Mar 21, 2013

5 Tips For Blocking Your Hand-Knits

The simplest definition of "blocking" is the application of moisture to your hand knits to effect some kind of change. The process might also include heat, steaming, and stretching, but at the core, it's just wetting then drying. The most important thing to know is that blocking will often result in a change of gauge and a smoother fabric texture.

Below are 5 tips that might not be obvious if you're new to the block (pun absolutely intended)
Five tips for blocking your hand knits from Knitdarling.com
1. Block your swatches the same way you block your finished thing. Write down the gauge measurements before and after to establish a working gauge. This lets you know if you're on track as you knit your garment. I also like to use small swatches to try out different blocking techniques. If you're knitting with a superwash yarn, and you intend to wash and dry your finished thing in a machine, no blocking is necessary, but you should absolutely wash and dry your swatch to determine the correct gauge for your pattern.

2. Wait until its totally, completely, bone dry. If you try on a garment before its dry, you might accidentally stretch it out or deform all the shaping you did in the blocking process. Blocking sort of locks the stitches into place, but not until all the moisture evaporates.

3. Use a fan. Some fibers are very absorbent, and can take forever to dry. It's absolutely legal to speed the process by placing the piece you're blocking in front of a fan.

4. Block to your own measurements. Your knits become very malleable when they are wet. Use this as an opportunity to further tailor your garment. Use pins to shape and stretch areas that could use a little more room.

5. Use different blocking methods for different purposes. I use wet blocking for most everything, but sometimes all you need is a little bit of steam from your iron to get your stitches to lay flat. It's also possible to combine the two methods if you really want to stretch out your stitches, like maybe for a lacy shawl. Applying a little extra steam to something that you are wet-blocking seams to lock the stitches into place better. It should be noted that applying steam or heat to your fabric will drastically reduce it's elasticity, and shouldn't be used on areas like ribbing. If you never intend to wash your finished thing, a light spritzing of water from a spray-bottle and a few pins might be just the ticket.

Do you have any little tricks you've picked up along the way? I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

This is part of my ongoing "5 tips" series. Future topics will be weaving-in ends, swatches, and substituting yarn. I would love to know if there is another topic you would like to see me write about.

Comments

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    Bonnie
    over 8 years ago

    I bought some of those interlocking foam pieces that are sold to put down on kids' playroom floors. I use those to block--just put as many foam pieces on the floor in whatever shape I need and then push the pins directly into the foam. Similar sets are sold for knitters, but buying the multicolored ones for kids is cheaper.

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 8 years ago

    Thanks Bonnie! I love my foam mats too. Before I had those, I used a few layers of towels on my bed or layered over some cardboard. My knitting seems to dry faster on the mats.

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    Mikhaela Reid
    over 8 years ago

    Sorry if this is a silly question... but if you block something WRONG, can you block it again to rectify your mistake? (I put on a pair of socks before they were bone dry, and I think I stretched them out as a result). And does a sweater have to be blocked every time you hand wash it, or just the first time? I am now going to admit that my Georgina fit so perfectly when I finished knitting it that I haven't blocked it for fear of messing with said perfection. (I did do the blocking you recommend partway through the process for the lace back, but haven't blocked it as a finished total object yet even though I wear it all the time).

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 8 years ago

    Hi Mikhaela, Thanks for your (non-silly) questions! You can almost always re-block a hand knitted item to correct previous blocking errors. However, if you used heat for the initial blocking, it might be impossible to undo the work you did. This sometimes works to your advantage, like in the case of stretched and steamed lace. If you've accidentally scorched the fibers with a steamer or iron, they will always have those characteristics (i.e laying limp, inelastic ribbing, burned appearance). It is possible to slightly felt fibers in the blocking process by accident. I've seen slightly felted items eventually stretch back out, but they still looked a little fuzzy and felt a bit crunchy. It's true that some of your sweaters might require re-blocking every time you wash them (consider wearing a bib next time you order soup!). This is why for most cases you should block your swatch the same way you will wash the finished thing. As for your Georgina, I have a few words to say about that. In the pattern, I say to block the lace portions before attaching the ribbed edging. There are several reasons for this. First, it's easier to block a flat thing. In this pattern, after blocking I instruct you to sew the shoulder seams, then pick-up a billion stitches for the circular edging. These are both actions that are easier to execute after blocking. The edging is ribbed; I like to keep steam and heat far away from ribbing because it can really zap it's elasticity. You will probably be fine if you gently hand wash your Georgina, then reshape and dry flat. The lace won't go back to it's previous scrunched-up state again because it is connected on all sides to elements with more structure. -Alexis Winslow

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    ruth
    over 8 years ago

    Hi I have a blocking question. Ive knitted my first raglan sweater. I have the four pieces ready to sew. The instructions are for me to sew together leaving the back left free so I can knit the remaining stitches to make the neck band. Do you think I should block so I can sew the pieces easier even though I will have to knit the neck band post sewing. I'm not sure Any advice would be fab Ruth

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 8 years ago

    Hi Ruth, It's always easier to sew pieces together after they are blocked, so that's a great idea. You can slip the stitches from the back piece onto a length of waste yarn while you block the piece. If you're going to use the wet blocking method, it might be wise to tie the ends of the waste yarn together so the stitches don't fall off in the water. After the pieces have completely dried, it's okay to sew them together. Good luck!

