While living in Japan in the late ’80s I contracted the chicken pox on vacation in China. I was 28 and it hit me hard. For an entire month I was confined to my lovely apartment in Tokyo with little to do but sleep and wait it out. I didn’t even have the energy to make anything.
During my long hours lounging under the kotatsu (it’s a heavenly piece of Japanese furniture that looks like a coffee table with a blanket sandwiched between the legs and top but underneath there’s a heating device that keeps your lower body toasty) I began watching Japanese daytime TV. There would be segments on talk shows about the skills one should have to be a good housewife. These segments were very informative and I learned a lot from them.
One that was particularly interesting was the segment on the proper way to hand wash wool sweaters. Up to that point I had always filled up the sink with cold water and some Woolite or Ivory or something and dumped the sweaters in. I swished them around a bit, kneaded them and then rinsed them out. I would roll them in towels to gently extract the extra water and lay them out to dry on a flat surface.
According to the Japanese lady with the lacy apron, all fibers are at their most delicate when they are wet so you should always keep the desired shape of the sweater, even under water. Then she took the sweater folded up as it would have been in the drawer and plunged it underwater without unfolding it.
This made a lot of sense to me because I had on occasion had sweaters that seemed to have longer arms after a washing or sometimes more narrow sleeves than they had before the washing. The lady said that long thin parts of the sweater are especially prone to losing shape during washing.
I took her advice and began to apply those principles to blocking handknit pieces as well. Scarves in particular can be hard to shape if you just dump them in the water. Below is the step-by-step process I use for blocking scarves. It may seem like a lot of extra steps but think of all of the time you put into that scarf. One of these days I might buy those fancy interlocking blocking pieces but for now, it’s a beach towel on the dining room table.
Fold the scarf like an accordion making sure to straighten out the rolled edges, if you have any.
Gently place the scarf under water.
While it’s under water, gently unroll the rolled edges so they lie flat.
Keeping the accordion shape in tact, drain the water and rinse the scarf. Then carefully roll it out on a large towel.
Starting at one end of the scarf, roll up the towel and scarf together like a jelly roll.
Place your hands on the roll and squeeze out the excess water.
Carefully unroll the scarf onto a dry towel on a flat surface. I like to use striped beach towels for scarves because I can align the edge of the scarf with the stripe to the scarf dries straight. Place the scarf right side up to force any curls on the underside to flatten as the scarf dries.
Leave the scarf flat on the towel while it dries.