Help for Finishing Holiday Gifts: Learn How to Block

Everything you need to start blocking

Note from Sandi: The holidays are a time to be with family–not to spend locked away in a room trying to finish up your holiday knitting! In July of 2007, I wrote a popular three-part series on blocking that seemed just perfect to share again as a way to help with last-minute holiday knitting madness–both yours and mine! After all: Even Knitting Daily editors need a little time off, and I am winging my way to Mobile, Alabama to visit with Grandma Rose and Grandpa Manuel this Thanksgiving week. 

So while I am away, here's The Basics of Blocking, Part One. And below I also give you two recommendations for audiobooks–knitting audiobooks, of course–to lend some holiday spirit to those last hours of holiday knitting.

(Are you the kind of person who learns by watching? Episode 103 of the first season of Knitting Daily TV has a great lace blocking demo, and Episode 201 of the upcoming second season shows how to block large projects! Buy the Season One DVD or pre-order the Season Two DVD.)

(originally published July 25, 2007)

Since I finished the back of the Bonsai Tunic last weekend (from Interweave Knits Spring 2007), I figured the best way to start talking about blocking was to do a bit of show-and-tell, starring my new best friend: the charming Miss Blocking Board! The board was a birthday treat for myself, and now that I've had a chance to drive Miss Board around the block a bit, I'm wondering what I ever did without her.

Note: The instructions given here will work for a variety of knitted and crocheted items.

Step 1: Gather the basic tools. You'll need the following:

  • A surface to block on. Blocking boards, mattresses, towel-covered tables, foam floor mats, cork boards…anything waterproof and pin-able.
  • Some means of getting your knitting wet. Depending on the method you choose (see below), you will need one of the following: spray bottle for spraying, sink big enough to immerse the piece, wet towels, or an iron or garment steamer.
  • Something to measure with. Experts such as Ann Budd suggest a yardstick rather than a tape measure, because tape measures can stretch and cause inaccuracies in your final measurements.
  • The pattern schematic and measurements. This is to guide you in coaxing the piece into its proper size and shape as you block.
  • Pins. Some people swear by using blocking wires, or strong cotton thread, to help eliminate pin-marks and scalloped edges. Try them if you have them. Whatever you use, make sure all materials are both waterproof and rustproof.

Step 2: Weave in your ends! Really. Take a deep breath and just do it. Blocking will help all those little loose ends get secured in place, and also will help "set the stitches" you weave the ends into, so they don't look quite as bumpy as you think they will. 

Use the schematic as a guide

Step 3: Check the pattern measurements. Look at the schematic, if there is one; otherwise, look to see what the "finished measurements" section says. Measurement tip: If you made alterations to the pattern, you made notes along the way, right? Of course you did! Make sure that you account for any changes you made, such as a slightly different gauge, or customizations, when you block.

Step 4: Decide which wetting method is best for your knitting. You can spray, steam, soak, or roll in wet towels to get your knitting wet. Which method you use depends on the fiber content of the yarn, as well as the stitch pattern, garment type, and your personal experience and preferences. But which is the BEST method? The best method is the one that gives you the results you want with that particular yarn and stitch combination. (Sorry. I know you wanted The One True Answer, but it's not that simple.) Do your homework–read the yarn label, check the yarn company's website, read your favorite knitting books (all by Interweave, right? Right!), and then experiment–on a SWATCH, of course, not on the cabled pullover it took you months to knit (see, swatches are good for something besides driving us knitters insane).

The most important thing about learning to block your knitting is: It's YOUR KNITTING. Not my knitting, not anyone else's. Be bold! Try different things until you find what works for you. By experimenting, you might just stumble on an awesome blocking trick you can share with the rest of us!

I leave you with an astounding and amazing Knitting Fact: There is no such thing as The Knitting Police. I promise, on my honor as a knitter, that no one will come in the middle of the night to cart you off to Bad Knitters' Prison if the way you block isn't the way I block.

On Friday: Part 2 of The Basics of Blocking.

Sandi's Picks For The Holidays

I always think of the holidays as a time of storytelling–we tell the stories of our traditions, our families, and our beliefs in our celebrations and in our gatherings. I like to listen to stories on CD while I am knitting and travelling–audiobooks make the stitches and the time fly by. May I suggest two audiobooks of knitting stories for you? Knitting Memories and Knitting Lessons, both edited by Lela Nargi and distributed by Interweave Press, are collections of tales by famous knitters such as Clara Parkes, Teva Durham, Vicki Howell, Trisha Malcolm, Kathryn Alexander, and more, narrated by an Audie-award winner (an Audie is the Oscar of the audiobook world). Listen to an excerpt from Knitting Memories; we have an excerpt from Knitting Lessons online as well. Look for these audiobooks at your local yarn shop, or buy them in our online store.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles this week? I am taking my Leaf and Nupp Shawl to Alabama with me, as well as the Aran Slippers. Those ought to keep me out of trouble, right?

Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Gifts, Holiday, Knitting Daily Blog

31 thoughts on “Help for Finishing Holiday Gifts: Learn How to Block

  1. I posted a question to the forum, found this spot so I’ll ask here. Why is it necessary to block the sweater if you have knitted to gauge? Also will you have to block the sweater every time is it laundered? Yes, I am new to knitting. Thanks ahead of time for your response

  2. Love the new look, Sandi! BarbaraM, blocking the sweater gives it a beautiful, finished look. Sometimes the quality of the yarn changes (which you checked for in your swatch). It makes finishing, sewing seams, etc much easier, since pieces will now lie flat to work on. And yes, each time you wash a sweater, you will have to lay it out to the size you want it and allow it to dry flat.

  3. hello,
    i saw the post of someone who’d recently been to scottland and she said that she was surprised to see/hear that people over there do not block their lace shawls that much.
    she said the custom was to stretch them, put them under the matress and sleep the night away then retreive them.
    interestingly enough, i heard somewhere that norah gaughan doesn’t block that much either. and now i don’t block. they come out perfect as i gauge and i like some puffiness to my yarn. of course if i had a problem with sizing and was sending a gift such as a hat and it came to look small, i’d block so they aren’t scared it’s too tiny (although i’ve meant it to stretch) to be snug. etc…

  4. I may not get anything for Christmas because I have neglected all needlework in favor of working on the yard. I wanted to comment on Sandi’s new look. Wow and double Wow! You will definitely be one of the hotspots under the mistletoe.

  5. OMG Sandi you look FABULOUS!! LOVE the new do!! Now that I’ve seen a blocking board in action I may have to graduate from cardboard boxes cut, taped together and used until they look like swiss cheese. Again, love the new look; that color is perfect for you!

  6. Sandi – thanks for the helpful blocking information! And I just love your new picture! You look beautiful in pink – just glowing with happiness – I think you’re loving the move to Canada. Enjoy your holidays!

  7. You look great, Sandi!

    Re: blocking, and maybe this comes in a later post, but I’ve made a vest on circular needles and the pattern has me doing a 3-needle bind-off for the shoulders. Not thinking ahead, I went ahead and did it (which is such a nice way to do should seams, BTW)…but now I have this whole piece to block, and no way to lay it all out flat. Do I need to take it apart at the shoulder seams, or just block it a section (2 fronts and a back) at a time? The pattern (in Folk Vests) calls for washing and blocking at the very end, after armhole, neck and button borders are all done.

  8. Hi Sandi,

    Thank you so much for providing us with such great information. Blocking is probably the only part of knitting that I just heave a big sigh about doing. But after all the hard (but fun) work put into a project, it really pays to finish it off properly. I do a lot of lacework, and blocking not only helps the garment keep it’s shape, but defines the stitches as well.

    Thanks again!

    P.S. Looking good there Sandi!!

  9. Perfect timing!!! I have this rather “hairy beast” of a coat to block for a friend and I’ve been putting it off-just needed a little inspiration to get going on it and get it out the door so I can finish up some smaller projects!

  10. Wow, amazing new look Sandi–inspirational. And thanks for the blocking lesson/reminder. Enjoy your family time, and let us know how those Aran slippers go–that looked like a great pattern. –Tamara M.

  11. I don’t bother to block the individual pieces any more. What I do is stitch the sweater together, then take it to my local dry cleaner & have THEM “block” it! They have the steam press & the other equipment for blocking the completed item much more easily than I can. It only costs about $3-4, and is worth it to me. And my shawls & scarves I never block anyway. They will hang out as they are worn.

  12. I find that sometimes it is better to weave ends in *after* blocking, especially with lace or whenever blocking will significantly alter the size of the knitted object.

  13. I guess having the dry cleaner “block” might be okay, but some yarns need to really be just steamed, and not pressed (mohair, cable designs, ribbing, etc.). I’d be really picky about choosing the dry cleaner, too.

  14. My first comment was deleted. Not sure why…anyway, how does one block a sweater that has been knit from the top down all-in-one-piece?
    Thank you for any advice you may have to offer.

  15. Hi Sandy,
    I was going to thank you for the blocking lessons first, but since everyone else is. . . Wow! Your new look is fabulous! One more point: I am often inspired by what’s on your needles, so thanks for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving, even tho Canada’s already had theirs

  16. I’ve been teaching myself to knit for several years and don’t know any other knitters. Knitting daily has been a recent and wonderful find for me. Because I’m not technically savvy with knitting lingo or techniques, I had NO IDEA what the heck blocking was and had to do some internet searching before I found these instructions helpful. SO, thanks for the great instructions. Next time a sentence or two defining what you’re about to explain will be very helpful for those of us still learning the craft. THANKS!