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On the Importance of Blocking

Unblocked swatches straight off the needles

Wait! Don’t run away! Yes, I’m going to talk about blocking, but I promise it will be painless.

If you know what blocking is but have never actually tried it, please stay with me.

If you have no idea what blocking is, this is for you: Blocking is the application of some form of water (with or without heat) to a knitted fabric in order to get it to behave properly.

Here, let me show you. I am working up some ideas for a bottom-up shawl pattern, and have made a couple of swatches using leftover yarns of different weights from my stash. Here’s how they look straight off the needles:

 

Unblocked swatches straight off the needles

Unblocked swatches straight off the needles. Blech!

If this were your first experience with knitting, you would probably look at this mess, think you had done something wrong, throw it away, and vow never to try this horrible pattern again! And this is heartbreaking because you have done nothing wrong! This is how it is supposed to look. Really, it is. The problem is not that you have done it wrong; the problem is that you are simply not finished yet.

Through the application of a little water, some pins, and time, you will end up with this:

Lovely blocked swatches

Lovely blocked swatches. See how flat they lay?

Isn’t that worth a little time and effort? And, if you’re using a natural fiber with memory, such as wool, these results are semi-permanent, at least until you wash it again. It’s kind of like setting your hair with a blow dryer or curling iron.

There are three types of blocking: wet, steam and spray/spritz. The method you use depends on the fiber(s), the item you are blocking, and your personal preference. These swatches were wet blocked, which is my preferred method. Generally, the item should be blocked in the same way that it will be cleaned. Be sure to consult the ball band for your yarn to see the manufacturer cleaning instructions. Natural fibers respond very well, although it should be noted that some become more fragile when wet, so they must always be supported and not allowed to dangle to avoid permanent stretching or breakage (I’m looking at you, silk). Be especially careful not to apply steam or high heat to acrylics (they melt!); know that some novelty yarns don’t take kindly to water.

There are many excellent blocking tutorials on the web that will tell you exactly what to do. Here are two from an ancient blog by Eunny Jang that I think are especially helpful:

See here for an overview of blocking.

See here for a post about blocking lace.

 

What is your favorite blocking method?