technique: blocking a Swirl

9/13/2011 by Sandra McIver

Blocking is always important in making the most of any knitted garment, but especially so when it comes to a Swirl. Swirls, by nature of their welted structure, tend to pull up, each welt snuggling up against the welts immediately above and below. Wet blocking opens up the welts, enhancing the drape and sculptural qualities that are central to the design of a Swirl.

Once you’ve finished knitting your Swirl and have woven in any ends that will not be used as part of the finished trim, you’re ready to block your Swirl. Begin by preparing an area that is: 1) large enough to accommodate the expanse of a Swirl and allow room for you to maneuver around it, 2) on a surface that will accept pins (beach towels spread over carpeting works well) and 3) in a location where the garment can stay long enough to dry completely. Place a supply of T-pins, a yard stick and blocking wires (optional but extremely helpful) nearby.


It is helpful at this point to mark the center of the neck edge and the center of the collar edge. These markers will aid you in aligning the Swirl during blocking and again later when you sew the seam of your Swirl. An easy way to do this is to fold your Swirl in half down the center of the back. (You thought Swirls were oddly shaped before? Take look at this image!) Place two markers on the fold, one at the neck edge and another on the inner edge of the collar.


Now you’re ready to wash your Swirl. Spread a large towel out on a counter near your sink and place a stack of towels nearby. Fill the sink with enough lukewarm water and mild soap to allow you to completely submerge your Swirl. Toss it in.


Let your Swirl soak for a few minutes and then gently swish it around in the water to encourage any excess dye to release.


Drain the sink. Then squeeze (don’t twist) and press the Swirl against the side and bottom of the bowl to remove excess water. Being careful to support the entire garment, remove the Swirl and set to the side on the counter. Fill the sink with lukewarm water, return Swirl, and gently swish to rinse. Repeat the rinsing process until the water is free of dye. Drain, remove excess water, and place Swirl on a towel. Being very careful not to stretch, gently spread out the Swirl, place another towel on top, and roll up lengthwise. Put the long roll on the floor and (bare feet, please) stand on it, then slowly side step from one end to the other and back again.) Carefully transfer to another towel and repeat. Repeat as needed to remove as much excess water as possible; this is important because excess water in the fabric at blocking will encourage overstretching. Transfer garment, still wrapped in towel to keep any portion from dropping and stretching, to your blocking area. (Note: if you are using washable wool yarn, you may find it has a tendency to grow dramatically when washed. The best course when this occurs is to machine dry the Swirl on gentle cycle, checking frequently, and remove from dryer for blocking while it is just slightly damp.)


With “right side” up, carefully spread out the Swirl, folding the sleeves up so that they rest in two piles on either side of the neck edge.

blocking 002

If using blocking wires (optional but highly recommended), insert a blocking wire from bottom to top at a point on the first row of the second welt and in line with the decrease point above. Thread the wire in and out along the row across the length of one section, ending with the wire exiting downward directly below the next decrease point. Repeat this process at the remaining 7 sections.

Adjust the perimeter of the Swirl so that

1. fabric is spread out evenly,

2. welts are separated but still slightly raised,

3. the center line of the back/bodice aligns with the center of the collar,


4. in circle silhouettes, the vertical axis and the horizontal axis are in line and perpendicular to one another, and


in oval silhouettes, the top and bottom edges are in line with one another and perpendicular to the right and left side edges.


I have found it useful when working on alignment to place a yardstick at center back, aligning it between the decrease points at the center back of a circle silhouette, or along columns of stitches at center back of oval silhouettes, and placing T-pins at several points at the both sides of the yardstick to create a channel in which I can slide the yardstick up to the top of the collar and down to the edge of the lower back. A similar approach can be used to check horizontal alignment from side to side.


Pin each section so that its edge is straight, measuring as you go to ensure that sections with the same number of stitches are all of the same length. There will be a short section at each point that has no wire edge; it should be blocked with a straight edge that repeats the angle of the rows between decrease points immediately above and should all be of the same length.


Cocoon Series V for Annelle 005


Block so that welts are open and raised welts are well separated from one another (it’s a bit like blocking lace in that you are opening the stitch pattern to give it greater definition).  Welt should be slightly raised and remain resilient. (Note: blocking measurements are given in the small schematic included in each pattern. However, due to variation of resilience in different fibers, it may well be appropriate for your Swirl to be blocked to a slightly different dimension. Let your fabric be your guide.)

Once the outer circle is aligned and pinned in place, being careful not to stretch, gently unfold the sleeves and bodice.


The tendency is for the sleeves to lengthen and the bodice neck and cuff edges to fan out. You may wish to pin some parts of the cuff to encourage proper shaping, but otherwise do not use pins in this portion of the Swirl. The goal in blocking the bodice is to align it properly with the rest of the garment while encouraging the welted structure to stay as compact as possible at the neck edges. (Note that in centered silhouettes the neck edge tends not meet the collar edge, whereas


in off-center silhouettes, it often does.

Cocoon Series V for Annelle 004

The goal in blocking the sleeves is to avoid stretching them lengthwise. The sleeves (reminding you again) should not be pinned, but arranged so that the stitches are relaxed, raised welts touch one another, cuff edges kept as compact as possible. The sleeves will be shorter than the finished measurements indicate. When completely dry, remove all pins and wires. You’re ready to seam!

3 sizes going green 008

As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of blocking recently in an effort to create a series of traveling Swirl trunk shows. Here are all three sizes of Going Green, each produced by a different knitter in a different color of the same yarn. You may have noticed that the patterns call for the outer circle/oval of each successive size to be one welt larger (if size one has x welts in outer circle/oval, then size 2 has x + 1 welts and size 3 has x + 2 welts). But here, after blocking, note that there is a five welt difference between each size, which gives you an idea of 1) the degree to which the garment is blocked and 2) an appreciation of what I meant when I wrote in the book: “In a knitted circular form, small changes will have exponential effects.”

keywords:  blocking |