on softness & blocking
So we all know all about blocking, right? I’m just kidding- though I’m a huge fan of blocking now, it took me ages to learn about it and to come around to the fact that it was actually an important part of the process. Now that I have however, I honestly look forward to it so much. I enjoy everything about the process- the water, the smell, the sounds. I also appreciate the chance it gives me after casting off to interact with my knitting project in a slightly different way. While knitting of course engages your hands, the process of blocking a sweater requires you to get up and move about, whether you’re dunking that garment in a sink of warm water, or pinning it in place on a mat. It allows your newly finished object to take up space in your studio or home while it sits drying. And it builds anticipation between casting off and wearing your new garment.
Of course the number one benefit of blocking is often considered to be what it does for your finished knitting. It can even out your stitches, and alter the fit, giving your hand knits a more polished look and finish. But in my opinion, blocking is also very beneficial to the yarn itself.
Now I’ve never pretended that our yarn is “soft”. That’s just not our number one priority here at r&s, and we don’t shy away from knitting with what you might call a more rustic, toothsome yarn. That being said, I do of course understand that for many knitters (and for many types of projects!) softness can be a concern. If this is the case, the good news is that blocking your finished garment, or even pre-washing your skein of r&s yarn can help improve the softness.
So how do you do this? It’s simple really. All you’ll need is your skein of yarn, some warm water (but not too hot- we wouldn’t want to felt your skein!) and a bit of time & patience while it drys. If you’d like you can also use a wool wash or even a very little bit of a mild, organic dishwashing liquid or hair conditioner when soaking your skein. Though I often soak my skeins in just water, I’ve used all three of these with successful results.
So let’s get on to pre-washing your skein shall we?
A little known fact about our yarn is that it’s actually washed at our mill once it’s finished being spun. Each skein is soaked in the river on the property to both soften it up and to remove some of the natural lanolin (just a bit, don’t worry!) and oils that are still left on it at this point in the process.
Because of this, each skein has already been securely tied in several places, so you will not need to re-tie your skein before washing. Simply fill your sink with warm water (adding your wool wash or soap if you’d like to) and slowly lower your skein in, taking care that all parts of the wool take on water. You’re going to want to “press” your yarn down into the water, rather than stirring it, or agitating it too much.
Then simply leave it to soak. I usually do this for about 20 minutes, at which point I drain the sink (or empty the bowl) and gently press the water out of the yarn (or knitted item). Don’t be surprised if the water doesn’t run clear. There’s a lot of lanolin left over in our yarns when they arrive with us from the mill, so what you’re seeing is most likely a bit of that (as well as any dust it may have attracted)
Anyhow, once you’ve finished soaking (and gently ringing out) your skein, you can either hang it or lay it down somewhere to dry. If it’s one of our natural colorways (ie not dyed) feel free to hang it in the sun if it’s a warm day. You won’t want to do this with a dyed skein of yarn, since we dye all our skeins using natural or plant dyes, and direct sunlight can cause them to fade slightly. And then just make sure to rotate or turn your yarn over, so that all parts of the skein can dry easily.
And that’s it! If you try pre-washing your yarn, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the process, or if you feel it improved the softness of your skein at all. And of course, don’t forget to block your project once you’ve finished knitting it!