Welding rods and a Kool Leftie

Cheap blocking wires

Quaker yarn stretcher shawl

Quaker yarn stretcher shawl

I posted on the merits of blocking knitting a couple of months ago. Blocking wires make the task of finishing a piece of knitting a lot easier, especially when blocking anything with long straight or curved edges like scarves and shawls. You weave a wire in and out of the edge stitches of the piece and then place pins inside the wire at two or three points to hold it in place. Doing this along each edge is far less tedious than pinning the work itself every couple of inches to stop it stretching out of place.

Straight edges need a stiff wire, while a bit of flex is required in the wires for the curved edges of a design such as a boomerang shawl like the one in the photo above. The only problem is, specialist blocking wires are rather expensive, and I’d rather spend the money on yarn. This is why, until now, I have managed without blocking wires and just used pins, supplemented when necessary with thin glass fibre rods (very flexible indeed) and thicker carbon fibre rods (stiffer than steel but too thick for most things) left over from a kite-making phase.

I read somewhere that stainless steel welding rods can make good blocking wires, and are a lot more affordable. I was out for a bike ride the other day when I noticed a sign by the side of the road advertising a welding supplies shop. Having nothing better to do for a few minutes, I followed the sign down a lane and found myself standing in a queue at a trade counter behind a couple of men discussing the intricacies of welding masks. Since my fluorescent cycling wear matched their hi-viz jackets, I didn’t feel massively out of place. When it was my turn, I came clean immediately and confessed that my interest in welding rods was craft-related. I recalled enough from my limited experience of welding as a trainee engineer some 30 years ago to suggest that stainless steel TIG (tungsten inert gas) rods might fit the bill and the assistant agreed. Since I didn’t want a whole pack of rods, he went off to have a rummage through the bin where they keep odd ones from split packs. He came back with 6 metre-long rods, 3 stiff ones of approximately 3mm diameter that will be great for straight edges and 3 a little thinner that will bend into gentle curves.

Welding rods

Penannular shawl pin

Penannular shawl pin

I then remembered that the author of the Instructable from which I made a shawl pin recently had suggested using a brass brazing rod, so I asked the assistant if he would sell me a single brazing rod of a similar diameter. He had another rummage in the back and returned with a suitable brass rod, a little shorter than the TIG rods. We agreed on a price of £3 for the lot, which I thought was very fair. It was only as I was walking out of the place with my purchases that I realised I would have to get them home on a bike. Fortunately, I always carry a couple of cable ties when cycling – you never know when you might need them for a running repair such as a broken brake cable – and I was able to fasten the rods securely along the top tube of my bicycle, extending onto the luggage rack at the back.

When I checked the Viking Cloak Pin Instructable, I found that the recommendation is to use brass rod for the pin itself and thick copper wire for the ring. I think it would be nice to make the whole thing in the chunky brass, but I’ve never used brass for jewellery making and I don’t know how easy it will be to form it into a ring with the limited tools and facilities at my disposal. However, as the cost of the material was so reasonable, I won’t mind experimenting with it.

Shoe rackI’m sure that this brass rod has other possibilities too. Last year, dear husband helped me make a shoe rack from oak and carbon fibre rod, again based on an Instructable. I like it very much, it stores a lot of shoes in a small footprint and looks quite smart, but I would have preferred to use brass or stainless steel rods instead of carbon fibre. I just couldn’t find any at a reasonable price, but then I was looking in model shops and other outlets supplying hobbyists and model engineering nuts. It never occurred to me to use welding or brazing rod. Industrial materials and products that can be re-purposed are often excellent value, if you can track down what you need and persuade a trade-only supplier to sell to you in a small enough quantity. I find that turning up at a quiet time of the week, being charming and paying cash (which may or may not find its way into the till) usually works, especially if you want to buy something (like a part-used pack or a damaged item) that will probably be hard to sell or end up as scrap.


The new blocking wires should be good for my Leftie shawlette, when it is finished, as it is also boomerang shaped. I should be getting on with my Nanook cardigan, but I’ve lost enthusiasm for it because I’m sure the yoke is too big. I’ve left out the final set of back increases and I shall continue to the point where the sleeves are separated off and then put it on a length of yarn and try it on. I suspect I will have to pull out a few inches, the increases seem to have made the back very baggy.

Leftie by Martina BehmIn the meantime, I finished dyeing lengths of natural-coloured bourette silk 4-ply with Kool-Aid and have started Leftie. I’m using small needles (UK12, 2.75mm) which is giving quite a firm result, and knitting the 5 contrast colours in (approximate) rainbow sequence: blue, green, orange, red, purple, blue, etc. It’s looking good so far, albeit very summery so completely out of kilter with the season. I’m enjoying the little leaves in their different colours but, being a boomerang shawl, the time between leaves is ever-increasing and I expect I will be bored with all the garter stitch by the end. I have saved the left-over Kool-Aid solution in jam jars in case I run out of one or more colours while I still have undyed yarn left. It’s hard to predict how much of each will be required, although I have had a go by working out the total number of stitches for each stripe on a spreadsheet (nerd, moi?).  I reckon I was about 20% through the yarn after 11 leaves, which should mean I can knit about 26 of them in total. That ought to give me a decent-sized little shawl.

Crafty Christmas presents

In my next post, I’ll be suggesting 10 DIY presents for friends and family this Christmas.  Watch this space!

The Big Knit

Last but not least, I see that the deadline for knitting little hats to go on Innocent smoothie bottles has been extended.  The Big Knit hatlets now need to arrive by 12th December.  See my earlier post for more details or visit the Age UK or Innocent Big Knit pages.  This is a really worthwhile way to use up oddments of yarn.

About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
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