The Basics of Blocking, Part Two

Ready to block!

On Wednesday, we began our Adventure in Blocking with a review of the basic tools and preparations you need to make before you get started. Now that you have everything gathered together, and now that you have experimented with blocking your swatch (and of course, you would never, ever skip the swatching step, right? Of course not.), we can forge ahead with the actual blocking! We ended with Step 4 last time, so next is Step 5.

Step 5: If you are going to wet your knitting using the immersion method or the roll-in-wet-towels method, do it now. Immersion method: Soak the knitting in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes to let the water fully permeate the fibers. Squeeze gently. Never, ever twist, wring, or otherwise be rough with your knitting (unless, of course, what you want is a nice felted sweater!). Roll in dry towels to remove excess moisture (some people use the spin cycle of their washer, but this is for braver hearts than mine). Rolling-in-wet-towels method: Pretty much just as it sounds. Wet a large towel, wring out excess moisture, lay it flat with your knitting on top, and roll it up like a big wet jelly-roll-with-knitted-filling. Let it sit until the knitting inside is completely damp (this might take several hours). Steaming and spraying folks: Read on. Your turn comes later.

Shape garment from the center outwards

Step 6: Start pinning. Starting from the center and working outwards, smooth your knitting out to the approximate measurements, and start placing pins at wide intervals. What do you mean, start at the center? For the Bonsai Tunic, I started at the ribbed waistband (see note below about blocking ribbing!). I patted the upper back into place and pinned the center neck, then working again from the ribbed waist, smoothed out towards the armholes and pinned those. Then I did the same with the lower half, always working from the center waist downwards.

Step 7: Measure and re-pin as necessary to shape your garment more accurately. This is where the fun starts, particularly for all of us OCD knitters. Measure, pin, repeat. Use the schematic or finished measurements as a guide. How much can I stretch my knitting to obey me? Depends on the yarn, the gauge, and the garment. For most lace shawls, you can stretch it out to the fullest extent the stitches will reach. For all knitting, keep in mind that if you pull in one direction, your knitting will shorten in another direction to compensate. Try to keep the overall proportions correct and don't forget to allow for things like negative ease, texture, and how the stitches look.

Don't stretch out the ribbing!

Special note about blocking ribbing: See the photo of the waist ribbing on my Bonsai? Notice that it is NOT stretched out at all. I actually compressed it a bit, patting it evenly into place, and leaving most of it unpinned. (In contrast, I pinned the heck out of the lace skirt.) This will allow the ribbing to maintain its elasticity and shape.

Step 8: If you are a steamer or a sprayer, it's your turn now! Starting (again) at the center of the garment, carefully steam or spray the knitting, patting it with your hand to gauge the amount of moisture as you go. (Use caution with the hot steam, and maybe wait a second after applying the steam to let things cool a bit. Don't burn yourself! Burns might get in the way of casting on your next project.) Make sure to spray/steam your piece evenly so all parts of it absorb the same amount of water (and in the case of steaming, heat).

Step 9: Let dry thoroughly. Do not bother your knitting whilst it is drying. Leave it alone, close the door, keep your cats and overly-helpful roommates away. The impatient amongst you may use a fan to help the process along. If you really must use a blow dryer, remember that a blow dryer adds heat to the equation and consider carefully if heat is appropriate to your particular blocking situation.

Each star marks a pin

Final and most important step: Un-pin, and admire the beautiful drape, the awesome workmanship, and lovely stitches that comprise your knitting.

As I was taking the photos for this post, I realized that some folks might want a clearer photo of exactly where I placed the pins. I quickly discovered that the little silvery pin dudes wouldn't show up in the photos, so I dug around in the supply closet (I'm blocking this in a spare office at work, because I have four very helpful Assistant Felines at home) until I found some glittery foil stars. See the photo? Voila! Each star marks a pin location. Note that there are no stars at all in the ribbed waist section, but there are stars all over the lace skirt.
Pinning out the lace pattern
I placed one pin near the top yarnover of each lace repeat, in the decrease immediately adjoining. For lace patterns, I like to place pins in the center of an ssk or k2tog, as those are the strongest parts of the knitting and thus less likely to distort. You can put pins in the yarnovers themselves, but be careful–you want the yarn to form a graceful "yarnover" and not an awkward "pointy-over!"

Questions, Questions…and some Answers!

Which wetting method did you use for the Bonsai? My yarn is Berroco Bonsai, an absolutely lovely bamboo ribbon yarn, with drape and a teeny, tiny bit of "crunch" that adds texture and memory. I blocked my swatch using my garment steamer (I LOVE my garment steamer), but I wasn't thrilled with the results. The heat seemed to take away a bit of the sheen of this lovely yarn. So for the back of my tunic, I used the spray method, and sprayed liberally until the fabric was quite damp. I was really happy with how it came out. REMEMBER: You might prefer how your garment looks when steam-blocked! It's YOUR knitting, not mine. Experiment to find a way that works for you.

Do you block acrylic and other non-sheepy, non-planty fibers? I've heard blocking kills them! What kills acrylic and some other human-made fibers is direct application of heat. So: Don't iron them. (If you must apply steam, keep the iron or steamer high enough above the fabric so you don't melt or scorch the yarn.)

But Sandi, tell us the ANSWER: Do you NEED to block acrylic? Welllll. Here's where I have to make an admission. I have not knit with acrylic yarn since I was a teenager, so I don't actually have any personal experience with this. What I do know is that many experienced knitters say you don't need to block acrylic. Given that, and given that I believe deep in my knitter's heart that blocking has miraculous results, if I were to knit something out of acrylic (or any other unfamiliar fiber, for that matter), I would knit five swatches–yes, five–and then try a different blocking method on each one: immersion, steam, spray, jelly-roll-of-wet-towels, and no blocking at all. I might use pins on one or two, and just pat out the others. After they dried, I would evaluate the look, feel, and drape of each swatch. The swatch I liked best would be my guide for blocking the finished garment.

That said…there are plenty of you out there in Knitting Daily Land who have tons of experience knitting with acrylic. So, let's turn it over to the commenters: What is your opinion on blocking human-made fibers?


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


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