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Christmas Knitting and How to Block a Beret

This delicate beauty is a modified version of the free pattern, Foliage Hat, by Irina Dmitrieva. The lace pattern itself is stunning and easy to memorize. Once you knit through one repeat of the leaf pattern, you can see how the stitches fit together and how the leaf pattern interlocks with itself. I always prefer lace patterns to be charted, and the chart in this pattern is a perfectly accurate one. My many misadventures while knitting this hat were in no way the fault of the pattern. I can only blame reckless knitting without a swatch. It’s a real problem with the youth these days.

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This hat began last October with some Malabrigo Silky Merino yarn in the colorway Wisteria and vague plans for knitting a Christmas present for my mother. After deciding on the Foliage Hat, I knit through one repeat of the lace pattern before noticing that the knitting was coming out very soft and open. While the knitted fabric was beautiful, I worried that it wouldn’t survive contact with water without losing its shape. My super-scientific method* of testing this theory was to dunk the knitting, needles and all, in a sink full of water. My fears were confirmed when the hat grew to a ludicrous size as soon as it hit water.

*Seriously kids, don’t do this at home, especially with bamboo needles. You will ruin the finish on the needles which can take ages to fix. 

My attempts to fix this problem were similarly well-considered and scientific: I messed around with the gauge until I thought it looked right. The pattern recommends that you knit the hat at 5 stitches per inch, but I ended up knitting it at 7 stitches per inch. The knitting still relaxed while I was blocking it, but it was much more controlled. The tighter gauge also meant that I needed to increase the length  which I did by knitting seven repeats of the lace pattern instead of the suggested four.

Once the hat was knit, it needed to be blocked to have the beret shape. This bring us too…

A Very Technical and Precise Beret Blocking Tutorial

What on earth do I mean by blocking? Blocking is the process of gently washing and shaping a knitted item. It is the last step of any knitting project, and depending on the project, can make a significant difference in the appearance of the knitted item in question. I tend to knit with wool and wool blend yarns because they respond so well to blocking (the shape they are given while wet remains after drying).

  • To block a Beret or Tam o’Shanter style hat, you first need a hat to block. I suspect that this blocking method would work with any basic stocking cap (or toque or beanie or whatever the heck you call these things. Why are there so many hat names for the same thing?) You want the hat to fit comfortably on your head. I think they block more easily when the band at the opening is a bit snug but that is not strictly necessary.

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  • Once you have a hat, you will want to complete the water-based portion of blocking. My favored approach is to fill a sink up with warm water and a bit of shampoo. You don’t want to use a harsh detergent with wool unless you want it to shrink and felt, and shampoo is for hair anyway, right? It works pretty well with sheep hair too! Dunk your hat in the water, swish it around once or twice and leave it to soak for a bit. Once the hat has hung out in the water for a while, gently squeeze the water out of the knitting and roll it up in a towel to speed up the drying process.hattowel
  • Take your partially dried hat and go explore your dishware. This is a time when having an unruly assortment of plate sets is a good thing – it increases your chances of finding the perfect plate. You are looking for a plate that can fit into the hat snugly. If the plate is too big, you won’t be able to fit the hat around it, and if it is too small, it won’t stretch the knitting enough to get the shape you want. Shift the hat around until the knitting is evenly distributed. I prefer the hat opening to be on the top of the plate, so the crown of the hat sits over the raised bottom edge. hat plate back
  • Let the hat dry completely. This will take at least 24 hours. Be patient. Flip the plate over a couple times as it is drying. If you are so inclined, feel free to coo over how pretty your knitting is.DSCN0865
  • Once the hat is completely dry, carefully take the hat off the plate. Now that it has dried, the wool keeps the shape it was stretched to while drying. I am always amazed by how different the final product looks from where it starts out pre-blocking.DSCN0868

You can now wear your hat on the adventures of your choosing, or give it to your mother for Christmas depending on your current hat-related needs. The same basic blocking methods apply for washing wool sweaters, mittens, etc. except with fewer plates involved. Knitted lace is its own beast, but lace actually comes out pretty well using this highly sophisticated plate method.

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