three panel image of lace cowl before, during and after blocking

A guide to blocking your knitting

Blocking is the finishing touch to a knitting project. It is a simple matter of washing or wetting your newly knitted item and letting it dry flat in the shape you wish it to have. It evens out the stitches and the edges and gives your piece that finished look. Some people never block their knitting, and some people swear by it. You will find your own way, but there are some things such as lacework and cabled knitting that really benefit from blocking. Exactly how you best block something depends on the type of yarn in particular, but also the kind of project.

Generally, there are three types of blocking: wet blocking, spray blocking, and steam blocking. Regardless of the method you choose, you will need blocking pins and a blocking board. Note that you need to weave in your yarn ends before you block.

Blocking tools

I currently use a children’s play mat as a blocking board. You know, one of the foam ones with letters or numbers in bright colors that fit together like a puzzle. It’s an affordable solution, and it stores easily. The professional solutions (for example KnitIQ blocking mats) are very similar, although I must say that the grid lines would come in handy. You can also use something you already have in the house, maybe an old yoga mat, or you can place a towel on an ironing board. All you really need is a flat surface that you can stick pins in.

For the pins, you can use sewing pins or T-pins. Anything that’s rust-proof will do. There are also blocking combs designed explicitly for knitters. The combs have multiple pins next to each other and are easy and fast to insert.

Two panel image of lace cowl, on the needles and finished on a person
Blocking helps to open up lacework. The yarn for this cowl is an inelastic linen/cotton blend, so the effect of blocking is moderate but well worth it.

Wet blocking

If you have ever washed a wool sweater, and let it dry flat, gently reshaping it, you have already done a mild version of blocking. A rule of thumb is to wash the knitted garment according to the washing instructions on the yarn label. Then pin it down with rust-proof pins on a flat surface to let it dry in the desired shape.

A cotton dishcloth, you can usually wash in the washing machine. Squeeze out the water and spread it out flat to dry and use pins to pin it to a square shape. It will dry relatively fast. When I knit dishcloths for myself, I don’t bother blocking them, but I like to do it before giving them as gifts. They look so much more beautiful.

Wool and other animal fibers generally need a gentle, cold hand wash. I recommend using a no-rinse detergent such as Eucalan delicate wash. Let the garment soak 15-20 minutes, then lift it carefully out of the water and gently squeeze. Do not wring the garment as that will stretch the fibers. Roll the garment in a clean, dry towel, and squeeze out excess water. Then lay it on a fresh towel on a flat surface, and pin the knitted garment in the shape you want, or according to the measurements specified in the pattern. If your knitwork has ribbing, don’t stretch it out too much as it will lose its elasticity. Some yarns take a long time to dry but leave it out till it’s bone-dry, before removing the pins. You will not need to fully reblock a wool sweater every time you wash it, but you will have to reshape a little and let it dry flat every time, just as you would if it was a store-bought wool sweater.

When in doubt about how to best wash your newly knitted item, always refer to the yarn label. If you are knitting a fitted garment, it is essential to wash and block your gauge swatch the same way you intend to wash and block the finished piece, so you know how the fabric will change with the process.

gauge swatch on the blocking mat
It’s important to block your gauge swatches to determine the finished measurements of a given yarn, needle, stitch combination. Both the gauge and the drape of the fabric can change when you wash and block your knitting. As an added bonus, you will find out if the yarn bleeds color.

Spray blocking

If you are in a hurry, and you don’t feel the need to wash your knitted piece, you can use spray blocking. You pin the garment to the blocking board in the desired shape and then spray water on it with a plant mister. Let it dry, and you are done.

I usually prefer to wash my knitting rather than spray block it. The way I see it, the knitting collects dust and dirt all the while I am working on it, and I probably spilled tea on it once or twice, so it’s overdue for a wash anyway by the time I bind off. However, if the project is so large, you would need to use a bathtub to wash it, maybe spray blocking is a better option.

Steam blocking

Steam blocking is fast and effective and works well for many types of yarn. However, some animal fibers get ruined by heat, so be careful. I primarily use steam blocking for acrylic and other synthetic yarns. There are a lot of opinions about blocking acrylic yarn, and many knitters don’t bother at all, claiming it’s not worth it because the blocking is lost with wear and washing. That’s true if you wet or spray block it, but I’ve had great results with steam blocking.

Similar to spray blocking, you pin the knitted garment in place with the proper dimensions, and then you steam it. I’ve had the best results from pinning with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. You will want to make sure the pins don’t protrude too much from the material, so place the pins more sideways.

You can use the steam setting on a clothes iron, or an actual clothing steamer. Be super careful never to touch the iron or the steamer to the fabric, but hover above it. If you are worried, place a thin towel or piece of cloth on top of your knitting. You can also turn the steam setting off, and put a wet cloth on top of your knitting. When you hover the hot iron above the cloth, the moisture will turn to steam.

Be aware that acrylic yarn contains plastic and when you are steaming it, you are melting the plastic a tiny bit. This means the changes to the fabric are permanent. If you over steam it, the plastic melts completely. Proceed carefully and experiment on a small swatch to see how it affects the look and drape of the fabric before blocking a sweater that was months in the making.

Block before seaming

If you are knitting a project that involves several separate pieces that will be seamed together, always block before you assemble. This could be a blanket, knitted in squares or strips and then seamed, or a sweater knitted flat in separate pieces and seamed together. The seaming process will be a lot easier if you block beforehand and make sure that the edges are flat and match each other in size where they will be sewn together.

Final Thoughts

Opinions about blocking are many and varied. Many knitters have never even tried it, some don’t see the point, while others absolutely detest having more work to do once the knitting is done. I understand, but I find that if you consider the finishing touches a part of the project rather than something extra you have to do after you’re done, then somehow that changes everything. I encourage you to give it a try and see how you like it. It can be incredibly satisfying to block a knitted piece with uneven stitches and edges and watch it transform into near perfection.

What are your thoughts on blocking? Have you tried it? Do you have a good trick? Please leave a comment.

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