On the Joys of Blocking

While my latest project dries on the blocking board, I think I’ll repeat here an essay I wrote for the December 2011 Windsor Button Newsletter:

As I am writing this, my dining room smells like wet sheep. I’ve been pleasantly puttering on this bright, brisk day, and turned my attention to my neglected pile of knitted things. Some were sweaters and socks in need of a wash. Others were recently completed projects — Christmas gifts, mostly — that I have been turning out one after the other without stopping to block them. The treatment for each was the same — a lazy soak in a basin of tepid water with a gentle wool wash; a rinse; a squeeze; and then to be laid out on beach towels, rolled up jelly-roll fashion and gently walked on to remove excess water.

I’m sure there are many among you who wrinkled up their noses when I mentioned the smell of wet sheep (and some who do so at the mention of blocking one’s knitting). But I have learned the magic transforming effect of blocking. It evens out stitches and sets them, so that a project falls and drapes as it should and holds the correct size and shape. It makes a lumpy web of knitted lace grow and bloom to its full beauty. I urge you not to skimp on this step, not only because it’s good for your knitting, but because — if the way I’m feeling now is any indication — it might also be good for your soul.

Much has been written recently about the many ways that knitting can enhance well-being. As I took my damp mounds and methodically smoothed them out on my blocking board, stretching and pinning or patting and straightening as needed, I realized that even the blocking step of the knitting process can have this same beneficial meditative quality. Inhaling the familiar wet sheep aroma as I worked, I realized that I felt contented. I’ve never thought about it before, but I suppose I have come to associate that scent with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It makes sense. The blocking process is yet another opportunity to experience the colors and textures of fiber, to slow down and reflect, and also to show a healthy respect and appreciation for myself by fussing over the things that I put so much of myself into making.

I am always drawn to return again and again to my drying projects, smoothing and adjusting until total dryness allows no further refinement. I have often told the family members who watch me with amusement that petting is an important part of the knitting process.

Or maybe I just can’t resist the smell of wet sheep!

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