on softness & blocking wool
So we all know all about blocking, right? I’m just kidding- though I’m a huge fan of blocking my knitting projects 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 knitting 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 sound. 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. This has certainly been true to my experience with blocking our yarns- both Homestead and Origin bloom really nicely throughout the blocking process. 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 usually just soak my skeins in water, I’ve used all three of these with successful results.
(edited to add: while I pre soaked all my skeins of our grey Origin 1.0 base, I’ve actually found that with both Homestead and Origin 2.0 this is no longer necessecary for me. However every knitter is of course different, which is why I’ve kept this information up for anyone who’s looking to soften up their skeins of either of these bases)
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, while still retaining that lovely, sheepy smell that us knitters all love so much.
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 color ways (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.
In terms of blocking: you can basically follow the same procedure above, or any other familiar procedure you prefer for blocking your knitting. Once your swatch or project has finished blocking, you can gently ring out the excess water. At this point I personally like to roll my knitting up in a towel to get it as dry as possible, though this isn’t strictly necessary. I mostly do it because I’m too impatient to wait a week for it to dry! Then lay out your knitting onto a blocking mat or other foam mat (or towel if you don’t have mats) and gently stretch it to the desired finished measurements. I use T-pins to hold my knitting to the measurements and shape I require, but again that’s optional.
As I mentioned above, blocking your knitting will do wonders for the softness of both our wool bases, Homestead and Origin. We’re currently fully stocked in the shop if you’d like to try your hand at the pre-washing method. And of course, don’t forget to block your swatches and projects once you’ve finished knitting them. 100% wool yarns like ours will bloom so nicely post blocking, I promise you won’t be disappointed! If you do try this out, I’d love to hear how it goes.