You’ve spent weeks on a project, stayed up late to finish the last few rows and are excited to wear your heroic knitted or crocheted efforts. All the faff of blocking just seems one step too far, but it’s amazing what an hour or so of soaking, pinning, steaming and drying can do for your knitting or crochet project and it gives really polished professional looking results out of all proportion to the work put in. Handcrafted rather than handmade.
It allows fibres to plump up and relax, evening out any moderate discrepancies in tension, so the knitting you did with a death grip on the needles looks as smooth as the first inches of knitted bliss. You can fine tune the sizing, making sure that the pieces are all the size they should be, open up lace, define cables, soften fibres that you might have thought a bit rustic and improve drape. It makes seaming so much easier, the selvedges are straight so you can line up stitches and you won’t be fighting against the natural curl of the fabric.
For lace knitting it is essential, a finished shawl that looks like a crumpled dishcloth will become a thing of beauty with all the fine detail revealed and a good deal larger than the unblocked work – all that knitting time saved.
You don’t need much, if any specialised equipment but it can make life easier and it’s very satisfying to have a bit of kit.
So really why wouldn’t you!
A Blocking Surface
First you’ll need a flat pinable surface. Depending on the size of the knitting his could be a made for purpose blocking board, a wodge of towels on a table, the spare bed, yoga mat, or the type of interlocking mat used to protect mechanic’s knees. These are great if you have the space to store them as you can add sections to suit the shape of the piece. Covering the blocking surface with gingham fabric will help you keep edges straight, even more useful if it’s woven with 1cm or 1 inch squares. Remember that depending on thickness and absorbency your knitting could take several days to dry, so avoid using the spare bed in winter when guests are due.
If you are blocking garment sections or a lace shawl you will need a good supply of pins. We have used glass headed pins but more recently use T-pins which are really strong and don’t bend so readily.
For anything with a straight line or smooth curve you could use blocking wires which cut out half the work and give very even results. Thread the wires through the edge of your piece and pin to the blocking mat, if the shawl is a monster you can thread in however many wires you need overlapping them by several inches. Only a few pins are necessary to hold the wires in place.
Really neat edges on the Navelli Tee using blocking wires
A good long ruler is easier to use than a tape measure.
A supply of absorbent towels
Wool wash or shampoo
There are three blocking methods, the one I use most often is Wet Blocking which is suitable for most natural fibres and some synthetic blends, except those that are non-wash. Silk is more fragile when wet so you may prefer a gentle spray blocking. For fluffy yarns like mohair, steam blocking makes the fibres bloom. Wet blocking can also be used for acrylic but the results are not as permanent as with natural fibres, very gentle steam blocking may give the results you want. Choose the best method by experimenting on your tension squares.
First give your work a long soak in sufficient lukewarm water, you can add a little wool wash or shampoo if the yarn doesn’t wet naturally. I leave it for a good 20 minutes to half an hour so that all the fibres are fully saturated and evenly wetted.
Drain away the water, supporting the garment and if you’ve added wool wash, rinse in several changes of water. Keep the changes of water at the same temperature especially if you are blocking wool so the knitting isn’t shocked into felting and don’t move it around too much.
After the final rinse drain away the water and squeeze gently, don’t wring. Then supporting the whole garment lay out as evenly as possible on a towel. Roll into a sausage and press down to squeeze out as much water as possible, I stand on the towel moving along to even out the pressure. If the fibre holds a lot of water you may need to repeat this with a dry towel.
Lay the knitting or crochet on your blocking surface, take a ruler and with the pattern schematic as a guide smooth out the fabric to size. If you are blocking a garment pin the centre front to length then pin out to width at the chest, followed by the corners. Then use as many pins as necessary to maintain a smooth edge. You can make slight changes in size with blocking but don’t in desperation tug it to it’s extreme limits, it will only bounce back when dry and the tension between the pins will probably give an unwanted scalloped edge or horror of horrors, break the yarn.
For anything with a straight line or smooth curve you could use blocking wires which take out half the effort and give very even results. Thread the wires through the edge of your piece then tension the wires by pinning to the blocking mat. Only a few pins are necessary to give a straight line or shape curve as required. For very large items thread through as many wires as needed overlapping them by several inches. If your shawl or garment has a scalloped edge you can thread the wire through the ends of the points and pull them evenly to the same length. Magic.
Lace points all blocked to the same level with blocking wires
Socks and Mittens
We are occasionally asked if our Bunny Sock Blockers and Mouse Mittens are really necessary, well, not essential, we’ve laid our socks out on a cake cooling rack before now, but they can transform a skinny looking twist of knitting into something very professional. A pair of socks or mittens you’d be happy to give as a gift. They make easy work of smoothing away slight but irritating ladders that can occur when changing needles and open up lace stitches. They look cute too! If you are between sizes and unsure of which to buy go for the smaller size as you don’t want flappy feet but don’t be surprised by the finished width when compared to their very much stretchier commercial cousins.
Before and after being Bunnied
Balloons are a cheap and fun way to block hats. Blow up the balloon to the size in the pattern or schematic, remember that most hats will have negative ease and will be stretched on the head when worn. Measure carefully as I’ve found a balloon looks remarkably small when compared to my more than average head. Tuck the balloon into the hat, then cinch in the brim so that it isn’t over stretched. Balance the balloon on a suitable vase until dry.
If you knit berets or tams then choose a suitable sized plate, remember not too large, you don’t want to look like the pixie under the toadstool. Again be very careful not to overstretch the brim.
Is similar to wet blocking but you don’t saturate the work so in theory it will dry more quickly. Lay the piece on the blocking surface, inserting wires if you are using them and pining in place in the same way as wet blocking. Measure as you go to ensure you achieve the measurements on the pattern schematic but without any aggressive pulling and yanking. Fill a spray bottle with clean lukewarm water and mist the surface so that it is thoroughly and evenly damp. Press the surface with the palm of your hand if the fibres are reluctant to wet. Leave to dry thoroughly before removing the pins and moving the work.
Finally Steam Bllocking, this is a good substitute if you are in a tremendous hurry to wear your work, or you want to block sections of a finished garment or to give a final finish to something you’ve already wet blocked, like the seams or added edgings.
Make sure your blocking surface is heatproof, then smooth or pin out the garment or area of garment. If you have a steam iron hover it over the area but don’t touch the surface If you don’t have a steam iron wet a pressing cloth, squeeze it out so it’s still thoroughly wet but not dripping then lay over the knitting and hold the iron over the cloth to create steam. Leave the knitting to cool and dry completely before moving it.
Steam blocking can used on acrylic yarns but it’s very important not to touch the fabric with the iron, it’s plastic and will melt! Check the effects and level of steaming on a small knitted sample as blocking acrylic with heat is permanent. Cover the work with a thin cotton cloth and hover a steam iron over the surface, or use the damp cloth and standard iron method. A light steam is all you need for most items but for something like a shawl a heavy steam will ‘kill’ the yarn and give it amazing drape.
If you wanted to try blocking and hankered after one or two items of kit you can find our range on the Notions section of the website here: https://theknittingshed.com/product-category/accessories/notions/