Blocking Cables - Spray or Soak

Over the past couple of weeks, I have knitted a couple of cowls for Christmas gifts. They have been fun projects because I experimented with creating my own patterns. Overall, I have been pleased with the outcome. Both were knitted on fairly large needles and with Aireado yarn, a lovely alpaca that will feel soft and warm around the neck. Both cowl patterns include cables. I like knitting cables and they show well when knitted with Aireado yarn.

Since blocking is essential, it was the last step I completed before wrapping my gifts. “Really, why block?” you may ask. There are several reasons:

  • Blocking evens out your stitches.
  • It opens lace stitches and shows off your hard work.
  • It helps flatten the edges of your work.
  • It cleans the soil that may have accumulated during construction.
  • It makes your project look finished and pressed.

There are three basic ways to block: soaking, spraying, and steaming, and I have used all three with varying success (see my blog post, It Is Time to Block! for details on the various methods). I have learned that the blocking method needs to match the type of project and yarn. For example, my go-to method is soaking. However, it’s become obvious that trying to block heavy projects like afghans and heavy sweater coats, such as the Einstein coat, is very difficult. It is nearly impossible to manage heavy wet projects without stretching them and they take a very long time to dry. Another consideration is the pattern design. Lace projects almost always seem to respond well to a good soak and block. It is easy to open the lace pattern when the fabric is wet. Although steaming is great for delicate shaping, I haven’t used it as often (probably because I do not knit many lacey projects).

When it was time to block my cowls, I had to take into consideration they both had cables. The charm of cables is the texture. You want the structure to stand out. Steaming might have flattened them too much, so I had two choices: soaking and spraying.

Soak blocking cables

I used a different method on each of the two cowls pictured. This ended up being a good experiment as both had cables and were knitted with the same yarn. The light blue cowl was soaked while the red one was sprayed. The horseshoe cables of the blue cowl are 16 rows deep, and the left-leaning cables of the red cowl are only eight rows deep. Even though the cables are quite different, I was able to see how they responded to spray and soak blocking. The cables and the edges of the blue soaked cowl flattened out much more than the sprayed red one. I wanted the edges to be flat and preferred to keep the cables puffier. I could have achieved a better result by knitting an edge and spraying it. A good lesson that from the process of blocking.

Spray blocking cables

I applied that lesson to the red cowl. I wanted puffy cables and a curly edge on this one. Therefore, I didn’t knit an edge and sprayed it after laying it out on my blocking board. This time I got what I wanted.

My big take-away? Consider the fiber, design, pattern, size, and weight of your project when deciding which blocking method to use. I will no longer automatically go to the soak method. Instead, I will put as much thought into how I block my project as I do into how I knit it.