Among the things our yarn doctors are regularly asked about are “how do you block your knitting?”, “is blocking lace difficult, I am nervous about starting a shawl” and “what are blocking wires?”.
So following our look at summer shawls last week, we have some tips about blocking your knitting and crochet.
This technique is particularly useful with spring yarns with a lot of “memory” like wool and alpaca and when you really want to stretch out your work as with lace knitting.
When you a piece of lace knitting off your needles it is likely to look a bit scrunched up and floaty as in the pattern picture. You can see the effect in this swatch for a shawl.
Before starting to block your piece, collect the items you will need to do the job. Discovering that the pins are in another room as you juggle wet knitting is not a fun activity.
As a bare minimum you need towels, pins, a measuring tape and something to pin out your piece on – this could be a layer of old towels on a spare room bed (please note spare, you don’t know exactly how long it will take your knit to dry). However, if you plan to regularly wet block, it is worth making a small investment in some blocking kit.
A good (and to some extent potable) option as a blocking surface is a set of interlocking foam matts. You will find these sold as blocking matts as well as children’s play matts and as workshop flooring. They are easy to stick pins in and are quite robust.
Rather than dress making pins, buy T-pins which are larger and better for controlling blocking wires – they are often sold together.
Blocking wires are often the item that make people nervous. They are basically what they say on the tin, flexible wire rods that you can thread through the edge of your knitting. The main type are straight and unsurprisingly very helpful when you want to block one or more straight edge. You can also find finer wires that naturally sit in a curve.
To start the wet blocking process, you need a sink full of warm (not hot) water. If the water is hot you run the risk of felting your piece. Gently put the knitting in the sink and ensure it is submerged. Don’t agitate or rub the knitting – simply leave it to soak for about a quarter of an hour.
Once the knitting has soaked, lay a towel on a flat surface. Gently lift the knitting out of the water – let water drain off but DO NOT wring it out. Place the soaked knitting as flat as possible on the towel. Gently roll up the towel like a Swiss roll with the knitting as the jam. Carefully squeeze the rolled towel which will soak water away from the knitting leaving you with a damp, relaxed piece.
Treating you piece with care, lay it out on your blocking surface and start to pin it out to the right size and shape.
Here I have used a blocking wire along the straight edge of swatch, using T-pins to hold the wire in place on the matt. Then I have used more pins to pull out the points of the lace to reveal the pattern.
Once you are satisfied that you piece is pinned out to the right size and shape – take your time to get it right – leave it be to dry.
When it is completely dry, you can carefully remove the pins and wires, making sure not to snag any stitches. The knitting will retain its shape and size.
Some yarns do not have the same qualities as wool when it comes to memory – cotton behaves very differently from wool for example. Also you may not want to stretch your work much or have textures or cables that you want to protect.
Steam blocking is an alternative that can be used these circumstances and for simply flattening basic garment elements. You can use a steam iron for this task but again if you do lots of knitting or crochet it is worth investing in a handheld clothes steamer.
If you do use a steam iron, place a damp tea towel over your work to avoid accidentally touching your knitting with a hot iron.
As before pin out your piece to the right shape and size but this time you pin it out dry as with the swatch pictured above.
Once you are happy with the shape, move your steamer or iron over the piece squirting steam. Make sure you cover the whole piece with steam. You may see the yarn relax or bloom under the steam as you work.
Leave you piece to dry before carefully unpinning it.
As you try both blocking methods you will discover what you prefer for different types of yarn and stitch patterns. But concerns over blocking should not stop you from trying new types of knitting.