Puno – a cotton and alpaca yarn

Of course, it’s always better to be reasonable… But when you fall madly in love, being reasonable is hard!

Some time ago I was sent a test ball of Puno, this intriguing blend of cotton and alpaca.

I already have quite a lot of yarns in my shop – did I really need to add another one?

Time passed, but my feelings didn’t change. I couldn’t forget this yarn, its softness, its subtle colours, its fabulous stitch definition…

I still don’t know if it’s reasonable or not, but you will now find this gorgeous yarn in seven colours in the shop, where you will also find all the detailed information about it.

Blocking – questions and solutions!

What is blocking?

Blocking is the last step to make your crochet (or knit) project a work of beauty.

When the last stitch has been made, and the yarn fastened or bound off, blocking will give your work its desired shape, will even out your stitches and will reveal the splendour of your lace.

There are different ways to block your work, but in all cases you will:

  • add moisture to your work,
  • give it its shape, and
  • wait for it to dry.

Do I have to block my finished project?

There are no obligations in crochet (or knitting)! Sometimes, you might not want to block your work. If you like it the way it is, you can definitely skip this step.

But very, very often, the result will be so much more satisfying after blocking.

If you make a lace shawl (even with a simple stitch pattern), I do recommend that you block your finished project carefully – it’s only with blocking that your stitches will open up and show their true beauty.

If you make a garment or any other object with pieces to assemble, putting them together will be so much easier and give better results if you block your pieces first.

I am partial to blocking, for sure!

How do I do it?

There are two main ways to add moisture to your work:

  • wet it in water, or
  • steam it.
1) Steam blocking

This is a great method for small pieces!

Pin out your work on a surface that can take moisture, pointy pins and heat (if your work is small enough, your ironing board is a great option).

Hold your steam iron an inch or two over the fabric – do not touch it with the iron! – and use as much steam as possible. Take care not to burn yourself!

Make sure everything has cooled down and dried before removing your pins.

2) Wet blocking

There are many ways to do this. What I describe below is my preferred method.

Let the finished work soak in water for at least 20 minutes, to make sure the yarn is wet to its core.

Be careful: if it’s a project with two or more colours, you must be aware that there is a risk that the colours may bleed, even with a quality yarn. If your yarn is wool, alpaca or another animal fiber, add some vinegar to the water to fix the colours. If it’s cotton, linen or another plant fiber, you can try using salt. Watch the colour of the water carefully to spot any bleeding, and don’t let your work soak too long.

Personally, if I plan on using contrasting colours, I make a small, striped swatch before starting my project, with the colours I want to use. I soak this swatch in a white bowl and leave it to dry on a white towel, to spot any potential bleeding. If there is a problem, I prefer to know it before I start my project so I can adjust my colour choices if needed. Better to know it beforehand than after having completed the entire project!

Once your work is soaked through, take it out of the water with care, pushing it into a rough ball that you can support with your hands, so that it doesn’t stretch out of shape. Press it with your hands without wringing, to remove some of the water.

The next step is to put your work on an absorbant towel, patting it out a bit (without pulling too much), and roll up the towel with your work inside. To remove as much water as possible without wringing, I walk on the towel roll!

When you carefully unroll the towel, your project should still be slightly damp but not soaked – this is perfect for the next step, which is to pin it out.

Stretch it out on an appropriate surface (one that can take humidity and pins). There are specific foam blocking mats, but you can find other things that work. For the past 15 years or so I have used big boards of high-density foam, an insulation material I found in a DIY store.

Little by little, put in your pins, stretching your work as desired. Sometimes, it will be enough to cover your blocking surface with a (not super-soft) terry towel and pat the fabric out with your hands – the slightly uneven surface of the towel is enough to keep everything in place. But often you will need pins or other tools (see below for examples) to be able to stretch out the fabric properly, open up the stitch pattern and keep everything in place.

A tape measure is useful to check measurements and symmetry (if symmetry is required, of course!).

When everything looks good, leave it to dry!

Can’t I just iron the whole thing?

I strongly advise against ironing by putting your iron down on your work – except if you want to smash and flatten out your stitches. If you work with a synthetic fiber, you might melt it with your iron. If it’s a natural material, you risk burning it so that it definitely loses its softness and elasticity.

But of course, there is no rule without exceptions. If you are careful, you can try ironing a linen swatch, or put a small motif in acrylic between two pieces of cotton fabric and iron it (without ever touching the synthetic fiber with your iron) – the result might be a nice surprise!

Tools for blocking

You don’t need any sophisticated tools for blocking (water and pins are enough), but there are things that make the processes quicker and easier!

1) Blocking wires

It’s time-consuming and sometimes difficult to pin straight edges, such as the edges of a stole, the sides of a triangular shawl or large squares. Blocking wires can be a great help. You can put them through a straight selvedge or through chain spaces in a border. The blocking wires are held in place with pins (but you will need many fewer of them) or comb blockers (see below).

The wires are not completely rigid, and some are more flexible than others. They can be used for larger rounded shapes.

Click to see the blocking wires in the shop.

2) Comb blockers

Take care not to stab yourself! But comb blockers (often called knit blockers, but they work great for crochet projects, too) are super-helpful when blocking swatches or squares, or to hold blocking wires safely in place.

Each blocker or comb plays the part of several pins in a straight row – they speed up the pinning process a lot when used appropriately.

Click here to see the Knit Pro comb blockers available in the shop.

