How to Block Knitting Techniques
Most knitters have heard of the term “blocking” but don’t have an understanding of what the process actually requires. Many patterns end with the simple little word, “block.” As a result of this lack of understanding on how to block knitting, many knitters simply skip this final step. Unfortunately, skipping this step can have big ramifications. If you’ve ever wondered why your finished piece doesn’t look quite like the photo in the magazine, or if your gauge is off a bit, lack of blocking may be the reason.
How to Block Knitting Basics
Blocking is the final step of making your project. Learning about the process of how to block knitting smooths and evens your stitches, sets the final dimensions, and gives your project that professional, finished look. Don’t be intimidated by blocking. The process is not complicated, and the results are well worth the effort. With a little care and attention, you can transform a crumpled piece of knitting into a beautiful showpiece.
Even though blocking is considered the final step, you should block your swatches before casting on for your project. The gauge stated in a pattern is measured after the piece is blocked, so you need to know your blocked gauge in order to make the correct choice of needle size. Using your gauge swatches, you can try several blocking methods to determine which method you will use on your finished project.
Fiber and Knitting Pattern
The type of fiber and the stitch pattern used factor into the best method for blocking your work. Often the pattern instructions will suggest a method. However, if you used a different yarn or the directions simply say “block,” you need to determine which blocking method to use.
Keep in mind that some fibers block better than others. If you have difficulties opening your lace patterns, it could be the fiber used. While all fibers can be blocked and stretched, not all fibers stay in their ‘blocked’ shape. Natural fibers are some of the easiest fibers to block, and they will generally retain the shape and size they have been blocked to until they are re-blocked or they get wet. Acrylic and man-made fibers generally return to their pre-blocked shape fairly quickly after the pins are removed and may not be the best choice for an intricate and heavily patterned lace shawl.
Additionally, many natural fibers “bloom” when blocked. When knit, stitches worked in some fibers appear smaller and the fabric more open and loose. However, once blocked, these same stitches will “bloom,” filling in the gaps and creating a more solid and substantial fabric. To ensure that you will get the best possible finish for your handknits, be sure to block your swatch to see how the final fabric of your knitting will appear.
Start by reading the yarn label (see below). Care instructions are usually written out or indicated by symbols (see sidebar below). If the label gives instructions for machine washing and drying, follow these simple directions for easy blocking. If the label indicates handwashing and no machine drying, any of the methods listed here could be utilized.
The first decision is to determine where you will block your knits and what surface to use. The surface should be large enough to allow the piece to be spread out, resistant to water, and located in an out-of-the-way place so that the piece can be undisturbed until it is completely dry. If there are pets in the house, the best place for blocking may be behind a closed door. Special SpaceBoards and interlocking blocking mats are sold in most craft stores and are very convenient to use, but you can make an acceptable facsimile by placing a large garbage bag or plastic tablecloth over a guest bed or on the floor and placing a heavy bath towel on top of the plastic.
Don’t have blocking mats on hand? Learn how to make a DIY blocking mat in this Interweave Yarn Hacks video!
You should have two easily acquired tools on hand before beginning to block your project. Strong rust-proof, blocking pins, such as T-pins or U-pins, will hold your knitted piece in place. Depending on the size of your project, you may need quite a few. A mist bottle, like the kind used for plants, is available at hardware and grocery stores. Steel blocking wires and a steam iron can also be used for extensive blocking but are not usually required.
Knitting Blocking Methods
How to Wet Block: Misting
Lay the piece on the prepared surface and shape to specified dimensions. Fill a clean mist bottle with water and mist the piece lightly. Allow piece to dry completely before moving.
Misting is a good method to try if you are new to blocking or unsure of the fiber you’re dealing with. If the final result is not what you were hoping for, move on to the pin-and-mist method.
Misting is a wonderful place to start when blocking your first piece, but sometimes a light mist is not enough encouragement to keep your lacework open once it is dry. If you have mist-blocked your project and do not like the finished fabric, the next blocking method to try is immersion.
Dip the piece in cool water. Let it soak for several minutes so that the piece is completely saturated. Gently squeeze out the water; do not wring or twist the piece. Roll the piece in an absorbent bath towel to blot out the excess water. Spread the piece on the prepared surface and pin to the finished measurements. Blocking wires can be inserted along the edges and then pinned in place; this will keep the edges straight and use fewer pins. Allow to dry completely before removing pins.
Steam Block Knitting Techniques
Immersion blocking can cause some fabrics to stretch out of shape and grow in size. If you are worried about how immersion will affect your knitted fabric, try steam block knitting.
Lay the piece on the prepared surface and pin in place. Hold a steam iron or steamer above the piece, allowing the steam to penetrate the fibers. NEVER allow the iron to touch the fabric. Doing so will flatten the stitches and may actually damage (melt) the fibers. Allow to dry completely before removing pins.
Use these straightforward blocking methods and make blocking an essential part of your finishing process. Your efforts will be
—From “Blocking for a Professional Finish” article by Sheryl Thies’s article published in knitscene Handmade 2016 magazine issue.
How to Block Knitting in 7 Steps:
- Experiment with blocking your gauge swatch before you block an actual knitted piece.
- Do not rub, twist, or wring a handknit. Doing so may distort the stitches beyond correction.
- Before blocking knitting, weave in all loose ends; the blocking process will help secure the ends in place.
- It is preferable to block individual pieces before sewing them together. Blocking makes the sewing process easier and the results of blocking are more consistent when you work with a single layer of fabric. You can block a garment that has been sewed together, but the results may not be as good.
- Many experts warn against blocking ribbing, which will lose its natural elasticity if blocked while stretched open. However, ribbing can be successfully blocked if you squeeze it into its most contracted state (so that all the purl stitches recede behind the knit stitches) before you apply moisture.
- Steam-block cables wrong side up. This may seem obvious, but just in case: If you are using a steamer or a steam-iron to block your cable knitting, do it with the wrong side of the cables facing upwards, or you will flatten the cables. Don’t press down; keep the iron or the steamer just a little bit above the fabric.
- Allow the blocked handknit to air-dry completely before moving it.
There are several ways to block your knitting; choose one that’s appropriate to your project. You’ll be amazed at what your knitwear looks like before and after blocking! Read on to learn how to block knitting your projects like a pro.
You are ready to add the finishing touches to your handknits using these how to block knitting techniques.
Now that you know a few tried-and-true methods for how to block knitting, you can start experimenting with blocking techniques to find the ones that work best for your needs. You’ll also want to stock up on some of the basic blocking tools, or find yourself a bundle that includes all the essentials.
Resources to help you succeed at blocking every time!