An introduction to Blocking

If you read the posts here with any regularity, you'll have seen mention of "blocking" on numerous occasions. A few people have recently asked what this is or how to do it, so I figured it may be worth a post of it's own - after all, my Mum has been knitting for 40 years but she only just learned how to block, so it's obviously something that not all knitters are familiar with.


The basic idea is simple, you wash your item and then stretch it out - a little or a lot depending on the desired effect - to accentuate the shape or pattern. For a little effort, blocking can completely transform a hand knit (or crocheted) item's appearance and make your Finished Objects look much more 'finished' and professional, even if you're a beginner. Not all yarns react the same and the higher the natural fibre content, the better your results are likely to be, so do bear that in mind.

The simple one skein 'feather and fan' scarfette used in the photos was made some time ago and in it's natural state I named it The Poodle - it has been sitting in my knitting bag since then waiting to be blocked. I thought it would be a good one to show you as it looks quite different before and after. Affiliate links to the items I'd recommend are included.

MATERIALS: 

- No-rinse wool wash (I like Eucalan)
- A large flat surface which you can stick pins into (I use the kids' interlocking foam play mats similar to these.... but this type look better)
- Blocking wires and T pins (such as this Basic Kit or this Deluxe Kit). Before investing in wires I made do with bazillions of pins and it was better than not blocking at all but didn't get the same results.
- Tape measure
- Patience!

    STEP 1: 

    Put your item to soak according to the instructions on your wool wash, taking care not to agitate it - Wool + agitation = felt. This will usually involve soaking for a little while in tepid or lukewarm water.

    STEP 2:

    After removing your knitting from the water, gently squeeze out the excess water but NO wringing, you don't want it to shrink or felt! A good way to do this is to place it between clean dry towels and roll it all up, pressing as you roll so that the towels absorb as much of the water as possible.


    STEP 3:

    You should be left with a damp item which you can then lay on your surface and start to spread out into the correct shape. N.B. It's worth thinking about the location of your mats before you start this as a thick/large item that takes a day or more to dry may be in the way if it's right across your sitting room floor and is too big to be easily moved (don't ask how I know about that one!) When you have done this, start threading the wires through the stitches along each edge, as evenly as possible. If you are making something with points, it's important to thread the centre of each point to get them  even and as sharp as you want them. For long/wide projects such shawls and blankets, it will be necessary to use more than one wire along each edge - I do this by overlapping the wires by a few inches which you can see in the second picture below.


    STEP 4:

    Using the T pins to secure the wires in place, stretch the item out as little or as much as you need in order to achieve the desired size/result. Where necessary, use the tape measure to check the blocking is even and symmetrical. Depending on your yarn and it's composition, you may need to exercise caution - I use a lot of Noro and the weak points can split if pulled too hard, so I am always careful to block it gently. On the other hand, hardy sock yarns with some nylon content can withstand more rigorous blocking. If in doubt, test a swatch!

    STEP 5:

    Leave the item to COMPLETELY dry before removing the wires and pins. This is harder than you might think, especially if it's a large item and you really really want to try it on/see how it looks. Don't give in to the temptation! It WILL be worth waiting, so cast on something else and try to forget about it until it's dry.


    Before: 123 cm x 20.5 cm / After: 152 cm x 30 cm

    So that's how I do it. Do you use another method? If so, or you have any tips you'd like to share, please leave a comment. If you'd like to learn more about this topic, you might like this online class from Craftsy: Blocking Handknits with Kate Atherley.

    22 comments

    1. Well, there you go....I didn't know about blocking wires..thanks, very interesting.
      Jude

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      1. Oh they are wonderful! Happy to have introduced you to them! :)

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    2. I'm about halfway through a feather and fad scarf and I was curious about how much it might grow when blocked, your measurements were really helpful.

