Blocking is an important step toward making your knit pieces look more professional. It's a way of "dressing" or finishing your projects using moisture and sometimes heat. Proper blocking of a knit garment or accessory can go a long way toward making it look and fit better, and it can help restore symmetrical balance to a misshapen afghan or rug. Blocking sets the stitches and can even enhance the drape of the fabric. Seaming and edging are easier on blocked pieces, and minor sizing adjustments may be made during the blocking process.
There are different methods for blocking knit pieces, and knowing which one to use for a particular project can make all the difference in achieving a successful result. Choosing the correct blocking method depends on what the item is and what type of yarn or thread is being used. Some items might not be suitable for blocking, such as 3-D pieces that are difficult to handle or very small items such as Christmas ornaments. Also, certain fibers might not be suitable for blocking.
Watch this free Crochet & Knit Blocking Techniques video to learn how to make your own blocking board. Then learn how to block your items using various blocking techniques including wet blocking, steam blocking, blocking with pins, and blocking with wires and thread.
You'll need a blocking board, rustproof pins, a steamer or steam iron, a spray bottle, and your yarn or thread labels. A blocking "board" needs to be a flat surface that's large enough to hold the piece or pieces you want to block. An ironing board is also a useful alternative. Pieces should not hang over the edges of the blocking or ironing board. The free blocking video includes a detailed tutorial on how to make your own inexpensive blocking board.
Cover the board with a thick towel and then with a clean cotton cloth, both of which have been washed so that they will not bleed onto your work. While solids usually work best, you can use a fabric with a large check print or stripes in order to have a blocking guide.
Your blocking board will need to be in a location where it can remain undisturbed until the blocking is finished, which can range from just a few minutes to more than a day, depending on the circumstances. The board needs to be able to handle pins, moisture and heat. To block large items such as sweaters, afghans or shawls, for example, a guestroom bed or a large, well-padded table—even a sheet-covered carpeted floor—work great.
Choose Your Method
Blocking methods may be described as wet, dry or cold. The actual method you choose will vary depending on yarn content, final use and your own preferences.
Consult the yarn label. If different fibers have been combined in the same item, the most delicate fiber takes precedence. Most natural fibers such as wool, cotton, linen and mohair may be either wet- or dry-blocked. Some synthetic fibers do not benefit from blocking and may, in fact, be ruined by careless blocking. Novelty and metallic fibers may need special care and may not be suitable for blocking.
While it's always advisable to make a test swatch for any pattern to check gauge, an added benefit to making a swatch is that you will also have a piece to practice blocking to make sure you are using the proper method. For example, did you know that too much heat can "kill" acrylic yarn, making it shiny and limp? It's better to wreck a swatch than an entire sweater or afghan.
Wet blocking is suitable only for those fibers which tolerate submersion. Wash the piece first, if desired, or thoroughly wet it and gently squeeze out excess water. Do not wring or twist! For two-dimensional pieces, lay the piece out flat, and gently pat and shape it into the desired finished measurements. Pin the piece securely in place using rustproof pins or blocking wires. For 3-D pieces, stuff the piece with rolled up plastic grocery bags or other waterproof stuffing. For round pieces, blowing up a balloon to the desired size inside the item works well. Leave the piece undisturbed until it is completely dry. You can hasten the drying process by setting up a fan to blow over the area.
Dry blocking is suitable for fibers which can tolerate moisture and heat (steam). Pin the piece into the desired shape and size on a blocking board or ironing board. Pins should be close together and evenly spaced so as not to distort the fabric. Blocking wires also work well.
Smooth all seams and areas that are puckered or rippled as much as possible with your fingers. Holding a steamer or steam iron an inch or more above the item, steam the fabric well. Move the iron slowly over the surface, never allowing it to touch the fabric; do not press. After steaming, leave the piece undisturbed until it is completely cool and dry.
Cold blocking can be used for fibers which can tolerate moisture but not heat. Pin the piece into shape on the blocking board as you did for dry blocking. Mist with a spray bottle of clean water until the piece is completely wet. If stubborn areas resist lying flat, use additional pins as needed or press with your hand for a few seconds (it's amazing how the gentle warmth from your skin can help!). Leave the item undisturbed until it is completely dry. Again, a fan can help speed things up.
Tips for Blocking Afghans & Other Large Pieces
Afghans and other large knit pieces, such as some sweaters and shawls, can easily be blocked on a bed with a firm or extra-firm mattress, on a large, well-padded table, or on a clean, carpeted floor.
Arrange the piece into a nice, even shape to the required or desired measurements, taking care not to overstretch or distort the shape of the piece. Using rustproof pins, pin all edges down securely around the entire piece. If any stubborn areas don't want to lie down smoothly, adding a few extra pins in these spots usually does the trick.
If desired, the piece can be dry-blocked as previously instructed. But, for large pieces such as these, you can also achieve beautiful results by blocking without the use of steam.
Using a large spray bottle of chemical-free water, mist the piece thoroughly until it is lightly wet (semi-saturated). Use your hand to gently press each area as it is sprayed. It's amazing how just the heat from your skin acts like a low-heat iron of sorts on wet yarn or thread, but without the possible damage to yarn fibers that an iron can cause.
After the piece is thoroughly wet down and "hand-pressed," have a fan blow on the project until it's completely dry. The results will be beautiful!
Now that you know the different ways to block your projects and which method works best for each, you'll feel more confident to take that extra step and give your projects a more finished look with the results you desire. But, don't forget to practice on a test swatch first!