You finally finished your knitting or crochet project after days, weeks, or even months of work and dedication. It's finished, you can finally show off... can you?
We all have worn a just finished knitted sweater without blocking, and it has not been the end of the world. But in the same way that you look fancier with an ironed cotton blouse, your shawl, sweater, or ready knitted garment will look even more perfect if you go a step further.
Crocheter, do not stop reading: this post is also for you! And you, the one that just finished that wonderful blanket, do you think that blocking is only for garments? Keep reading, and you will see that blocking not only helps you give an even more beautiful finishing to your projects but also facilitates the final sewing of them.
This is a pretty long post, and we hope that you keep it as a reference. So we leave you an index here to help you access the information you need on every occasion.
First of all, what is this mystic thing called blocking that we always try to avoid and what's its purpose?
Blocking is just a way of dressing the stitches so the knitted or crochet stitches show off better—that simple. We broke the spell, the mysticism, the laziness, and the terror to blocking, right?
Even if we have a regular tension, it is very common that stitches distribute irregularly along the fabric, that they clump in uneven sequences and don't leave a perfectly defined motif.
When we spend a lot of time in a garment, we have more relaxed days and more tense ones, moments that we are still becoming in terms with the pattern, and moments when we knit more confidently. And all this reflects in our fabric. This is especially noticeable in colorwork projects, lacework, patterns with lots of texture,...
Also, there are some fibers that are more prone to show all their irregularities; this is the case of linen, for example, a thread with a wonderful drape that improves its appearance once its stitches have been blocked.
What we get when we block a garment is that fabric opens and relaxes, and stitches become consistent in size and distribute evenly along the piece.
While we block, aside of letting fibers relax and take their place, we can also be more aggressive and force the position of stitches to give them a sharper appearance (like in the decorative edges of a shawl), smoothly define straight lines so they look completely straight, slightly increase the size of the garment (this will depend a lot on the main fiber of the thread, so better guide yourself by the swatch and do not trust on increase the sweater in one size with blocking!),...
The blocking process consists of two steps: dampening (with water or steam) and shaping. As we will see along this post, the order of these two steps is not important, and when we proceed to shape the piece we can stress more or less the stitches according to the garment's needs or kind of fiber.
Let's see how to block step by step a series of garments with different techniques so you can apply any of them as they suit your garment's needs.
What if instead of calling it "blocking" we call it "washing the garment"? Do you fear it the same? Washing clothes is something that you usually do... ok, maybe ironing is not as fun, but is neither always necessary, right? Well, the wet blocking method is precisely that: washing the blouse and sometimes ironing it (not in the iron blocking method that we will later see).
With the wet blocking method, we can shape and stretch (if needed) our garments after having them submerged in water. This is probably the most common way to block your garments, and it is especially practical for circular knitted jumpers.
Step 1. Fill a basin or sink with lukewarm water, not too cold, not to warm. You can add some drops of Eucalan, a no-rinse delicate wash, to soften your garment (that's especially interesting if you have knitted with pure wool yarns that must free the spinning oils, like Holst Garn).
Step 2. Place your garment in the water and let it soak for 15-20 minutes.
Step 3. After this time, carefully remove the garment from the water. Swish it delicately against the basin border while you drop the water. Do not twist nor let the knitting hang with the weight of water.
Step 4. Extend the garment over a towel and make a roll. Press to get rid of the excess of dampness. You can do it on the floor and stand over the towel roll, to put more pressure and avoid putting stress on your back.
Step 5. Place the garment with the right side up over a foam surface or a table covered with blankets (they must be clean and colorfast surfaces). Adjust the piece to the desired size and shape and let it dry flat. In the case of a lace garment or a shawl with a specific shape, blocking pins will help you define well the shapes and holes of the fabric. We can stress the fabric a bit to highlight our motifs.
For straight areas blocking combs are really helpful.
Step 6. Let your garment dry away from sunlight and heat sources.
For straight large areas (like the spine of a shawl), or if you want that the peaks of a border have all the same size, you can use a large stainless steel wire. This way you will go faster and you will only have to put some blocking pins to keep the wire in place to shape the piece.
If you just let it dry flat without blocking pins, you will be dressing the stitches without drastically change the shape of your knitted garment. This is what you will normally do after washing your knitted sweaters.
Before using this method, always check the yarn label to be sure that it can be washed. Some yarns made with metallic fibers, for example, are better blocked with other methods that do not require water immersion. In general, yarns made of wool, alpaca, cashmere, cotton, silk,... react well with this kind of blocking.