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    Diary of a Beginner knitter
    about 8 years ago

    great blog post :-) I have a question re blocking. if I needcto block squares for a blanket how should I do this? the FO will be washed in the machine anyway. so do i wash the squares in the machine? And if so do the squares need to be really wet? Like, what do I set my machine to? i know it goes in the delicates cycle but do I put it in a no rinse setting? please like my FB page https://m.facebook.com/diaryofabeginnerknitter?id=214251248746995&_rdr

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    Alexis Winslow
    about 8 years ago

    Hi Diary of a Beginner Knitter, If you're trying to get the correct gauge, you definitely want to put your gauge swatch in the washing machine. If you are instructed to block each square for your blanket before you sew it together, you will really just be blocking it to make sewing the pieces together easier. When you throw the whole thing in the wash after you're done making the blanket, you are essentially re-blocking it. This means you can use any method that is appropriate for you yarn to block the squares. If it were me, I would wet block each square as I complete it. In my experience, this causes the stitches to lay as flat as possible, with a minimum of curling. I just made a video on "Wet Blocking", so check it out if you're unsure how to do it.

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    Dianne Bell
    over 7 years ago

    I am new to blocking. I have just tried to block a cardigan I have knitted by pinning out and spraying with water. When dry I have sewn it up. Do I gather this was unnecessary as it will obviously be washed? Thank you

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 7 years ago

    Dianne, That's really great that you're blocking! The way you blocked your cardigan is just fine. I think lightly blocking your pieces prior to sewing makes seaming so much easier. Of course the next time you wash your sweater, you should reshape it and let it dry completely before moving. This will prevent it from becoming stretched and deformed.

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    teresa denniston
    almost 6 years ago

    I have made my first sweater and I am ready to block Some of my existing measurements are larger that the original pattern How to I " shrink" my sweater to match the pattern measurements? Thanks Teresa

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    Alexis Winslow
    almost 6 years ago

    Hi Teresa, Shrinking something you have knitted is much trickier than stretching it out. If your initial gauge swatch was spot on, your piece might have just stretched due to gravity as you knitted it. In that case, a simple wash should bring your piece back into shape. If this is not the case, and your sweater is non-superwash wool, you may be able to wash it in hot water to shrink it a bit, but this is pretty risky as it might shrink too much. If your sweater was made in pieces and will have seams, you can remove unwanted width by using an extra 1/4" - 1/2" of fabric in your seam allowances. The small amount of extra bulk in the seam will be hardly noticeable. Otherwise, don't be afraid to rip it out and start over! I know it's hard, but sometimes it's just worth the extra effort, especially if you really love the yarn and the pattern.

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    Loretta Robinson
    over 5 years ago

    I am new at blocking, I believe I have done the blocking wrong. I pinned the front pieces of my sweater then put a wet cloth on top and lightly pressed them. Can I do anything to fix this?

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 5 years ago

    Hi Loretta, Applying heat/steam can sometimes permanently alter your knits, but you might desire this. The method you describe can be a very effective way of encouraging a collar to fold down, or stretching something that is too small. I have also done this to make ribbing relax or to make a garment drape more elegantly. If you are unhappy with the result of steam blocking, you can always try to re-block by using the wet-blocking method. Depending on the fiber, it might do wonders!

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    Lucy
    about 4 years ago

    Hi Am knitting an all over rib cardi (jb226 in jcbrett aztec aran). Tension sqaure spot on. As rib, the peices are coming out rather small. They will stretch out to my shape when im wearing it but i fear it will be skin tight! Do you think i should block before i sew it up? Thinkig that thereby i could help it not have to stretch too much! Thanks

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    Alexis Winslow
    about 4 years ago

    Hi Lucy-- I would absolutely recommend that you block the pieces before you sew them together. If you apply a little steam, you can relax the accordion effect of the ribbing permanently. If you're not sure, you can test it out on a swatch.

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    sara
    over 3 years ago

    Do i need to re-block overtime i wash a wool item??? I'm making a baby blanket with super wash wool, will i have to reshape it everytime i wash it?

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 3 years ago

    Hi Sara--If you hand wash your blanket, you should lay it out to dry and reshape it how you wish. Depending on how delicate your superwash yarn is, you might be able to get away with washing and drying in a machine. You could test it with a small swatch, to be sure.

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