The way blocking affects knitted fabric is magical – suddenly crooked stitches become uniform, uneven edges straighten out, and your knitted creation gets a beautiful finished look.
It’s one of the techniques I wish I knew sooner. When I was a teenager, I was knitting sweaters to wear to school, and it always bothered me that no matter how hard I tried to make my knits perfect, they still didn’t look as polished as store-bought sweaters. And then I discovered blocking 🙂
Before we look into the “how” of blocking, let’s discuss “what’s and “when’s first.
WHAT TO BLOCK?
Anything. Blocking works wonders with any fibre, but results are usually better when you block natural fibres.
Keep in mind that blocking changes the look of the fabric. Among other things, it makes the knits flatter. So if you want to keep the puffiness of textured stitches like brioche, don’t block your project.
You should also be careful when blocking cables and ribbing. In my experience, if you don’t stretch them too much, blocking won’t hurt them. But some sources recommend not to block ribbing, so I’ll leave the decision “to block or not to block” to you. I guess, it depends on how fearless you are 🙂
WHEN TO BLOCK?
That’s another topic for debate – some designers advise to block all pieces before seaming, others – after the project is seamed and finished. Again, it’s up to you. I personally block my knits after I do all seams and weave in all ends. I like how blocking evens out and flattens the seams, so the whole project looks well-finished.
HOW TO BLOCK?
Blocking is quite simple. There are only three steps to follow.
Get water into the fabric. There are several ways to do it.
a) The fastest way is to steam the fabric. If you have a steamer, use it. If not, iron with a steam function will do just fine. Fill in the water container and put the “steam” on “high”. Then hold the iron above the fabric and press the steam button to direct the maximum amount of steam to the fabric.
When I say “above the fabric”, I mean the iron should not touch the fabric under any circumstances. Remember, the purpose of steaming is to get water into the fabric, not to iron it.
Be very careful when you deal with synthetic fibres. Because we apply not just steam, but also heat, you might accidentally “fry” the fabric. That would be a disaster without a remedy, so be careful. It’s better to keep the iron a bit higher above synthetic fabric than you normally would.
b) Another way is to spray the fabric. Use a spray bottle or sprinkle water on the fabric with your hands. My grandma would take water in her mouth and spray it over the fabric that way. That works too, but I still recommend using a spray bottle as the #1 choice 🙂
Once the fabric is slightly wet, squeeze it gently to work the water in. It is especially important for woollen knits. Wool doesn’t like water. To see how much, run an experiment – place a small woollen item like a mitten or a hat in a tub of water. It will most likely float for quite some time before sinking in.
c) The third way requires more time, but it gives the best results. First, place a bath towel on a flat surface like an ironing board, a table or a bed. It should be a place where you can leave your knits to dry without being disturbed.
Then fill a sink or a bowl with water that is warm enough to be pleasant to your hands. Put the knit piece into the water and let it sit there for about 10 minutes to give the water time to get into the fibres. You can speed up the process if you squeeze the fabric a few times until it is thoroughly wet.
You can also add a dollop of a wool wash or a hair conditioner to the water before putting the fabric into the water. It will make the fabric softer but won’t affect blocking.
Once the fabric is wet, scoop it from the water and gently squeeze the water out with your hands. Don’t wring it! Squeeze it as you squeeze snow when you make a snowball.
Place the fabric on the towel.
Water relaxes the fabric and makes it mouldable. We are going to take advantage of that, and stretch the fabric to even out the stitches.
First, stretch the fabric horizontally – pull the sides of the fabric to make the knitted piece shorter and wider. Click here to watch how to do it
Then stretch the fabric vertically – pull the top and bottom of the fabric to make the knitted piece longer and narrower. Here’s how.
Be gentle with the fabric, especially if you work with delicate fibres like cashmere or yak. When the fibre is wet, it becomes more fragile. We do not stretch the fabric to find out how stretchy it is. It’s more like the way we stretch when we wake up in the morning. So poetically, this step is “waking up the fabric” 🙂
The last step is the most creative one. That’s when we shape the fabric.
Lay the fabric flat so that it’s not wrinkled and stitches are more or less even. If you are blocking to measurements, measure the width and length of the fabric. Then compare the measurements to the ones in the pattern. If one or more measurements are off, re-adjust the fabric until you get the required dimensions.
If you don’t have any specific measurements to meet, simply make the fabric look nice, the way you’d like to see it on your finished project.
Now make sure all edges are straight, and the piece looks exactly as it should.
At this point, you can pin your piece to the towels or a drying board. I don’t usually use pins unless I want to make an intricate edge like a spiky edge on a shawl.
Leave the piece to dry completely. If you used method (a) or (b) in step 1, it would take an hour or so. If you used method (c), the piece should be dry within a day or a few days depending on the yarn you used to make it.
Now that you’ve given your knitted creation a spa treatment, it looks like a high-quality designer item. The best part – you can proudly say “I made it!”
P.S. In case you are wondering, the knitted pieces shown in the photos are sleeves for a Facile Sweater I’m working on right now.
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