3) Pins

This is your basic and universal tool to hold your pieces in place when waiting for them to dry. Take care to use only shiny (rust-proof) pins when pinning projects in light colours, to avoid any staining. I am very partial to pins with rounded (pearl) heads, since they are softer on my fingers, and easier to see, so that I’m sure to remove them all before moving my blocked and dry project. This is of highest importance if you have taken advantage of your husband’s overnight absence to block a shawl on his side of the bed, believe me.

Click here to see the pearl-headed pins in the shop!

And how about you? What do you think about blocking, and how do you like to do it?

3 kinds of swatches

Swatching! Do you like it? Do you hate it? Why do we swatch?

There are many types of swatches.

There is the “insurance” swatch, the one you make (or know you should make) more or less grudgingly (often more) before you can launch into your new project. This swatch is your insurance for obtaining a finished item that is the size indicated in your pattern, and for not running out of yarn. You have your yarn, you have the gauge information, and you are trying to see which hook will make your hands work to the prescribed gauge.

There is lots to say about the insurance swatch, but right now, let’s just say that though you may not enjoy making it, it can save you a lot of trouble. The insurance swatch is your indispensible partner and your best friend, even if you don’t particularly enjoy spending time with it.

There is also the “research” swatch. You have a pattern, and you are looking for the perfect yarn. Will it be smooth or fluffy? Solid-coloured or variegated? The one you first thought of or something completely different? You start your investigation, you discover how your stitch pattern interacts with different yarns, you make choices, and during your research, you get some good and some bad surprises.

At the end of the day, your research swatch must also respond to the criteria of the insurance swatch. It needs to conform to the gauge in your pattern – or you will need to do a lot of math.

Pictured here is a third kind of swatch, the “exploration” swatch. It’s the kind of swatch that, if all works out (there is no guarantee), can become a new pattern.

Most of the time, when I start my exploration swatch, I know which yarn I want to work with, and I know, or decide rapidly, on the hook I want to use. The actual gauge, the number of stitches and rows per 10 cm or 4”, doesn’t matter. I will indicate the gauge data precisely in the final pattern, of course, but right now, this doesn’t matter at all. The yarn colour is not important. I just use the first light colour I can get my hands on. The colour needs to be light because I need to see my stitches very clearly.

I begin my exploration swatch with a vague idea, some kind of theme floating around in my mind. It might be a family of stitch patterns. It might just be a couple of colours I want to play around with to see how they go together (in this case, of course, I select them from the start). Or it might be much less defined— more like a wish, a longing, an emotion or a simple spark of curiosity.

It’s a long kind of swatch. It takes a long time (don’t ask me how long, I don’t count hours at this stage) and it gets very long – this one is currently 90 cm/34.5”, and it’s not finished. When was the last time you made a meter/yardlong swatch?

It’s not always fun. When making an exploration swatch, I sometimes learn that my initial idea wasn’t good, or that it can’t be made as I thought it could. This is a swatch full of failed initiatives – and that’s the whole point.

Because from the failed initiative sometimes a better idea will arise. The starting point is further and further away, but a new angle comes into view, clearer and clearer, until it becomes truly evident. My heart beats faster when the stitches come together as I want them to, when their appearance is what I had imagined – or something completely new, a treasure I was hunting for without knowing it.

This means that the first half-meter/yard or so in this swatch, as well as dozens of Post-its, notes, drawings and ideas, will seem completely unrelated to the end result. But all these dead ends, halted ventures and failed endeavours were strictly necessary to get there.

There’s no point in showing you a close-up of this swatch, because you would find it unappealing. But in my head, I can already see the finished sample, and I think you will like it.

If all goes well, we can crochet it together this summer.

Spring In the Shade of Leaves

Do you know the shawl In the Shade of Leaves, designed by EclatDuSoleil?

It’s an asymmetric triangle with an elegant, yet simple stitch pattern, and clever shaping.

The finishing touch is a border with small leaves that I find both beautiful and whimsical.

The shawl in the photo was worked in a wool yarn, but for spring and summer, I’d suggest making this shawl in Whirlette, a cotton blend.

Whirlette is slightly more lightweight than the original wool, so you might choose to go down a hook size.
This yarn has excellent yardage, 2 balls are enough to make In the Shade of Leaves!

Until 5th May 2021 (Wednesday), I have a special offer for you: when buying the pattern for In the Shade of Leaves at the same time as 2 balls of Whirlette, the pattern is free!

To take advantage of this offer, simply put the pattern In the Shade of Leaves and 2 balls of Whirlette in your cart – no code needed, the price for the pattern will be deducted before checkout.
Please note that this offer is valid only until midnight 5th May 2021 (CEST), as long as stocks last.

Kits for Rhombique

When making the samples for my Rhombique pattern, I used my own organic cotton in solid and multicolour. It would be a shame not to also offer you kits!

To celebrate the launch of Rhombique, I have a special time-limited offer for you: until 17 March 2021 only, when you purchase the Rhombique pattern and a Rhombique kit at the same time, the pattern is yours for free!

To take advantage of this offer, simply put the Rhombique pattern and the Rhombique kit of your choice in your cart – the price of the pattern will automatically be deducted from your total before payment.

Please note that this is a special offer, valid only until 17 March 2021 and within the limits of available stock.

You can find the kits for the smaller bags via this link, and the ones for the larger bags via this one.

To line my bags, I used the beautiful fabrics from l’Éléphant Zebré.