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      1. I didn't stretch it too much, Carole, as it's Noro and this one has quite a few slubby bits that I wanted to be gentle with - you may be able to get a bit more from yours if you're using something a little more hardy :)

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    3. Great tutorial! I love blocking, it's magical how something can be transformed, especially lace. I've only got T pins at the moment but blocking wires are on my wishlist. I'm really enjoying lace knitting so makes sense to invest in some at some point

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      1. I think it's worth it. I make a lot of shawls and I find them invaluable for that

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    4. Because a lot of my items are garments that are worked in the round I us a tailors dummy set to the right dimensions to block. I use rolled up towels to make the arms.

      If you are short on time you can block by misting the item with tepid water or using steam from an iron (with great care)

      This is another good reason to make swatches as you can check the blocking technique works on the swatch.

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      Replies
      1. Great tips! Thanks, Joanne! I don't make many adult garments but do have a tailor's dummy so I'll have to use that for future knitted projects :)

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    5. well, I get how to do it, but what happens when the item has to be laundered? is it necessary to block it every time?

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      1. If you want it to look the way it does when blocked, then yes. To thread the wires in and pin this took less than 10 mins in total so I can live with that.... plus I mostly knit accessories which don't need to be laundered after each wear!!!! :)

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      2. FYI, if you ever work with acrylic, it is possible to "kill" acrylic fiber by steam-blocking it, and in that case you never have to block it again--the fibers stay the way you left them.

        I prefer wool for a lot of applications, but if it's going to be something large like a blanket I will tend to use more synthetic since it's washable and doesn't require a trip to the dry cleaner. (I also like cotton, but that can be really heavy coming out of a washing machine.) I also tend to use acrylic when I'm not sure how the recipient will treat the object. So I was happy to learn that about acrylic since a person who hates handwashing will likely not block either.

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    6. Great post Ive often wondered what was mean't my blocking in knitting patterns and no I know. Thank -you.

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    7. Thanks, that was really useful. I just knitted something that had to be blocked, and had not heard of it before.

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    8. When you thread the wire through for the edge, do you thread thru all the sts or most?
      Man, I know blocking like that takes patience. I swear it took me once 40 mins.

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      1. It depends what it is really - I don't have a hard and fast rule myself - for eg Nuvem will have around 2,000 sts by the time it's bound off and there's no way I'll be threading aeach individual stitch for that - but for something smaller which has bigger stitches then it may be each.

        I don't know what other people do, maybe someone will comment......?

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    9. What about blocking acrylic, cotton or other fibers? Do you use the same product to soak before blocking?

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      Replies
      1. Yes, I would - but depending on the fibre content it sometimes bounces back after it's unpinned. The best thing to do is to make a swatch and block that. Depending on how it reacts, it may be necessary to adjust the needle/hook size according to whether it blocks well or not. (I had this recently - I made samples in wool and acrylic and the wool grew with blocking but the acrylic didn't so I had to write the acrylic pattern differently.)

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    10. Thank you sooooo much. I'v been raving the blocking subiect in my head for few days and there you are. Now I know where to start. Fortunately for me I have a little rascal at home and loads of mats ;-)

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    11. My mom had a pressing cloth (any smooth cloth of the right size would do) which she dampened slightly, then placed on the item after pinning the top & bottom of the item to the ironing board with straight pins. Then she VERY GENTLY AND QUICKLY sat a WARM<NOT HOT iron on the item, never pushing the iron but lifting it to the next location until it was all steamed. She then took off the cloth & left it to dry, which didn't take long. With this method the item is not soaked or wet except for the steam. I've thought this was what "blocking" meant all my life. She used this for all wool items, knit or sewn. It would work only with pretty small items, nothing more than the length of the ironing board, though I suppose you could do it on a clean carpet.

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      1. My mum also does this with fabric/ sewing but not with knitted items. I have tried using the iron to steam-block things but I didn't find that worked so well, probably due to user error!!! It depends on the stitch - for a lot of lace patterns they need opening out/stretching, and the pinning and letting to dry in that shape is the crucial bit. Pressing them would squash the stitches flat, rather than letting them bloom....?

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