One of the most common fears around wet blocking is about felting the garment by error. You must know that in order to felt a garment the water must be warm and there must be constant agitation involved. As you have seen in the step-by-step, these two circumstances do not occur in the wet blocking method. Also, only certain fibers can felt with hot water and agitation: non-superwash wool, alpaca, mohair... Plant fibers and synthetic yarns do not wet felt. In summary, you must not worry about felting your garments when wet blocking. In any case, as you will have made a tension swatch before knitting and you had blocked it (right?), you already know if this is the best blocking method for your finished garment.
Another way to block the wet fabric is stretching the shawl or sweater in wooden frames, common practice in Shetland Islands, since shetland wool is springy and tends to shrink back when wet.
It is important to know the wet blocking method and how to correctly do it because in the end is the same process that you will do every time that you wash your knitted garments... although we call it washing instead of blocking.
If you are really frightened by the idea of soaking a garment in which you spend so many hours, or if you want to have more time to define the shape of the garment before soaking it, an ideal blocking method for beginners is spray blocking.
This method gives you time and freedom enough to calmly prepare your garment for the blocking, without the stress of time, worries about managing wet wool, felting the garment, or any other unfounded but reasonable fear surrounding a knitted project in which you invested a lot of love and time...
Another reason to go with spray blocking method is if your hand joints hurt. If the reason why you don't block your shawls is that your hands hurt with the weight of the wet garment and for the dedication that placing the needles at a given time requires, spray blocking is your salvation.
Let's see the spray blocking method step-by-step.
Step 1. Prepare a foam surface, a towel, or a blanket big enough for your shawl. Check that they are clean and colorfast.
Step 2. Place your shawl with the right side up and shape it pinning the blocking pins. There's no rush. If your back hurts, if your arms are tired, if you have a pot on the stove, or if you rather want to go to the cinema, you can leave it half done and come back when you feel up to it.
Step 3. When you have the garment with the final shape, lightly spray it with cold and clean water. If you want, you can mix several drops of Eucalan in the bottle and shake well before spraying.
Step 4. Let it dry. Once dry, remove the blocking pins and show it off!
In the same way as the previous method, you can use blocking combs and stainless steel wires to easily shape larger areas. To place the wire, you only have to pass the wire through the edge stitches (from front to back and to front again) without twisting them.
The spray blocking method is really useful for those wet days in which you know that your garments will take a lot of time to dry, or when you want to show off your garment in a near event.
Also, with this method you can block several pieces of the same size at a time, one over the other, to shape uniformly before sewing them together (for example, the granny squares of a blanket). Being only slightly wet they will dry faster than with the wet blocking method.
Another application of the spray blocking method is when you want to starch garments, a slightly outdated technique but that gives an elegant body to shawls knitted with fine cotton thread, for example. Simply dilute some starch into the water in the bottle before proceeding to block the garment.
The stitch dressing by steam is a method that gives very good results in airy garments like shawls and scarves made of mohair or knits with fluffly look, with cables or brioche stitch.
Steam blocking softens and relaxes the fabric through temperature and moisture. This method is especially useful when you only need to conditionate a small area, you can't wait lots of time for the garment to dry or when you want to keep the bulkiness of your stitches.
Formerly, people held the folded garment over a boiling pot or kettle, letting it soak in steam, and then they proceeded to block it. They easily burnt their fingers in the process, and it wasn't nice. Fortunately, nowadays we can use electric irons that make the work easier.
Let's see the step by step of steam blocking:
Step 1. Put some towels over the ironing board or table, and place the garment to be blocked with the wrong side up.
Step 2. Secure the piece in its place with blocking pins.
Step 3. With the iron at the lowest temperature setting, release a jet of steam 3cm over the fabric. Do not touch the fabric with the base of the iron.
Step 4. If needed, flatten the fabric with the palm of the hand or adjust the shape. Let it dry completely before removing the blocking pins.
As you have to hold the iron up for some time, this method may be tiring and a bit painful. Take this into account before putting it into practice on very large pieces.
You have probably heard that acrylic knitted garments cannot be blocked. In fact, if you try to block them with the wet blocking method, for example, you will see that as soon as they dry, the stitches will come back to their original position. This can be a real hassle if you have spent a lot of time knitting an acrylic garment with textures and lace, and in the end, it doesn't look as it should. Well, do not despair: steam blocking is the solution for garments knitted with acrylic yarns. A moderate touch of steam will slightly melt the fiber, helping the stitches to keep where you want them.
If you want to give a definitive and irreversible blocking to your acrylic garment (commonly known as "killing"), you can apply an excess of temperature from close or even the steam iron method that we will see next. This process breaks the internal structure of the fiber and permanently removes its elasticity by melting it. With this you get a much softer acrylic garment with a nice drape, that looks somewhat less "hand-made", if that is what you are looking for. Before "killing" or even steam blocking your acrylic knitted garments, always do a test on your tension swatch to know which is the point of no return that can ruin your garment.
