How to Use a Shawl or Sock Blank
As a dyer I was fascinated with the “gradients” that were being created with yarns. Many of these are created using various dilutions of the same colour way. The frustration with this, in particular with socks, is that you not only had a “striping” effect at the colour change, but also a number of pesky ends that required your attention to sew in at the end of your project. If you choose to use a singe knit shawl blank, then knitting two socks that looked the same could be a challenge. This was especially true of a colour wash or gradient blank as the yarn colours change as you work your way through the skein.
Typically we dye skeins in our studio with a total circumference of about 2 metres. This means that at most, we repeat the colour way every 2m. There is always some variance with this but typically, this means that the resulting fabric of the sock can “pool” the colours, “micro-stripe” the colours or a combination of both.
By creating a blank, a piece of fabric knit either with one strand for shawls, scarves or sweaters; or two strands for mitts, socks or “butterflied” shawls or scarves (see notes regarding this method below), we can transition the colours as a wash or gradient from one end of a strand of yarn, to the other. The effect is amazing and can make a very plain fabric come alive in a wonderful way. Don’t think that plain is the only way to go. I have seen some marvellous lace work enhanced by the transitional colour change of a sock or shawl blank.
So now that we understand the why and the construction of the blank, it is time to explain how to use a blank.
As most of us know, when we knit with a yarn and then are faced with un-knitting it for what ever reason, the yarn is never the same. A kink, depending on how long the project is established and knitting with this kink for some can cause problems. I am one of those who can’t knit with the yarn again right away. But, winding the yarn back into a ball and by design or need (to get over the shock of un-knitting) time relaxes the yarn sufficiently to work with.
If you prefer to work with a more relaxed yarn, there is another option. Blanks can be un-knit and set on a swift or a chair back if you don’t have a swift available. Make sure that you tie the skein in at least 2 places before you remove it from whichever you choose, to ensure that it will not tangle. I like to use 3 or 4 ties rather than fight the skein later. Trust me, time now saves much later. As one option, a light spray of water can also help with the relaxation of the yarn. Make sure that the yarn is dry (usually overnight) before you wind it into a ball(s). A cool water bath in the bathroom sink, with a cup of vinegar is another option. This not only insures that your yarn relaxes but also insures there are no bleeds. PLEASE understand that we always rinse our yarns until we have assured all excess dyes are rinsed BUT your water will be different from ours, including chlorine and other minerals. Reds and turquoises in particular should have extra care.
Once your yarn has had a bath, lay it on an old towel and roll it. Rather than wringing the towel, I step on it to remove any excess moisture. Hang the skein weighted. I happen to have a shower head that works well and use a handled measuring cup for weight.
Once your yarn is dry, it is ready to ball and knit. Whether you are someone who knits with double points or magic loop (including 2 at a time) the above process is what I recommend. Of course you can always knit from the blank. With the sock blank, this would require either knitting 2 at a time, or winding the second strand in a ball as you go. The kink would be in the yarn and as mentioned above, for some this is not an issue. A tighter fabric (rather than lacy) would make the kink less noticeable. For the blanks, knit with our 75/25 merino-nylon (435m/464yds) I would recommend using a 2-2.25mm needle. For shawls, please use the needle recommended by your pattern. Needle size matters. If the fabric is not dense enough, your sock will wear out quicker. Gauge with the smaller needle to ensure that you are knitting the right size for your foot.
Here is the final note….
What you really want to know, is what your project will look like in the end. The shawl blank is pretty straight forward. The yarn will transition through the colour way similar to the blank itself for what ever project you knit. The sock blank will produce 2 yarn strands that are near identical. I say near because tensions may differ between the two strands as we knit the blank. This can result in one strand being a little (and I mean a small difference) in length. There may be a difference of a row or two in the end, BUT once the project is done, there should not be a noticeable difference. These socks were knit one at a time on DPNs and as you can see, there is no obvious difference between the two. I can tell you however that on critical examination, by mid sock there is a 1.5 row difference in colour. The only way you would know this is if you are knitting two at a time.
I wanted to share some other project ideas, specifically for the sock blanks. Once the two strands are separated, you could use them in a single project either as 2 strands held together to equal a DK weight yarn, or how about in a shawl choosing to work first one strand dark to light and then the second light to dark. This would result in a mirror imaged fabric creating a “butterfly effect for a cowl, shawl or scarf.
What ever you choose to do with your blank, I hope you will share your project with us on Instagram or FaceBook. Remember to tag us so we are sure not to miss it.
RavensWood Fibre Co.