It Is Time to Block!

For the past couple of weeks, I have been knitting the Goldfish Memory Shawl.  It is a light and brightly colored shawl that is perfect for cool spring days and to throw over your shoulders in a cool restaurant.  Well, I finished it this past week — just in time for a spring snowstorm.  Since watching 30+ inches of snow is not quite as interesting as you might think, it was a perfect time to weave in loose ends and make the final touches to truly finish the project.  That means blocking.  Yes, I know some of you might think: really, that is not fun.  I assure you that it is because it will result in a professional looking project.

I have heard many a knitter say, “Oh, I never block.”  Well, they should.  It can be the difference between having a finished piece with lumps and uneven sections to one that is smooth and even.  It can even make a difference in the fit.  Blocking can be accomplished using steam, misting, water or a total soak.  The results are well worth the effort.  For example, blocking:

  • Gives fibers a chance to bloom and even out your stitches.  Even the most experienced knitters can have uneven stitches.  Most projects are not knitted in one sitting so mood, stress, attention, etc. can affect tension.  Blocking smooths out all those little differences.
  • Most stitch patterns (lace among them) benefit from a wet block (i.e., a good water soak) to allow the fabric to stretch enough to show off the pattern and achieve the final dimensions of the project.  Below is a lace pattern before blocking on the left and after blocking on the right.  You can see that blocking opened up the lace.
    Unblocked Lace  Blocked Lace
  • Blocking can also help you adjust the size a little.  Wool yarns will block differently than cotton.  I find that some cotton yarns stretch quite a bit.  The best thing to do is to block your swatch to see how the yarn will react to blocking.  Did it stretch or shrink?  I always consult the finished measurements on a pattern before deciding which size to knit.  If the small size for a pattern is 35 inch bust which is spot on for me, I can gain another one to ½ inch after a wet block.  This is great because I tend to prefer a little bit of ease. 
  • Avoid blocking metallic or novelty yarn. 
  • If the yarn is superwash, you can wet block.
  • If you used angora, mohair, wool blends, silk, bamboo or Tencel, you should mist block.  These fibers can really stretch when wet.
  • If you are using a cashmere, alpaca, wool, camel, cotton, flax, or linen you can wet or steam block.  If there is a synthetic fiber in the blend such as acrylic you should mist as heat from steam could melt synthetic fibers.

So, how do you block?

  • Well, if you have decided to wet block, dissolve a cap full of Soak into a plastic tub or a clean basin filled with cold or tepid water.  This will clean your project and it is rinse-free.  Let it soak for about 15 to 30 minutes.  You want the fiber to get completely saturated.
  • Gently squeeze out the water and lay your project on a large, thick, clean, towel.  Roll up the towel pressing to extract as much water as possible.
  • Then gently remove your project and place it on a blocking board.  Now is the time to get out your trusty tape measure and your pattern directions, which should contain the final measurements of your project.
  • Using these measurements as a guide, gently shape your project with pins and wires.  Double check the length of your sleeves and the width of your cuffs.
  • Let your project dry completely before removing the pins and wires.

If you are mist blocking, lay out your project on the board first, then mist (I use a plastic bottle with a fine mister) making sure that you saturate the fibers.  Then measure and pin using the recommended dimensions provided in your pattern.  Let your project dry completely before removing the pins and wires.

If you elect to steam block, make sure to work on a heat resistant surface.  Lay out and shape your project.  Once again, use pins and/or wires to achieve the correct dimensions.  Hold your steam iron an inch or so above the project and let the steam loose.  Do not touch the fabric with the iron.  Let your project dry completely before removing the pins and wires.

As with any project, having the right tools can make all the difference.  Most of us have a steam iron, but I recommend that you acquire Soak , T-Pins, blocking wires, a blocking mat, and a good tape measure.  Several years ago, I tried getting by with blocking items on a towel on top of counter.  But it is difficult to measure, wire and accurately pin on such a soft surface.  It also took the fiber longer to dry on a towel.  So, I invested in blocking tools and, I have to say, I love them.  The board (or mat) provides a firm surface that makes it easy to measure and sink a pin into, and does not absorb lots of water. My blocking wires are invaluable for making sure that the hems of my sweaters or the edges of my shawls are even.  As you can see from the photo below, I use wires on the hem, along the tops and bottoms of the sleeves, and along both sides of the body.  I use the T-Pins to hold the wires in place.  This process results in a finished garment that has even stitches, sleeves of the same length, correct body measurements, and a professionally finished look.

Sweater on Blocking Mat

Below is a nice tutorial on blocking with wires.  It is a good one to watch if you are on the fence about investing in them.  I love mine because they sure make a difference in getting the right shape.  And, after spending many hours knitting a project, why not take the time to properly block your project?  I think that you will love the results.