June 28, 2014

I am not an expert: lessons in steam

Heat and steam relax the fabric, NOT
pressure. Barely hover over the fabric
with the steam (iron or steamer). 
I used to work at Fred Meyer, a local retail chain here on the west coast of the U.S. My department was apparel, specifically women's RTW--you know, "ready-to-wear." This job consisted mostly of picking up after shoppers: hanging things back up in the dressing rooms; cleaning up kid food spills off the sales floor; tidying the sales rounders; and re-folding (and re-folding and re-folding...and re-fold.....you get the idea) all the shirts, etc. on tables. It was pretty much like being at home with my 6 kids. 40 hours a week.

Except on freight days. I left behind the dirty diapers in the fitting rooms and angry customers at the return counter and headed to the stockroom. There, we had new ladies' clothing, hot off the press, as it were. Boxes and boxes of it. We'd hang it up and then use the elegant, slender, magical floor steamer to make it all lovely. It was a quiet respite from the retail craziness, standing in the quiet stockroom with racks and racks of new smelling fabrics, ready to be smoothed, soothed, by our steamer.

It was a slow, relaxing process, almost hypnotic as the steady steam rose silently, warmly to the high, open ceilings of the large room. It was like a spa for clothes. And once they were dressed and pressed and beautified for the public, the spell was broken and we would once again dive back into the world of merchandising and customer service.

Since right now, my Master Knitter's Level I research centers around blocking and care of hand knits, I decided to try out steam as a blocking tool. I have been reading quite a bit about it and as you might imagine, the reading flooded my memory with those good feelings I experienced with it at the store.

Through the magic of internet searching, I did find out that one can purchase one of those floor steamers online. But they come at a cost and my Rowenta iron just had to do for now.

As I began, there was steam rising, to be sure, lots of it. But no clouds parted and no angels sang and I did not feel hypnotized in my very small upstairs laundry room while steaming the once very wrinkled up, unblocked skirt of my newest test knit for Gabrielle Danskknit, Spin Round and Round Tunic Dress.

I was nervous.

The left shoulder got pretty stretched
And apparently I should have been because, true to my nature, I forgot something. Something I intuitively knew, but left behind while driven to distraction about lengthening and smoothing the skirt on the dress: if you hang a garment on a hanger, and pour tons of hot steam on it, there is a pretty good chance the rest of the garment will get steamed too. Not just the intended parts, eg. the skirt.

To make matters worse, I knitted the dress to be quite long. Amy Rose wanted it "to look like Elsa from Frozen." So the skirt made the whole thing pretty heavy, especially when wet. Combine that fact with the slowly dampening shoulder "straps" and voila....recipe for a dress that is way too big.

Once  I noticed what was happening on one of the shoulders as I worked around the skirt, I stopped immediately and hung the dress over the rack at the waistline instead of on a hanger from the shoulders. This removed the tension on the yoke. I should have started out in this position, or used a blocking board to steam only the skirt.

I later ended up washing the whole thing in warm water in a lingerie bag to get some of the
Amy Rose loves her dress
spring back. I reshaped it wet and re-blocked the top.

I learned at least two things this week: it is true that blocking--at least to some degree--indeed makes some things permanent. (Even after washing, my skirt was still nice and smooth) But it is also true that you can get some of the original spring, size and shape back in some cases.

While I made a pretty big error, it was not irreparable, and Amy can certainly wear the dress, which is adorable. (I even threaded some ribbon through the waistband for extra femininity) It is just a bit big in the armpits now, and she just will have to wear a lacy cotton slip underneath it till next winter. Then she can wear a sweater over it, just like Elsa.

Unless she grows. And we all know that's going to happen. Then she can wear a sweater for fun, not to cover her armpits.

I have added a new board to my Pinterest just for info on the things I am learning or plan to learn. There are lots of links to blocking, steaming, and what have you. Hopefully it can help someone else out, too.

What's on my needles now? Another pair of Dr. Who mittens for a friend's son. Hopefully I will remember all the steps this time and not get caught up in the granular minutia.

Random Fact of the Week: 

Rayon fiber is not synthetic. Well, it's man-made, but men make it from cotton lint and wood chips. Really?! I think MacGyver invented that one.

Amy thinks we should bring fancy hats back. I agree. You UK folks already do
this very well. We are jealous of your hats. 

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