In the world of knitting there are few buzz words we hear so often we start to take them for granted: Swatching. Gauge. Blocking. There's a reason we can't stop talking about them: they're the secret to excellent results.
Blocking, especially, is an easy one to overlook. You've done the work, you got gauge, you knit a garment you're proud of, and you're ready to wear it. Blocking means waiting… and after days, weeks or even months of knitting, we want the waiting to be over already. Trust me, I get it. But if you've ever tried on a finished sweater (pre-blocking) and felt a little nervous about the fit or lamented that the hem doesn't lay right, or if you can't stop obsessing over a couple of weird stitches, blocking cures (almost) all.
Blocking relaxes the stitches, softens the yarn, enhances the drape, opens-up the lace work and evens-out the cables – it does a lot of heavy lifting to turn a good project into a gorgeous one. It's no wonder we rave about it, right? It also works wonders with fit and final measurements; until you've blocked it, you can't be sure you're getting the best, most accurate results. But did you know that we don't just block our projects for cosmetic reasons? There's more to it.
Yarn processing can be a messy business. Before it ever reaches your hands, skeins of yarn are in bins, warehouses, dye pots, piles on tables and in some cases, being worn in the great outdoors on the backs of our favorite fiber animals before they're spun into yarn. It's not necessarily a tidy business; at least not all time. Sure, fiber is washed and rinsed at various stages along the way, but there's often a little bit leftover that you might want to rinse off before you put your new garment right up against your skin. Giving your project a good soak before you wear it ensures that any extra residue, chaff or excess color are washed away.
So how do we quickly and efficiently block our projects?
- Use the gentlest wool wash you can find. Whether you're working with a superwash yarn or an earthy natural wool, take it easy with the wash you plan to use. Products that are specifically designed for yarn work best, and the fewer chemicals the better.
- A little dab will do. There's no need to use excess wool wash when you're blocking. Add just a little bit (per the manufacturer's directions) to your basin to rinse away leftover dirt, residue or dye.
- Use lukewarm or cool water and avoid agitation. The goal of the blocking process is to give the fiber a chance to absorb the water and expel any leftover dirt or residue. Agitation is not necessary. Do make sure you have enough water in your basin to fully submerge your project, and then some.
- Soak your garment for at least 20 minutes to give the fiber a chance to fully absorb the water.
- Rinse (if necessary, some washes do not require this) and gently express the excess water, rolling the garment into a dry towel to press-out extra moisture.
- Lay your garment flat on a foam mat (I like to use interlocking exercise mats that you can find at home improvement stores) and pin your project into place, taking care that you are following measurement specifications listed in the pattern (if applicable). Use blocking pins (I like the comb-style pins for their ease and efficiency) to keep the edges in place and enhance the pattern. Gently teasing the edges into place and pinning them until dry trains the fiber to cooperate and creates a more polished result.
- Let the garment dry overnight (or longer) in a warm, dry place. Avoid direct sunlight as some fibers may not be fade-resistant. Turn the garment after 12-24 hours to allow for even drying time. The heavier the yarn and the denser the stitches, the longer it will take to dry.
When your garment is fully dry, it's ready to wear! You'll love the transformation that comes from blocking, and you'll be surprised what a difference it makes in both the look and feel of your project.