On swatching, part 3

A couple of weeks ago, I started a series of posts about how I knit the swatches for my stitch pattern posts. First I wrote a general description, then I provided charts and written instructions for the borders, and today I’m going to talk about blocking.

It is important to note that these are not gauge swatches, and so I take a shortcut that I wouldn’t use when making swatches to plan a finished garment.

A small swatchlet, with regular eyelets around the edge to make it easier to block.

Here is my teeny stitch pattern swatchlet. In the middle is the stitch pattern. It is surrounded by a narrow frame of stockinette stitches, and around that is a frame of eyelets.

I’m going to walk through how I use these eyelets to block my swatch.

Important note: If this were an actual gauge swatch, or a design planning swatch, it would be much bigger. I would also soak it in warm water for at least twenty minutes before pinning it out, and then leave it to dry completely before unpinning it.

However, since I knit these swatches for photography, I’ve found that I can get by without washing them for blocking. Most knitting doesn’t need to be stretched out for blocking; it needs to be washed and laid flat to dry. Lace is the major exception – wash it, stretch it out with pins, and maybe wires, and leave it to dry.

Anyway, I steam block my stitch pattern swatches. If I were wet blocking, the process of stretching it out would be the same as I show below. Here’s what I do.

Here is my unblocked swatch resting on my poor old ironing board cover, which looks like this even after washing. However, the straight lines are so useful for blocking that I won’t get rid of it without being able to replace it with something similar. (I made it out of an old cotton sheet. The lines are woven in, which makes them perfect for my purposes.)

Needles threaded through the edges of an unblocked swatch.

First, I thread metal double-pointed knitting needles through the eyelets on the edges. If either the top or bottom edge is wavy, and I didn’t put an eyelet row in, I sometimes thread a needle through the points to try to stretch them evenly; sometimes I just pin the points out.

If any of the edges are longer than my knitting needles, I use some blocking wires that I cut in pieces. (I went out and bought some TIG welding wire.)

At this point I put my iron over the swatch without touching it, and blast some steam at it. I don’t have a fancy iron; it’s whatever the iron was that Costco was selling the day I needed a new one. The main thing is that it can make extra steam when I push a button.

I steam the swatch before stretching it because it dampens the yarn. I haven’t tested this, but it is my guess that it helps relax the stitches.

the swatchlet stretched out on the ironing board, using pins.

Next I pin out the corners, using the lines on the ironing board to help me get the edges straight. Sometimes the horizontal edges are somewhere in between two lines, but it still helps me straighten things by eye.

If any of the edges are really long, I’ll sometimes put extra pins to keep the middle from bending.

And for the side edges, I can use a grid ruler to help me make sure I haven’t placed them at an awful angle. This isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough for this post.

Then I steam blast the swatchlet several times. Again, I don’t let the iron touch the wool directly.

Finally, I let it sit for about 20-30 minutes to dry out before I unpin it, because the steam dampens the yarn.

And there you have my method for blocking my finished lace swatches.