Wires? I have my blocking mats, I have my blocking pins, and I even own blocking combs by now. Whyever would I also need wires?! you may ask.
Using wires, in the first instance, can seem a tad strange we admit. However, in our endeavour to aid you in ensuring all the hard work you put into your creations is shown off to its very best advantage we thought a little chat about this may be of interest. We have even incorporated a short history lesson! By the way, if you are new to our family and wish to read why we choose to concentrate on blocking and why we are so passionate about it, see our earlier posts, especially for the basics on How to Wash Wool, How to Block & Do I need to Block My Knitting.
A brief reminder of how to block your knitting or crochet
- Soak your folded section pieces or finished item in a bowl of lukewarm water and a generous dollop of KnitIQ wool wash.
- After 15 - 30 minutes remove and create your 'swiss roll' of garment and towels.
- Now if the weather is being kind and you have outside space lay your blocking mats out in a drying spot.
- If the weather is misbehaving, pick a spot indoors where the cat won't use it as a nest, the dog won't steal it to play, and big or little people won't trip over it.
- Unwrap your Swiss Roll and gently place your project on your Knit IQ Extra Thick Blocking Mats with Grids, pat it into shape, and pin it to the desired measurements using a combination of blocking combs, T pins and wires as desired.
- Depending on the thickness of your garment, you may need to turn the item over after 12 hours, or once the top is touch dry.
There are certain things that don't require a full wet block, and indeed may land you in strife should you attempt it: Large blankets we are looking at you here! On the other hand, some items benefit hugely from blocking. Lace work in particular will look like a completely different item once blocked. Completing the blocking process and watching the distinction and bloom develop as it dries will leave you hooked. We promise.
But first a little snippet of history
For generations lacework, especially shawls, have been blocked using wires or wire substitutes in order to show off their beauty. These were often created as true heirloom pieces. A shawl created for a bride would become a christening shawl holding memories and history as passed down for generations.
Some of the early methods of blocking recorded the use of everyday objects such as wooden boards - sometimes covered in sacking or hessian to prevent snagging - plus wires salvaged from chicken coops or gardens, and nails to secure blocked items such as arans and guernseys.
Obviously, these days you have our wonderful mats and T-pins and your chosen wires, so no need to raid the chicken coop.For those of you who love intricate lace and shawls in particular, the writer Nancy Bush has a rather lovely book called Knitted Lace of Estonia in which she covers some of the history relating to the use of wires.
Why use blocking wires?
You may well ask. You do after all have your lovely KnitIQ mats and T pins, so won't they do the job? Well yes they will, and like the majority of things there are always improvements to be made so do read on.
No, not the ones we've all developed after so much time eating crisps or Victoria sponge and binge-watching tv thrillers during lockdown… if only knitting burnt the same amount of calories as an hour at the gym – sigh.
The curves we are talking about here are fairly specific to lacework, and especially shawls. That beautiful crescent shape needs to be maintained during blocking for your finished treasure to be shown to its best advantage. In the same way that you don't wish to inadvertently block a curve into a straight hem you don't want to block a straight edge into your curve!
- There are different ways of handling wires for blocking your knitting or crochet:
- If you are blocking a long crescent curve, you may want to begin by taking the whole piece into your hand, take a long, flexible wire and thread it through the crescent edge before you lay it out on your blocking mats.
- If your piece has a long, straight bound-off edge, you may alternatively decide to fix the straight edge to your mats first with a more rigid wire and T pins, or by using a row of blocking combs. If you choose this method, you will then have to thread the wire through the crescent while your piece is already fixed to your mats. Not everybody finds this comfortable.
- If you haven't fixed the long, straight bound-off edge to the mats but threaded the wire through the crescent first, fix the long edge to your mats now, either with rigid wires and pins or a bunch of blocking combs. We recommend the latter, because it is faster. Wire blocking can be time-consuming!
- Now carefully push your piece into the perfect arc or crescent - whatever your pattern may require - and either begin carefully threading your wire through the crescent edge if you've fixed the long, straight edge first. And if you have already done that: Begin to fix the crescent wire into shape with pins. If it's a shawl, start shaping from the middle outwards by pinning symmetrically towards the edges. KnitIQ Blocking Mats with Gridlines are perfect for this, because they allow you to get a perfect symmetry with ease.
- Next, secure the side edges with T-pins or blockers, then continue with any other straight edges.
- And that's it. You're done. Leave to dry and see the magic!
POINTED OR SCALLOPED EDGES
Follow the procedure as above, but change the way you thread the wire through the crescent: In order to achieve a scalloped edge, you need to thread the wire through the crescent at regular intervals and fix the wire either at the points or wherever suitable to maintain the arc's shape. Again, KnitIQ Blocking Mats with Gridlines are really good to get accurate results, because you can measure the distances between the points and get a perfectly symmetrical outcome.
In both instances once the item is fully dry, carefully remove all wires and pins and gently press to even out your stitching as well as setting the edges.
Now a little test.
Righty-oh you think. That makes sense but I don't really like lace and never knit shawls so it's of no use to me. ❌
Righty-oh you think. That makes sense but I don't really like lace and never knit shawls so it's of no use to me, or is it? ✅
Of course you've all gone for the second choice, we knew you were a clever lot.
Lots of us knit increasingly complex garments as our skills develop. We'd get a tad bored otherwise. These often have fancy pants detailing, be it on necklines, cuffs, or edges. The way of using wires as described previously works in pretty much the same way with slight variation.
For example, imagine you have just completed a cardigan with a picot button band edge:
- Block out your pieces as you would normally before sewing up, but pin the button band edge a cm or two in.
- Once blocked to the correct measurements, take your wire and pass it carefully through the picot points.
- Extend the wire out until the points are clearly defined and secure the wires with T Pins at regular intervals.
- Once dry finish off as usual. You will see how much clarity there is in the picot edge.
You can use this technique on any decorative edge. The beauty of this technique used with our lovely mats also means that you have the grid lines there to follow which saves you measuring too frequently.
If knitting or crocheting circular pieces, the technique is even simpler.
WIRES FOR CIRCLES
Now think back to when you were at school. Remember how to draw a perfect circle?
- Get your item ready for blocking and insert a wire - you may need to join more than one - all the way around the edge.
- Set out your blocking mats in a shape large enough to take the full diameter required. For items such as ponchos or capes you may need to use two packs.
- Take a length of scrap yarn and loop a slip knot around a T-pin.
- Work out your required measurement from the centre point of your garment plus 1mm to the edge and mark the yarn to this length with a knot. Then add a couple of cm before cutting.
- Tie the edge of the yarn - from the knot - around a piece of tailor’s chalk or dissolving tailors pen where the mark dissolves in a certain time period.
- Stick the T-pin into the centre of your mats and with the marker of your choice draw a circle.
- Remove the T-pin & yarn and block your item just inside the line. Secure the wires with T-pins directly onto the marking.
- Any pointed edges requiring individual fixing can be completed with your T-pins.
By now we imagine you are both convinced and eager to try this out. 'Wait' we hear you cry, ‘I've got no wires.’ Well here is a little hack to enable you to satisfy your curiosity - But be careful though as blocking wires are finer than what we are about to suggest, so choose your test item carefully!
For any of the above techniques you can substitute wires for cords from interchangeable circular needles. Attach the finest needle point you have to thread though to prevent work snagging on the cord tip and block as described. This will give you a working idea on how wires are a very useful addition to your crafty toolkit.
As always don't forget to share your progress and ideas with us on social media: