The Basics of Blocking, Part One


Everything you need to start blocking

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. Lace shawls and certain other pieces require a bit of special red-carpet treatment, which we can talk about later.

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…you people had a zillion creative ideas for this, as we discussed last week.
  • 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. Tip for weaving in slippery yarns: The Bonsai is knitted out of a lovely, silky bamboo ribbon yarn, so when weaving in the ends, I used my yarn needle to pierce individual strands of the last few stitches I was weaving into, in order to lock the ends securely into place.


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. And next week: Advance copies of a hot new Interweave fall book are making the rounds of our offices…and it's BEAUTIFUL. (I am such a tease.)


 

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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43 thoughts on “The Basics of Blocking, Part One

  1. OK, you’ve convinced at least one reader, Sandi– I’m going to start using my swatches for blocking test-runs. If you have the space and the time in a future post, could you stage a demonstration– two swatches knit of the same yarn blocked using different methods?

  2. Natalie, that is a great idea! And I just happen to have two swatches of the same yarn and stitch pattern handy.

    If I have given even one knitter a reason to live through swatching, I’m a happy gal. But I’m still thinking we need a Swatching Support Group…

  3. I may sound naive but if we block something, when we wash it wont it just need to be blocked again? It may be obvious but I have never finished anything that needed blocking…

  4. I am contemplating the Bonsai Tunic from Rowan soft Bamboo. I’ve swatched and washed it. The bamboo yarn bloomed and changed gauge. Have you found any change in the bamboo yarn you have used. I actually rewashed the swatch and threw it in the dryer on cool. It actually got closer to gauge on this second swatch. I’m thinking about knitting a smaller size to compensate for the change after wet blocking. Any comments?

  5. I remember when my grandmother had some adjustable curtain stretchers. I used to help her put the clean, wet curtains on the sharp pins. I had many a prick from those and had to keep from getting blood on the curtain. I wish someone would come up with those adjustable stretchers again!

  6. Thanks for such a great post! One thing though is that some may undo their swatch when they start their project, especially if they are making adjustments, sizing the project up or down from given sizes, etc. and have had to make (educated) guesstimates on the amount of yarn. Particularly if it is a pricey yarn.

    A solution might be knitting the project, and only using the swatch yarn if you run just short. That might not be the preference for some.

    Also, what to DO with swatches, if one has kept them, blocked, washed, etc., once your project is done; I’m going to be making a hybrid scrapbook (hybrid scrapbooking combines digital scrapbooking and traditional, paper, cardstock, adhesives etc. scrapbooking) in an 8×8 size (big enough for most swatches), and using swatches in the scrapbook. This lace swatch may need folded in half and just slipped into one of the sheet protectors, which is fine! The opposite page(s) will describe and show the project, details, what I learned while doing it, etc.

    For me, it’ll be more than just a “stats” about the project and yarn and washing instructions; I’ll talk about my experiences and feelings while knitting it (many people continue to associate their emotions while knitting something, with the object, for many years afterwards!).

    Oh, a good subject for KD might be just how do people document/keep records of their knit projects? Document what yarns they like, notes about what it worked well for, for them, and what not, and such. Is it strictly a stats of the yarn, FO, and adjustments, or does it include more about the process, etc. Do they use their blog as a way to document these things, or as a reference when pulling this info together into a hard-copy journal or scrapbook?

    Anyway, sorry to go on and on. One other subject I’m interested in is Counterpane . . . I’ve seen one book for it on Amazon, and one project on someone’s blog, and they are gorgeous! Yet I haven’t seen much written about it.

  7. Er, obviously Ravelry is now how many (they keep plugging away on the invites) including myself, keep great info in one spot. That’s a very recent phenomenon, though, as well as there being much more to what one does with the info, notes, and process you go through when knitting.

    Sorry for the long post, previous. My swatch is HERE, for anyone curious

  8. One-stop block resource! Thanks, Sandi. I hadn’t thought to block a swatch, but Geri’s post made me stop and think that blocking is really what the finished piece will undergo so blocking the swatch makes sense. I’m late starting Tomato, because Tomato I’ve swatched on three different sizes of needle and (un-blocked) the swatches are all the same. Very confusing. Maybe the changes are so slight I’m missing them. Now I’ll re-swatch and block.

  9. I almost never block until my garment is put together. This may be because I mostly knit pullover sweaters of wool, which is very forgiving. If I know the underarm width, length and sleeve length, it is easy to block to measurement. In fact, I have actually enlarged my children’s sweaters by just blocking larger. And I almost always block on a carpeted floor covered by beach towels. I do press out excess water by wrapping in a towel and letting sit for 5-10 minutes. I have recently started knitting lace, so I may have to revise by blocking method.

  10. I haven’t had a chance to comment on what is on my needles but I have 3 projects going now. The first and most important is a sweater that looks like an old timey cowboy shirt from a Debbie Bliss book for my grandson. Really cute. Then a shawl for me and a purse for a daughter. Lots of stash and lots of wishlists but seems that working gets in the way of the knitting. Cris

  11. I used to weave in my ends before blocking each piece, but a recent pattern I knit from directed me to weave in after sewing the piece.

    So, I weaved the ends into the seams, making sure to not add additional bulk. Is there a reason not to do this? I’m new to sweater making, so…

  12. Kristina said: “I may sound naive but if we block something, when we wash it wont it just need to be blocked again? It may be obvious but I have never finished anything that needed blocking…”

    It depends on what it is. A shawl for eg, or anything lacy, would love a good hard block every time you wash it. A vest or jumper OTOH just needs a decent block the first time to get the stitches even and the edges sorted out and make it nicer to sew up, and then shouldn’t need blocking afterwards. However, the “dry flat in shade” care advice still applies, as wet knitted garments are heeaavvyy and will stretch themselves out of shape easily.

  13. Arianwen I found my blocking board, which looks very much like Sandi’s, at the following web site: http://www.guardian-tablepad.com Yes, they really do call it a table pad and believe me I search before I found it :-) I just ordered a second one because I LOVE LACE !!!! Not sure why especially when my husband informed me no one wears that stuff these days :-) My thought was what do husbands know about what makes us knitters tick :-) Love the man but sometime have to wonder LOL Sandi, thank you so much for all the wonderful tips and information on KD.

  14. Thanks to KD, I have been knitting more. I can’t say I’ve been advancing my techniques yet, but I have a huge stash of funky yarn that needs used up. I just finished cotton tank, a couple little shawls and am currently working on a funky tank. I love all the info everyone shares and am learning a LOT from everyone. I’ve knitted off and on since I was 11 or 12. Socks were one of my fave projects when the kids were young. Easy to tote about and not so much worrying about dropping stitches in the rush to put things away. I’m just waiting for my stash to be depleted so I can buy some sock yarn and play again. Thanks everyone!
    txkat

  15. What do you do with items knit with acrylic or washable items? I understand that wool and other fibers can be blocked, but I don’t know what to do with the rest. Thank you.

  16. Now that I know there are no knitting police, I might even be bold enough to block my faroese peaks shawl. (ggg!) I just figured that there’s so much more garter stitch than lace in it that blocking it wouldn’t do much good.

    It’s going to take a long time for me to spin enough yarn for the Icelandic shawl. I’ve had visions of it in shades of yak, qiviut, buffalo, camel down and cashmere.

    BTW, There are no spinning police either!

  17. I recently “treated” myself to the blocking board and I absolutely love it. How did I ever get along without it. Have you tried the clover forked pins? I find they hold well. I’m enjoying your posts. Peggy Jehle

  18. Two questions: why do I need to block at all (other than lace)? And if I have a wool/acrylic or cotton/acrylic blend, should I avoid blocking? (I read in “Knitting Rules” that blocking acrylic is a no-no).
    Many thanks for your input!

  19. I have been looking for a lacy sweater pattern for a nine year old girl. Do you have any in you catalog of patterns? My next option might be to design one myself but would rather have a pattern using lace weight yarn.

    Janet

  20. Sandi, thanks so much for bringing this subject to the fore. I think I understand how to block a single layer, but on a knit-in-the-round garment (esp. something heavy like fairisle), how do you ‘stretch’ the sides out flat. I can’t imagine using pins there. Are we restricted to top-to-bottom stretching?

  21. What to do with those swatches – or tension squares: From a knitter in Exeter UK – She uses them to wrap around an empty clean can of the correct size. Great for storing needles, pens, etc… in the can; pins and stitch markes can go on the side. She donates the excess decorated cans to charity. I, myself, am planning a quilt/afghan with mine.

  22. Since I have some freshly spun mohair boucle yarn sitting on my work table, I’m wondering how to block it – and actually wondering if I need to “set” the twist before I knit it. It’s going to be a small muff for my 3 year old granddaughter who loves pink. Hmmmmm

    Karen – just down the road from Interweave in Loveland

  23. For years one of the blocking surfaces I’ve used is a cardboard cutting board like sewers use. They have great grids, they are large enough to lay out an entire sweater for a broad shouldered man, and they are comparatively inexpensive. I use a wet blocking method, and I find they don’t warp (at least not enough) to matter for quite a while. When they do after time, I buy another for a few bucks. Also, by refreshing them every couple of years, I don’t end up with so many pinholes that it compromises the integrity of the board.

  24. I was knitting the body of an alpaca wool lace sweater and was pretty disappointed with how it was coming out. It was bunchy and bulky and not holding it’s shape. Then, I read your blocking article…I finished the body and proceeded to block it, not truly believing it would “save” my ugly lace sweater. I pinned and sprayed (and prayed). When it dried, I unpinned, and much to my surprise, it turned out gorgeous. It drapes nicely and the lace pattern and sweater are holding a beautiful shape. It’s like a miracle. I’m almost done with the sleeves now and can’t wait to block those too and put the whole thing together. Thanks for the article and blocking tips!

  25. I am contemplating the Bonsai Tunic from Rowan soft Bamboo. I’ve swatched and washed it. The bamboo yarn bloomed and changed gauge. Have you found any change in the bamboo yarn you have used. I actually rewashed the swatch and threw it in the dryer on cool. It actually got closer to gauge on this second swatch. I’m thinking about knitting a smaller size to compensate for the change after wet blocking. Any comments?

    Any responses to this comment? I looked through everyone and could not find it. mp-k

  26. Hi Sandi, Thank you for The Basics of Blocking. I’m definitely going to get one of those boards!

    I do have one question about blocking bamboo yarn: does it swell when it gets wet? I just finished the Lace Nightie pattern from Interweave Knits Spring 2007 using Southwest Trading Company’s 100% Bamboo yarn. It looks beautiful and fits great as it is. I’m afraid it will get too big if I block it. Do you think I should? Any advice would help. Thanks!

  27. Hi Sandi, Thank you for The Basics of Blocking. I’m definitely going to get one of those boards!

    I do have one question about blocking bamboo yarn: does it swell when it gets wet? I just finished the Lace Nightie pattern from Interweave Knits Spring 2007 using Southwest Trading Company’s 100% Bamboo yarn. It looks beautiful and fits great as it is. I’m afraid it will get too big if I block it. Do you think I should? Any advice would help. Thanks!

  28. I’ve only blocked one garment in my entire life and it was a wool sweater that I soaked, pinned down, and left to air dry. (It smelled like a wet sheep in my house for a week!) I don’t understand how to block anything other than wool, or how these other blocking methods work.
    Is it even possible to block something made of acrylic yarn? I’ve tried using the soaking method (the only method I know) and it failed miserably. The swatch went right back to the size it was before the second I unpinned it. What method is best for blocking something made of acrylic yarn?

  29. Do I really need to block if I’ve been matching up the pieces as I go along? I’ve never blocked anything; am I a lazy knitter? I’ve always just thought that this is why knit, but I don’t sew.

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