Hey there! Have you heard the term Blocking somewhere, or read it in a pattern and thought, "ohhh I don't know about that, that sounds hard and scary"? Well lucky for you, blocking is actually a very simple process!
Essentially, it is just the act of gently washing or steaming, then drying your handknit to finish it off with a neater look. Read on and we'll give you a run through on why blocking is so, so good, the in's and out's of what to do, as well as the items that you need (and don't need!) depending on the type of project you have.
Why should I block my project?
We often say in store that blocking is absolute magic. The act of transforming your scrunchy, wonky knitted or crocheted piece with just a bit of water and time into a beautiful, neat, professional looking piece sounds like pure witchcraft. But trust us, it works.
I mean, have you ever spent ages knitting something with your hopes sky high, only to feel deflated once it's off the needles because it doesn't look as neat as the photos in the pattern? We've also had plenty of customers comment on our store samples saying "Oooh my knits never look this neat!". Well chances are, the biggest difference in both of these scenarios isn't necessarily your tension or your knitting, but blocking!
Another reason to block your pieces is not only to make them look ultra neat, but some different yarn fibres behave quite differently when they get wet.
Take plant fibres for instance. Cottons, linens and rayons will often behave differently once subjected to water, and are quite prone to either stretching or shrinking. Fluffy fibres are ones to look out for too, as they will sometimes fluff up a bit more, or "bloom", filling in some of the gaps in a looser fabric.
So unless you plan on never getting your knitted piece wet, then it can be a good idea to test out how your prospective yarn might behave before casting on, by knitting and blocking a swatch (sorry not sorry about telling you to do this!). We reckon it's a pretty small investment in time to ward off any surprises at the end of a project.
And finally, if you're careful, blocking can help to alter the shape of your finished piece if things haven't quite gone to plan. Maybe you didn't knit the body long enough, or you decided to skip swatching for your next cotton sweater and the sleeves have shrunk shorter (told you so!), well sometimes by blocking or re-blocking we can alter the finished shape of something by how we lay it out to dry. Stretching areas where we would like to add a bit of length or width, or squishing up the fabric to make sure something doesn't grow any extra are all valid options. And if it doesn't work out the first time you can always try it again!
Wet blocking vs Steam blocking
The last bit of theory to talk about before we move on, is wet blocking vs steam blocking. Steam blocking is a great technique for knits that are a bit more delicate, and you don't want to fully immerse them in water. Instead of giving them a good soak in a bath, you use steam to relax the stitches. It's also great for garments that have seamed pieces - you end up with a lovely flat selvedge edge, which is easy to seam neatly. Additionally, with textured knits like cables and bobbles, sometimes wet blocking can flatten out your fabric a little too much, and this is where steam blocking might be a better fit. In either case, if you're in doubt, test a swatch!
What tools do I need for blocking?
There are many "blocking specific" tools available to buy in the knitting world, but they can be quite pricey and somewhat unnecessary. Let us list some of the essentials that you may already have around the house, as well as some optional extras.
For Wet Blocking
- A bucket or basin to hold clean water
- A towel
- A yoga mat, or foam mat to dry your knit on (or something waterproof to pin into) - You can pick up packs of those puzzle-edging foam mats from kmart or bunnings for cheap!
- Pins - T-pins are ok, but regular dressmaking pins work just as well, as long as they won't rust
- Wool wash - Good if your knit needs a clean, is on the scratchy side, or contains excess lanolin. You can use hair conditioner in a pinch, but we would avoid regular laundry detergent if you have used a protein (animal) fibre like wool, alpaca or silk. We have a great Melbourne made wash over here!
- Blocking wires - Handy if you are blocking straight-edged shawls, or need to stretch out expanses of lace
For Steam Blocking:
- Ironing board - or some wadded up towels would work, too
- Pins (optional) - If you do need to pin your steam blocked piece, make sure to use stainless steel or glass head pins - anything plastic could melt onto your fabric!
Ok you've convinced me, now how do I do it?
There's a few different ways to block a project, so let's break down a few methods for you!
Step 1: Soak.
Just soak your finished piece in some lukewarm water for about 20min so the stitches have a chance to get nice and relaxed. (Optionally, you can add some wool wash, see above)
Step 2: Squeeze.
Squeeze out as much water as you can without wringing/twisting the fabric too hard, then roll it up in a towel and press out even more water. This will reduce your drying time by a lot!
Step 3: Dry.
Most projects can just be laid flat to dry, pressing them out into the finished shape you desire without overstretching them. I like to lay mine out on a yoga mat or a foam mat, and then you can pin out any corners with pins if you need a crisp edge. If you have a project that is particularly lacy, then stretch and pin as needed to achieve the desired finish, or use some blocking wires if you have them. Then pop it in a warm spot to dry like near a heater or in a warm room (but be careful with direct sunlight, as some colours can fade!).
Keep in mind that you can always re-block your project as long as you don't accidentally felt it, so avoid hot water and friction and you should be fine.
The best way steam block is to lay or pin your knitted piece onto a flat surface. Then place a damp tea towel over the top, and gently press down with an iron that has been heated up to the Wool setting (no hotter!)
Then, gently touch the iron up and down over the top of the tea towel, kissing the fabric - no more, no less. If the knit has a lot of cabling, I prefer to steam block the wrong side. Once done, remove the tea towel and allow the knitted piece to dry. The stitches should look even and relaxed!
So well done on making it to the end of this post. Hopefully we've demystified things a bit for you and you're all excited now to give blocking a good go!
If you do give it a shot and feel like showing off, tag us in pictures on instagram using @makermaker_store so we can delight in your new love of blocking with you!