Block your Swatch

What’s that all about?

I came across some beautiful silk yarn in Avril when I was in Tokyo and I felt compelled to have it. When I was looking for a suitable pattern on the internet I came across the advise that you should always wash your swatch (tension square) especially if you are using natural fibre (animal or plant) or knitting patterned stitches. When coming into contact with water, fibre changes and sometimes irreversibly. Silk and cotton, for example, can swell, which would make a completed items bigger. So getting a true gauge by washing or blocking the swatch is especially important if the garment is a fitted one.

This is what is recommended:

  1. Knit a swatch tension square (some recommends with garter stitch on all sides to stop it from curling)
  2. Wash and dry it, or block it (different ways of wetting and drying the swatch) as you would your finished garment
  3. Count the stitches and rows
  4. Keep the tension square, don’t rip it out.

Apparently, experience has shown the blocking can change the knitted gauge as wetting can change the fibre. See this article in Vogue Knitting or Dummies’ guide for details.

I wonder whether this is the reason why my tension never matches any of Jo Sharp’s yarn (my knitting being too loose – although I can’t see this advice anywhere on her patterns). I recently started another Jo Sharp fitted cardigan using some Avril yarn I bought. Now feel I should start again with a tension square again (and ripping out 15 rows of k1 p1 rib, as the entire lot of yarn came in a spindle/ cone, I can’t use a separate ball). On top of that, I am now to scared to wash any of my knitted clothes!

Any thoughts?

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5 comments
  1. eleanor11 said:

    This sounds like a good practice to get in to – I have read it somewhere. My knits never quite seem to come out the size I was expecting, despite tension squares. Also, as I always machine wash my knits (on the cold wool cycle) it would be useful to know in advance if this was going to be real problem with a particular yarn. The garter edges is a good tip as well!

    • novice_knitter said:

      It’s reassuring to know that you have washed your clothes without incidents. I am going to block mine when I come to knit with my silk. I found a pattern (here: http://celineenlaine.blogspot.ca/2012/05/pull-zephyr.html) that will work with what I have and it does say ‘gauge after blocking’. I think it’s recommended practice generally, but probably essential with silk and fine/ lace knitting.

      • eleanor11 said:

        It looks nice. I like the sheer quality. You will need to use that other cast on method to cast on the extra stitches for the sleeves as you can’t use the long tail method.

    • novice_knitter said:

      I should ask whether you ever have noticed your garment changing size.

      I talked to the textiles lecturer at uni today and she said manufactured fabric is usually treated (with gum) so should be always be washed first before making anything with them (especially cotton). She seems to think knitting yarn should be okay without blocking (although she is not a knitter). She recommends hand-washing all hand-made garments using wool wash and always dry flat.

  2. novice_knitter said:

    Thanks! I might need to look it up when I come to it – it’s in the queue.

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