If you've heard the term 'blocked' in relation to knitting and crochet and wondered what that's all about, this blog post is for you. I will pop links to all items mentioned in at the end then you can go and look at/buy what you need.

What is blocking?
"Once it's blocked it'll be beautiful" is something I often hear and say myself. Blocking is when you wet (or steam) your knitting to somehow shape it. It can be for the purpose of stretching the piece to the correct size, and also for the purpose of evening out and opening out the stitches. It also allows the yarn to ‘bloom’ (sort-of fill out/fluff up a bit) as well as relax - I find that this softens it, often quite dramatically.

Why?
Stitches have a tendency to be a bit wonky or curl up on themselves - blocking can alleviate that. Lace patterns particularly need it - does your finished shawl look like a dishrag instead of the stunning showstopper that's in the pattern photos? It needs blocking to open out the pattern. 
I can show you some examples, but if you have a look at THIS google search result you'll instantly see what I'm talking about. 

Here's a jumper I made recently (Avalanche by Heidi Kirrmaeir in Pendle Chunky) before blocking - the sleeves are a bit short and the lace and cables are a bit scrunched up:

 

And after, with the sleeves the right length and the pattern all neatly opened up:

How?

Before you block there are a couple of things to consider:

  1. If your item is to be sewn up it is usually easiest and best to block the pieces BEFORE sewing up.
  2. What to do with the ends? Everyone has an opinion on this. Mine (and a common one, research tells me) is that you should weave in your ends but DON’T cut them until after blocking. Why? Well it means that the ends you’ve weaved (woven?) in can relax into place along with the rest of the piece, and I usually find that this sort of pulls the ends in a bit, which means where you’d have cut them off is now - sod’s law - sticking out on the front of your piece exactly where you don’t want it. So… cut the ends off after blocking then they’ll be where you want them to be. Once you’ve done it once you’ll see what I mean.


As with a lot of these age-old things there are various ways in which you can block your project. My Mum for example refers to it as pressing - she puts her knitting on the ironing board, puts a towel over it, then steams it with the iron. You may have heard of ‘pressing’? It’s more similar to what dressmakers will be familiar with, so if you’ve done any sewing this will ring a bell.

 

The method I use is generally called ‘wet blocking’. It’s very easy - just put your knitting/crochet in a sink or bowl, fill it with lukewarm water and if you want to use a little no-rinse wool wash you can do - I use Soak (we put it in our kits - I love it), but Eucalan is another good and widely available brand. These help to soften the fibres, they’re specifically designed for wool, and you don’t have to rinse them out which is very helpful!

Anyway, leave the item to soak for about 15 minutes or until it is full saturated.

Then take it out, squeeze it gently to just stop it being dripping wet, and then I find a great way to take some more of the excess water out is to roll it in a bath towel then stand on it. It does work, I promise.

Following that, you now have a damp piece of knitting/crochet, so you now need to pin it out and then let it dry.

Many people use foam play mats, or even yoga mats to pin items on to. I use the play mats - I’ll pop a link in below, but they are quite widely available and because they interlock, they store away fairly small.

You can also use something like a yoga mat to pin your work to, and a lot of people do it on a bed so that they’re not crawling around on the floor. In the past I’ve often just pinned my knitwear straight to the carpet - you can do this too, although it can be easier doing it on a rug or towel on the floor (it’s easier to get the pins in - some carpets are really hard!).

The washing line method is a nice easy way to block certain items - for example a crescent-shaped shawl - you would peg it to the line along the top straight edge, then hang a peg on each scallop or point along the edging.

Woolly boards can be used a really nice easy way to block jumpers and cardigans - I got one recently and it’s been a revelation. If you’re going to be making a lot of garments then it’s a worthwhile investment, especially if you have pinning out garments as much as I do! A woolly board is just a wooden frame (basocally a T shape) and you put the arm bar (top of the T) through the sleeves, then lower the whole thing onto the body frame.

Anyway, whichever method you try, you should now have a pinned out piece of knitwear, and all that remains is to leave it to dry. It’ll normally take at least 24 hours, although obviously it really depends how warm the spot you’ve put it in is. Once it is dry, carefully unpin and then snip off the yarn ends.

Pinning out knitwear/crochet can really take some practice.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Shawls - if you have a straight edge, start with that. Then go along and pin out points or scalloped edges. These may need adjusting after you’ve pinned them all in - sometimes you stand back and find half the shawl is fine and the other side is totally the wrong shape.
  2. Triangular symmetrical shawls - pin out the long straight edge at the top, then pull out and pin the bottom centre spine point, then pin out a point about half way along the diagonal edge on either side.. then go along and fill in the gaps down the diagonal edge.
  3. Hats - I have found that hats are best blocked on a balloon. Blow it up about halfway, then put the hat on, then continue blowing up the balloon until the hat is the size you want.
  4. Fingerless mitts - can be blocked flat, but a handy (hah! Sorry) way to do it is to get one of those plastic chopping boards that’s really bendy, roll it up to the size you want your fingerless mitts to be, tape it closed, then pop your fingerless mitts on it.
  5. Socks - you can get sock blockers. I know a lot of people don’t block socks - I often don’t because I put them on straight away and take photos of them on my feet, but should you want to you can buy sock blockers that come in many forms - plastic, metal, or wood, usually.

What to use for pins?

You can use normal dress pins if you have them to hand - a lot of supermarkets sell them too, so they’re easy to come by. I find T pins easiest to use - they’re bigger so they’re very sturdy and easy to grip. I use them alongside my blocking combs - these are fairly new to the market but they’re incredibly useful for straight edges. They’re just like combs with sharp metal teeth - using one is like putting a few pins in at a time.

A lot of people use blocking wires - these are metal wires which are bendy, and you pass them through and along the edge of your knitting then pin them down. There are videos on YouTube for this, so if you’re planning to have a go I would suggest looking there first.

 

Resources

Soak no rinse wool wash: http://www.thelittleknittingcompany.co.uk/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=39

Eucalan no rinse wool wash: http://www.woolstack.co.uk/eucalan-no-rinse-delicate-wash-500ml/

Foam play mats for blocking on: https://softfloorkids.co.uk/product/soft-mat-30/

KnitPro foam blocking mats: http://www.woolstack.co.uk/knitpro-lace-blocking-mats/

Sock Blockers: http://www.loopknittingshop.com/p/3694/Bryson-Stainless-Steel-Sock-Blockers

T-Pins: http://www.woolstack.co.uk/knitpro-t-pins-for-lace-blocking-50/

KnitPro Knit Blockers (combs): http://www.woolstack.co.uk/knitpro-knit-blockers-20-pieces/

KnitPro blocking wires: http://www.woolstack.co.uk/knitpro-lace-blocking-wire-kit/

YouTube video on blocking using blocking wires: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hOMd5ZkQsw

Woolly Boards (I got mine in the UK from someone like Wool Warehouse, however I now can’t find them available anywhere; so you can at least see what I’m talking about here’s a link to them on Amazon where they are unavailable at time of writing): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lacis-Adjustable-Blocking-Frame-Multicoloured/dp/B004BP7WME