Knitting 101: Blocking

We’ve knitted some pretty fun things at this point and you may have knitted a few things on your own. Have you looked at your work and wondered why it’s curling up or twisting and not looking like the pictures at all?

Probably what’s happened is that you need to “Block” your work. Not, mentally block it out,  but manipulate the yarn to give it some shape. Blocking is a way to show the yarn who’s boss and get your work to lay the way it’s supposed to lay. Blocking will NOT fix twisted stitching or crooked seems, but it will make our dishcloth lay nice and flat and keep our sweater pieces flat and easy to sew together.

I will be honest here, I think blocking is a total pain and I really don’t like it. However, it is WORTH THE TROUBLE! (I say that a lot huh?) Please learn from my experience here and just block your work. It usually needs to happen before you can really finish a piece, so you’ll need some patience, but it will be worth the wait to do it right.

I will also say that I am not terribly skilled at blocking. There is a really great blog entry on Knitty.com called “To Block or Not to Block…” that will serve you much better if you are a more advanced knitter and want to get more detailed information on how to block specific fibers. I am going to go through the beginner’s basics here so that you can get started on your blocking journey. Just know there is more out there than what I’m going to show you in this post.

So, what do you need to block your work? That depends on which way you want to do things. For yarns like cotton and acrylic I prefer to wet block. When it comes to wool and other animal fibers, I prefer to steam block them. Now, that being said, there are wool pieces I will wet block because there is a lot of (or very thick) cables and there are cotton pieces I will steam block (like dishcloths) because it’s just faster and I don’t need it to be sized perfectly.

BEFORE YOU PICK A BLOCKING METHOD: READ YOUR LABELS!!!!

I cannot stress enough that you have GOT to pay attention to your yarn labels. If your yarn says “do not hot iron or press” then DO NOT STEAM BLOCK IT. There is a GOOD REASON the care instructions are there.

Now that you’ve read your label, here’s what to do for

Wet Blocking Method

You will need:

You will need wet

  • A large cardboard box (or similar flat surface you can stick pins in)
  • Straight pins
  • A tape measure or ruler
  • OPTIONAL: A felt tip pen
  • A large towel (larger than the work being blocked)
  • A washtub or sink (large enough for your work to fit in)
  • Water

Before you get to the fun part, you’ll want to get your box or work surface set up. If you want to spend the money (or will be receiving gifts soon) you could get a cool set of blocking boards like these (from Amazon.com), but I don’t have those currently. To get the same effect as those, you can use a felt tip pen to create a 1×1 inch grid on your box so that you have a way to know how many inches you’re working with and don’t have to muck about with the measure tape later.To make a grid, use a ruler or tape measure to mark out your box and a straight edge to join the marks, making a grid like so:

If you’re confident in your measuring abilities, you can skip that part, but make sure your measure tape and pins are ready. I am blocking a few cotton blend hearts, so I’ll show you a little bit of grid, but I’m not actually going to use it today.

Fill up your sink or washtub (or bathtub, or whatever) with some water–nothing added, just water–and immerse your work in the water.

wet the work

Make sure you have your towel laid out flat nearby, you’re going to wrap your work in that in just a minute.

Gently squish the work to get any excess water out of it. DO NOT WRING YOUR WORK! Most fibers, but especially wool and other animal fibers do not like to be wrung out. It is better to either use the towel to absorb the water or to let the work dry a little longer.

Speaking of that towel….now we need it. Lay out your work on the towel as flat as possible and roll the work up in the towel, gently pressing to help absorb water.

Again, DO NOT WRING YOUR WORK. You may need another towel or two depending on how large your work is and how much water it soaked up. By the time you’re done with this step, your work should be mostly dry.

Unroll your work and lay it out flat again on your box or work surface.

lay on box

With those pins that you kept nearby, pin your work to the box and use your measure tape (or grid) to check the size of the work. Your pattern should have given you a size measurement to match up to.

pin wet work

You may have to shuffle pins or pull the work slightly to reach the right size, but once it’s there, you’re done.

Now is the hard part. Wait for the work to dry. DO NOT get out the hairdryer or similar high heat device to speed this process. You will risk felting your animal fibers and burning other fibers. Just let it sit. If you have a room in your house that stays a bit warmer than the rest, you can move it in there (the laundry area with the dryer on is ok, but not IN the dryer) to help speed things a bit. We live in Texas, so in the summer, I’ll move a work outside if it’s not too windy and let it dry in the sun (DISCLAIMER: the sun can bleach color out of work, so be careful with bold or bright colors or work that rely on contrast).

Once the work is dry, you can unpin it and when you hold it up, you shouldn’t see any rolling or twisting of the work.

finished

If you do see a little rolling, or if the work is not blocked to your satisfaction, go back to the top and try it again, or try steam blocking if the fiber can take it.

Steam Blocking Method

You will need:

steam blocking you will need.png

  • An ironing board (or similar flat surface you can stick pins in)
  • Rust resistant straight pins
  • A tape measure or ruler
  • An Iron
  • Water
  • OPTIONAL: a thin towel or pillow case

I prefer this method for small pieces or animal fibers because it is relatively quick and gentle. It can be difficult to find a large enough area to work sometimes, so larger pieces usually get wet block if I need to block the whole work. As I mentioned above, there are some exceptions to this and the work pictured is one of them. This piece is an acrylic nylon blend that I needed to block quickly and that I am only blocking the pointed ends of. The method is the same whatever fiber you are using though.

To begin, make sure you have either a steamer or an iron handy and that it has plenty of water for steaming. You may want to keep a refill bottle nearby just in case you need it.

measure and pin.png

Lay your work out on the board, use a measuring tape to make sure that you are pinning the work to the correct size and pin the work to the board cover. I am only blocking the ends of this piece, so I am only pinning a few inches, of it. If you are blocking a whole piece (like you would for a sweater) you will need to have a surface that is large enough to hold the WHOLE piece at the same time.

steam.png

Turn your iron to steam and let it warm up. Once it is ready, blow off some of the steam AWAY from your work. You may be able to skip this step, but my iron is a little older and we have pretty hard water here, so there is sometimes an almost saw dust like buildup that comes out of the thing the first couple of times you steam something if you’ve let it sit for a bit. Clean or not, I always do this step with my iron because it’s troublesome like that.

Hold the hot iron over your work, and DO NOT TOUCH THE WORK, seriously, hot iron on MOST yarns is a bad thing and will easily crush or warp your fiber. Acrylic is a kind of plastic remember, so it CAN melt in high heat. If you are worried that your hand is not steady enough to hold the iron close, but not touch, get an old pillow case or thin towel and lay it over your work where you are steaming. This might mean you need more steam, but it will provide an “oops” barrier if you accidentally touch the work.

Press the steam button and let the steam saturate your work. Keep in mind, you are NOT trying to get the work wet. It will be a little damp because steam is evaporated water, but it should not be soaked and if your iron starts dripping, you need to let it stand up and reset.

And really, that’s it. Cover the work with steam and then stop. Let any damp parts dry before you remove the pins. You should be able to hold your work up and notice that there is no more curling or twisting. If you do see any curling or twisting, or if the work is not blocked to your satisfaction, go up and try the wet block method.

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