How to block knitting or crochet
Blocking is something of a mystery to many knitters and crocheters. It’s often seen as a magic bullet, and even experienced knitters tell themselves that a problem will ‘block out’.
While some knitters block every project, after every wash, others never block a project in their lives. To find out which style suits you best, read on to learn what blocking can – and can’t – do for your knitting or crochet.
Why block knitting or crochet?
Many projects look great, wear well and go their whole lives without being blocked. That’s fine, and certainly saves some hassle. However, some projects, particularly fine lace, will never realise their full potential without blocking.
This is because blocking is a way of setting yarn. It helps settle stitches, making them sit neatly and evenly. Blocking can:
- Transform lace from a mess to a work of art
- Even out uneven stitches
- Make colourwork look crisper
- Help make sure pieces match for sewing up
- Let you create a bit of shape (e.g. around the bust)
- Let you stretch a project a bit, making it either wider or longer
Blocking works magic on lace, but it can’t fix every problem. Blocking can’t fix a miss-crossed cable, fill in a hole or make a too-small or too-big sweater fit. It can, in some cases, make mistakes more noticeable.
Wet blocking a lace shawl
This is perhaps the most impressive form of blocking, and the techniques apply to blocking any project. The video below shows the most common way of blocking yarn, although she’s using blocking wires, which aren’t essential. Here are the steps:
- Dunk the project in cool or warm (not hot) water. You can add a little wool wash or a dab of your conditioner (as long as it doesn’t have any colourant in it!) if you like.
- Let the project get wet through, but you don’t have to soak it. Don’t scrub, rub or roughly handle it, or it might felt.
- Drain the water, and gently squeeze out the project. It’s normal for a little bit of dye to come out and stain the water.
- Squeeze excess moisture out in a towel. Again, don’t rub the fibres around more than you can help, or they may felt.
- Lay the project out on a flat surface. If it’s fairly densely knitted, and doesn’t need to be stretched (like a ribbed hat), pat it into shape. If it won’t stay in shape without a bit of help, choose a surface that you can stick pins into, and pin the edges of the knitting out, giving it the shape you want. Covering the spare bed with a towel is a popular choice, but you could also use a foam mat, a carpeted floor, or even thick cardboard.
- Leave until completely dry (this may take a day or more in a damp climate, like the UK) then remove all pins.
- Now weave any ends in. Voila! Your project is complete.
Only block natural fibres
Wool blocks beautifully. This is because the fibre is malleable when wet, and retains the position it dries into. Other animal fibres, like alpaca, cashmere and angora, also block well.
Manmade yarns, like acrylic, nylon and polyester, don’t block well. The fibres don’t react to water, and they don’t set like wool fibres do. Other natural fibres, like cotton and linen, can be blocked but the effect may be less dramatic.
Careful with the heat
Many manmade fibres shrink or lose structure when heated (like melting a plastic spoon in the oven) and natural fibres, including silk, cashmere, angora, can also be damaged.
An alternative to wet blocking is to steam block pieces. To do this, you pin the project out first. Build up a good head of steam on your iron, and bring it close to the project without touching it, until it’s damp. Be wary though – the heat can damage many fibres.
Don’t scrub or wring out
The wool fibres that respond best to blocking are also at risk of felting. Felting requires fabric to be wet and to be rubbed, either against itself (as in a tumble drier or washing machine) or against something else (the side of a sink, your hands or a towel, for example). Treat your project gently and it should be fine.
Last updated: March 6th, 2015.