On Blocking Boards

Spray blocking on a blocking board

After years of blocking my knitting and crocheting on kitchen counters, floors, and dryer tops, I finally broke down this weekend and ordered an Official Blocking Board (from Webs—thanks, Kathy and Steve!). I'd been telling myself for years that I didn't need anything fancier—that is, until I started dealing with a serious lace habit. One day, I tried blocking my Flower Basket Shawl on a makeshift foam board that I thought was waterproof … but guess what. It wasn't. The board warped as the shawl dried, and the shawl warped along with it. I ended up having to re-block the shawl all over again. (Not fun, especially when I was anxious to wear it and show it off!)

A blocking board definitely makes the task of blocking a lace shawl easier, but you don't need an Official Blocking Board to do the job well. Knitters have been using mattresses, towel-padded floors, and other ingenious solutions throughout history. Since we have a company full of knitters here, I wondered what other Interweave folks might use. I sent out a quick email survey asking other editors about their blocking tips, and I'll be sharing those with you over the next few posts.

Amanda Berka, assistant editor of Interweave Felt and Spin-Off magazines, says "I usually lay my pieces out to dry on top of my dryer or washing machine. Then I don’t have to worry about the dampness damaging the surface or being absorbed. However, I have had to block shawls on the guest bed. I don’t own any 'special' blocking tools although I am currently drooling at the thought of a blocking board—who am I kidding … I don’t really NEED it."

Kim Werker, editor of Interweave Crochet, says, "I now use a store-bought blocking board; I used to use a mattress. I'll never want to block on a non-grid board again. Those
Blocking The Tomato
inch squares make blocking to size so easy!" Kim has a great tutorial on spray-blocking using a blocking board.

Whatever creative solution you come up with for use as a blocking surface, be sure to keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Use the right surface for the task. A kitchen counter-top or a table padded with towels works fine for pieces that can be simply patted into shape, such as my Tomato. For items that need to be pinned out, such as lace shawls, you can try waterproof foam-core boards, an ironing board (for small pieces), or cork bulletin boards (covered with towels). Someone in the comments suggested those interlocking rubber floor mats used for children's play areas—I thought that was rather clever.
  • Make sure the surface is water-friendly. All blocking methods involve water in some way, so make sure that water will not ruin whatever you are using. Note: This includes surfaces that may have dyes that might bleed through when wet!
  • Make sure that the surface is easily accessible. If you have arthritis in your knees, a set of rubber mats on the floor may not be the best choice for you, especially for anything lacy that takes a long time to pin out.
  • Your blocking surface has to be big enough for the biggest dimension of your knitting. You can't really block half of a scarf at a time, so the top of the dryer won't work well for large or long pieces.
  • The surface has to be something you won't need to use for other things for a day or three whilst your piece is drying. I've known some knitters to use their bed for blocking; this can be problematic if the knitting will take days to dry (unless you like sleeping on the floor).
  • Put your blocking out of the way. Your blocked piece needs to be undisturbed until it is completely dry, so keep
    Version 1, before I re-did neckline and sleeves
    it out of range of cats, kids, dogs, and well-meaning housemates.

Anyone have other clever ideas for blocking surfaces? Of course, I shouldn't ask this, because one of you is bound to come up with an elegantly simple solution now that I've finally broken down and bought myself an actual blocking board!

More Q&A From Your Comments

Paula B. asked about eliminating uncomfortable underarm bunching and noted that my Tomato seemed bunchy there as well.The first version of my Tomato had even more noticeable bunching. For Version II, I (a) picked up fewer stitches at the underarm; (b) worked two rounds of decreases on either side of the underarm; and (c) worked fewer rounds overall for the sleeve. I'm making a second Hot Tomato (yes…this one will be called Hot Chocolate!) and I'll be working on refining this in Version III.

Sally T. asked if I had made the Tomato to go with my bracelet, and Charmaine asked if the neckline had been modified to include a teal accent. The teal you see at my neckline is a favorite camisole of mine. My Tomato is hot enough that it shows a little cleavage(!), and it's a family website, after all! The bracelet is one I made for the June/July 2007 issue of our sister magazine, Beadwork. I like teal, what can I say?

Pat F. says that one really does need to block all garments, including those knit in the round. And Pat is absolutely correct. I was cheating. Just because I could wear the top before it was blocked (because I didn't need to seam it) doesn't mean that the top looked its best when I did wear it. Note that my hands are artfully posed so as to hide some of the wonkier bits. My Tomato is being blocked as I type this. (On my kitchen counter, as the board has not arrived yet….)

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