Be warned this is one of my hobby horses.
I often hear or read: “I have never blocked my knitting.”
Quite frankly I don’t believe this.
I don’t believe that there is anyone who has neither reshaped a damp piece of knitting nor ever washed a knitted item.
The problem is a common misconception that “blocking” always involves wires, pins and extreme stretching.
In fact, blocking is a general term for getting your knitted pieces wet – by soaking, steaming, spraying with water or covering with wet cloths – and then shaping it. The shaping could be a small adjustment to get straight edges or persuade you stocking stitch to unroll, or it could be a more aggressive process to open up a lace pattern.
There are lots of good reasons to block and they are all about getting a great finish to your project:
- Making your pieces the right shape
- Opening up or evening out your stitches – for example gentle blocking can really improve the look of colourwork
The crown of the hat has been steamed to even out the
stitches and dried over a curved surface
- Letting your cables bloom.
- Opening up lace to create the final fine fabric
There are several ways to block:
- Wash your knitting (following ball band instructions) and lay it out flat, gently adjusting it for size.
- Pin your pieces to shape on a foam board or a folded towel and stray with water or steam (I recommend a travel steamer). Then leave to dry.
- Pin out and cover with damp cloths, letting the moisture soak into to the knitting and then leaving to dry
- Using a steam iron to steam your pieces through a damp cloth. Note, always make sure the knitting is covered by the cloth and never touch your steam iron to the cloth, let alone the knitting.
- Wet blocking by soaking your pieces and pinning out – more on this tomorrow.
Personally, I tend towards steam or wet blocking because of the fibres and projects I choose.
How you block will depend on various factors:
- Fibres – wool has lots of spring so can take some aggressive stretching and wet blocking but this would distort cotton or bamboo yarns. Acrylic yarns don’t like too much heat – so steam from a greater distance.
- Stitches – take care not to over stretch of flatten cables. On the other hand, lace stitches need opening up so take more blocking and pinning out.
- The project – how much reshaping does your project need? A lace panel in a sweater will need to be opened out but you may not need/want to stretch you piece as much as a lace shawl where you will want a very light fabric.
But, and this is important, blocking will even out stitches, it will NOT make your item fit if you’ve knitted the wrong size (well not without causing other problems).
If you are not sure what the best way to block your piece is, test various approaches on tension squares or extra swatches - may be that will convert some tension square refuseniks!