I am not a by-the-books knitter by any means. I rarely do a gauge swatch—instead, I measure my gauge as I go along, because a) swatches can lie, it’s so true and b) I feel as though measuring the actual garment as I’m actually working on it is much more beneficial for measuring my gauge. (I will contradict this slightly to say that if you’re using a new-to-you yarn, it’s good to do some sort of swatch, preferably in pattern, to see how the yarn grows after washing it—please see my Vivian if you need further proof of this principle.) I think there are maybe three patterns that I’ve actually knit as written from start to finish. I don’t tink back or drop down to fix minor mistakes, as I rather think that small flubs add to the handmade pride (…okay, and I’m pretty lazy). The one knitterly thing that I will do 99 times out of 100* is block a project once it’s finished.
If you’re new to the idea of blocking, here are some articles to help you along: TECHknitter shares her method and answers a few questions about blocking; Eunny Jang champions blocking rather vociferously and also provides her methods of doing so (along with a cute illustration to boot); Purl Bee has a step-by-step, illustrated tutorial on blocking.
My own ways of blocking are dependent on how energetic I’m feeling on a given day. Certain projects require more time and energy than others (you know, like giant lace stoles with scallop-y edges… oi) and are therefore more likely to sit around unblocked until I have both the time and the energy to tackle them. I don’t always pin things out (aside from the aforementioned lace), mostly because my cat has a great affinity for the little yellow toppers on the blocking pins, so we’re constantly fighting about whether she’s allowed to take off with them (the answer is obviously no, but if you’ve never met a cat, they’re quite stubborn beasties). My favorite washes are Fancy Tiger’s Tiger blend (which, unfortunately, you apparently can’t buy online) and most SOAK lines (go get the Unleash blend from Ravelry if you haven’t already; has a great, light scent and proceeds support Ravelry).
Now, you may be wondering I’m blathering on and on with nothing to show for all of this talk. Here’s my reason why:
I finished my Gretel Hat while I was in London, and it’s sort of hard to block things while you’re staying in a small hotel room. I mean, sure, it could have been done, but it would have been such a bother.
You’ll notice in that first picture that the cables are all really tight. The yarn is my go-to, Cascade 220, and is a fantastic yarn for almost all projects, including cabling. I knit this on size 6 (4 mm) needles, which is a size smaller than the pattern calls (partly because I know my gauge and I know I tend to knit on the loose side, partly because I’m cheap and I had size 6 dpns and didn’t want to buy size 7). I also knit the middle size, which is supposed to yield a slouchly-but-not-too-large tam, which this is clearly not quite.
You can see that the hat is stiff and kind of poofy in these photos. The brim doesn’t come down very far, and a strong gust of wind would likely have carried the hat off into the ether, never to be seen from again. You can also see my first attempt at a tubular cast on, which I’m not overly in love with at this juncture but am willing to give it another go.
Cut to a few days after returning from my trip, and I’m once again ensconced in my apartment with my kitchen sink and my SOAK wash. The hat takes a little 15 minute bath, and when I go to pull it out, it has grown three times the size it was (water + animal fiber will do that). I wring out the water (carefully, as this yarn will felt), stretch the hat over a dinner plate, leave it be for a couple of days (mostly because I forgot to put it away, not because it took that long to dry), and in the end?
I have a much more drapey, better fitting hat. Actually, now the brim is a bit too big and will likely slide around a bit, but won’t be blown off into the ether.
*That 1 time out of 100 usually has to do with socks, and my impatience to just wear them, so I “block” them on my feet. Though I do own sock blockers for those times that I am a “good” knitter.