Ugh, iron! Let's generate controversy!
You surely have heard more than once that you don't have to iron knitted garments. Well, yes, knitted garments do not require to be ironed. But used correctly, with care, and having previously done a test on a tension swatch, the iron is a tool that can help us to get better and prettier finishings.
Step 1. Cover the ironing board or surface where you are going to block the garment with blankets, towels or cushions. You want the thickness of a pin at least.
Step 2. Put the garment you are going to block with the wrong side up.
Step 3. Secure and shape the piece with stainless pins. In this case, we are not going to use blocking pins as we need a flat surface.
Step 4. Cover your piece with a clean cloth and put the iron gently over it. Do not move the iron over the fabric (as when you iron) nor apply pressure. Don't leave the full weight of the iron on the fabric either, you don't want to squash the stitches.
Step 5. Repeat step 4 in another area until you have finished blocking all the piece.
Step 6. Let it cool before removing the pins.
This method is especially useful for blocking a sweater made in pieces. Blocking each one of the pieces separately before sewing them will make the work easier. In the following picture, you can see the edges of the front piece blocked in comparison with the back piece without blocking, which one do you prefer to sew?
This method should not be used in yarns that contain thermoplastic fibers (acrylic, nylon, polyester,...) unless you want to kill the garment as we have previously seen; mohair, angora, or cashmere (it will flatten them and they will lose their personality); or metallic threads.
Always read the skein labels to know if it can be ironed. In any case, since you will have done a tension swatch before knitting, you can test how the fabric reacts to this method before applying it to your final piece.
Blocking with an iron slightly flattens the stitches, so this is not advisable in garments where we want to emphasize the texture and volume of the stitch, such as cables and nupps, brioche stitch, or ribbings.
All these garments can be blocked with any of the aforementioned methods, taking into account the yarn composition, kind of stitch, etc.
But if we want to better define their volumes, we can find specific or somewhat ingenious ways to improve its blocking.
In the case of a hat, you can inflate a balloon until it is slightly bigger than your head diameter (it will lose air while tying it and with the pass of time) and put the hat on it. You can use the wet blocking method or spray it with water, but you will obviously avoid blocking with pins, iron, or steam.
To block a pair of gloves or mittens, you can use latex gloves as a last to keep shape, slightly inflating them as if they were a balloon.
Socks are a utilitarian piece, knitted with love but that end up hidden behind a layer of trousers and shoes. Is it really necessary to block socks?
As in everything, blocking will help the stitches to look better, especially if they have texture and lace. If you are going to give a pair of hand-knitted socks as a gift, they will be much more impressive and will look more professional if you have previously blocked them. If you want to give them a more defined shape, you can use the practical sock blockers. In case of soaking them, let them dry flat.
But really, socks are a piece that, if they are for you, the best blocking method is for you to put them on your feet!
One of the most frequent questions, once a garment has been blocked, is "and do I have to do this every time I wash it?".
Once your garment has been blocked, in general, neither the yarn nor the fabric will ever return to exactly the same condition they were before being blocked for the first time. But the proportions given to the garment during blocking are not completely permanent. Depending on the composition of the yarn, the use of the garment, the stitch pattern,... the dimensions of the fabric will change with time and circumstances. For this reason, it is so important to make a tension swatch before knitting the final project. In general, however, the fabric will stabilize over time.
The next time that you wash the garment, the stitches will have found their place and will not require the attention of the first blocking. But as well as after washing a blouse it is always fine to press it a bit, you will want to dress your knitted garments so they look the best they can after washing. The most common method after washing will be drying flat, and now you know that rolling the garment inside towels will get rid of excess water.
Only in the occasion of sharp angles or specific shapes, you will want to put blocking pins again to keep the position of the fabric while it dries (or after it's dry if you rather want to apply the steam or iron blocking methods), without being as a dedicated process as the first blocking.
This has been a long post but we hope that it has been interesting and it helps you in your next project.
Aside from being able to learn each blocking method step by step, the main ideas about blocking that you must keep are:
1. Blocking is like putting make up... It is not mandatory nor always necessary; there are different techniques to make it; and according to the occasion and the chosen method you will opt for a more natural outcome, more extreme result, or just don't apply it.
2. Always read the labels on your skeins before choosing a blocking method (and aftercare of the garment).
3. Always make a tension swatch and block it before starting your project, to know how the garment will behave with the chosen yarn.
4. Always use quality tools: stainless steel, colorfast, that do not require rinsing,...
5. Not all fibers react in the same way to blocking and with all blocking methods. Trying, playing, and seeing which method works best with your needs and your fabric is another way to enjoy this process.
We would love to see how you apply these advices to your next project. Do you dare to post pictures of the before and after blocking of your garments on Instagram? Tagg us with #misskits so we can see it and share it!