl will require me to move all the furniture around in my room so as to ensure that I have a large enough area on which to lay it out.

I think that in future I will block each item as soon as it is completed so as to not have this blocking frenzy that I am going to have to endure over the next week. But at least it is keeping me busy and I don't have time to think about how difficult the next few weeks are going to be for me.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Burning The Candle At Both Ends

It has been three weeks since I last blogged. Every morning I wake up and say to myself that I must write something today but never do. It is perhaps in part because I don't think that anything very exciting has happened to me, but more realistically the reason is that I seem to have been burning the candle at both ends.

I have been frantically knitting during every spare moment to complete the things that are to be Christmas presents. The big pieces are now finished and awaiting blocking, and just a few small items still need to be done. Hopefully they can be completed fairly quickly, but I have been commissioned to knit a few other items so they have to take precedence. The consequence of all this is that I seem to be constantly searching for more hours in the day while getting more and more tired as each day passes. In fact, I have been so busy that I haven't had time to be depressed.

Thursday evenings are taken up with teaching my crochet class. Two groups of students have now completed the course and gone out into the world with new skills and an enthusiasm to continue improving. Another course has been squeezed in before Christmas and like the previous two is completely sold out. It just goes to show that there is a real desire by people to learn the old skills of knitting and crochet because the knitting courses are regularly full too.

I'm going to have a few weeks break from teaching after the New Year so that I can spend some time with the Thursday knitters, something that I miss out on when I am teaching, but a fourth course should begin about the middle of January. The break will also mean that I can do some knitting for myself for a change. I need some new woollies, so I shall be knitting myself a cardigan and a sweater to remedy this situation.

Last week I was asked to move from the building that I have been living in since July to one just around the corner from it. So the bags had to be packed (I couldn't believe how much yarn I had accumulated in my stash) and I moved into my new (temporary) accommodation. I now have a much larger room, my own bathroom, and fantastic kitchen facilities shared with the other residents in the house. I see little of my neighbours, who are all male, nor do I hear much of them when they are in.

Yesterday I decided that I would have a go at making a cake. I'm not a spectacular cook, but I can be quite innovative when I want to be and being someone who really doesn't like Christmas cake because I just don't like currants, sultanas and raisins, I have been mentally developing a cake recipe for some weeks now that would be a tasty replacement for the more traditional cake.
The end result was a quite dark coloured cake (that was the dark brown sugar rather than it being burned) which was filled with glacé cherries, chunks of dark chocolate, walnut pieces, cranberries (okay, so these were dried but I plumped them up again by putting them in saucepan with the juice of two oranges and one lemon and lemon zest and orange rind). I had a slice (or two) last night and while the cake is definitely not repulsive it still needs a little work on the recipe but I think I know what to do to improve it and I will be experimenting with the recipe again in a couple of weeks to hopefully produce something that is a bit closer to what I was trying to achieve. I think that I had better write down the recipe so that I know what I am tweaking as further test cakes are made.

So. having sat in bed with my laptop on my knees, I don't really have any excuses for not writing on a more regular basis again, and that is what I propose to do. I shall write a post before I get up in the morning and woe betide me if I make an excuse not to do so