Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Blocking Your Knitting

A few years ago I wrote an article for Knitting Magazine about blocking your knitting and thought I would re-publish it here.

There are a number of reasons why you might want to block your knitting after finishing the knitting but before sewing up the pieces.
  • Checking the size of the finished pieces. Some minor adjustments can be made to the size of the pieces with blocking but depending on the yarn content the adjustments may not be permanent.
  • Getting rid of wavy uneven edges which makes sewing up easier
  • ‘Setting’ the stitches i.e. evening out uneven knitting (depending on the yarn fibre) and relaxing the knitting to give a more professional look to the finished item.

Equipment for blocking your knitting

A blocking mat.  Most methods of blocking require the use of water so whatever you use as a blocking mat should be water resistant or at least not damaged by water. It is not necessary to buy a blocking mat; you can use a pad of towels on top of carpet or a spare bed. You can buy blocking mats e.g. KnitPro Blocking Mats which are 9 squares of dense foam which lock together like a jigsaw puzzle. An alternative to this is to look for the foam play mats sold for children to play on or a camping bed roll which isn’t very wide but is quite long.

You can also make a blocking mat from a sheet of polystyrene covered with plastic to make it waterproof and then covered again with a check fabric. The check fabric provides a grid making it easier to block out your knitting. You could also make a blocking mat from a dress makers cutting board but again you would need to cover it with plastic or cling film to keep it waterproof but it comes with a grid already printed on the board.

Pins When blocking pieces of knitting you will generally need to pin the pieces in place while they dry. I use long glass headed steel pins. If you use long pins they aren’t so easily lost in the knitting. The glass headed pins have coloured heads and as they are glass you can steam your knitting with an iron without worrying if the pin heads are going to melt. You can also use non-rusting steel T-pins.

Tape measure Use an accurate tape measure if you are pinning out pieces to a given size. Don’t use an old worn or stretched tape measure.

Methods of Blocking
There are a number of ways to block your knitting and the method used is largely dependent on the fibre content of the yarn used in the knitted pieces. Some fibres can be washed or steamed and blocked, some can be washed and blocked, and some should be blocked dry and then wetted. It is always advisable to look on the ball band to see what washing instructions have been provided by the manufacturer but here are some general guild lines that you may find helpful.

Wool and mixes with a high wool content
I normally wash the garment pieces using whatever method I will be using to launder the finished garment (generally hand washing but machine washed in net bags if it is machine washable). If hand washed I spin off the excess water and lay the pieces out flat (wrong side up) on the blocking mat. If the garment is knitted in stocking stitch and is the correct size I don’t usually pin out the pieces. If the garment is knitted in lace or another stitch pattern that needs to be stretched open I will pin the pieces to size and leave to dry.



Lace scarf pinned out on blocking mat



Lace swatch washed and blocked out with second sample of the same swatch as it is after knitting and before blocking

Wool can also be steam blocked.


Wool swatch after knitting but before blocking

Pin out the pieces to the size required. Smooth the pieces from the centre outwards and be careful not to over stretch the knitting in any one direction.


Wool swatch pinned in the corners


Wool swatch pinned out flat

If you are going to steam block your piece of knitting you should use glass headed pins to pin out the piece. Using a steam iron set to ‘wool’ and with steam hover the iron over your piece of knitting allowing the steam to penetrate the fabric. If you move the iron away you can pat the steam into the fabric but make sure you don’t scold yourself.


Wool swatch being steamed

You can put the iron on the knitting if you want a very flat surface but remember to steam press NOT iron. Also make sure you steam all the fabric.

You need to remember that wool fibre is elastic. If you have stretched out the knitting in the blocking process once you wash that item you will have to block it out again as it is not possible to ‘fix’ the stretched blocking permanently in wool.

Cotton Again I would wash the garment pieces (in this case machine washed) and lay them out on the blocking mat to dry. The washing helps to relax the knitting and also shows what it will look like once the garment is laundered. The sample of rib and lace knitted in cotton became much flatter and open after washing without being stretched.


Cotton swatch before washing


Cotton swatch after washing

You can pin out your pieces or just leave them smoothed out flat to dry. Cotton can also be steam pressed i.e. you can press the steam iron onto the knitting if you want a flat surface as cotton can withstand quite a lot of heat. However if the knitting is worked in a textured stitch you may prefer to just wash or steam the pieces to retain the texture.

Acrylic Acrylic fibre does not respond well to heat. You can wash the pieces in the way you will launder the finished garment and lay them out flat to dry, or while they are still dry, you can pin out the pieces on the blocking mat and then wet them either with a water spritzer or by placing damp tea towels over the knitting so the moisture penetrates the knitted pieces and then leave them to dry.

DO NOT iron or steam unless you want a limp open fabric.

Bamboo and other new fibres Yarns made from new fibres such as bamboo, Soya, milk protein and corn are becoming more readily available so it is important to know how to block knitting made from these fibres. Although they are all made from natural sources they go through a manufacturing process to be made into fibre so it is generally not a good idea to use steam or an iron on them. The safest way to treat knitted pieces in any of these fibres is to block them out dry and then apply damp tea towels to the knitting. I usually pat down the damp tea towels to help the moisture penetrate the fibre, leave the tea towels for 3 or 4 hours and then remove them and leave the knitting to dry completely before unpinning.

Bamboo yarn in particular stretches quite easily when dry and stretches even more when wet so it is very important to block bamboo from dry not after washing it.

Blocking out a garment
I photographed the stages of pinning out a waistcoat knitted in bamboo yarn. I joined the shoulder seams as part of the knitting as I prefer to have knitted shoulder seams, however this can cause some problems when blocking the pieces as you have to allow for the shoulder slope.

I started by pinning out the back piece. I placed pins in the back neck, either side of the shoulder seam, the underarm points and the bottom edge at the side seam. The bottom width, back width at the underarm point, back shoulder width, back neck width, armhole length and side seam from underarm to bottom where all checked against the measurements on the garment schematic.


Bamboo waistcoat back pinning out the basic shape

I then started to pin the bottom and side seam edges using the grid on the blocking mat as a guide.


Waistcoat back showing the bottom and one side edge pinned



Waistcoat back showing all edges pinned

Once all the back of the waistcoat was pinned out I then started to pin the left front.


Waistcoat left front pinned in place

Once I finished pinning the left front I then pinned the right front overlapping the front bands at the centre front and pinning the shoulders to allow for the shoulder slope.


Waistcoat fronts pinned out.

Having pinned the garment pieces to size I then covered the knitting with tea towels that I wetted and wrung out. I patted down the tea towels to ensure the moisture penetrated the knitted, left them on the knitting for several hours then removed the tea towels and left the knitted pieces until completely dry.



Back of waistcoat covered with a tea towel

I hope you found this information useful.

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