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Block Me, Amadeus


VOLUME 1, NUMBER 6

So often when I see comments/instructions about blocking it seems to be assumed that the reader will understand what is entailed in 'blocking'. When reading about blocking in different sources I have become confused as to what is best for what type of knitted fabric. Should one wash with soap and rinse and wring out before blocking? Should one only lightly get the knitted fabric damp, no need to actually wash? Is there no need to get the fabric completely wet and only lightly steam? If one steams, how is the best way to accomplish getting the steam to the fabric? For how long? Is the steam before or after pinning/working the fabric? I know that I should block but when a completed project is ready for blocking I'm completely at sea as to what steps to do next.

Sincerely,
Ruby

Warning: Strong Opinions Ahead.

I block everything. I cringe when I see that something hasn't been blocked - and yes, most of the time, it is immediately apparent. I wonder why people put hours into the knitting of something, only to totally ignore an essential finishing element - it's copy without editing, sashimi thrown haphazardly on a plate, a ball club without a relief pitcher: incomplete, and sort of pointless.

You can't deny that there are some very good reasons to block handknits:

  • It make seaming easier, neater and more even by flattening edges and creating perfectly matched pieces;
  • It evens stitches out, creating a perfectly smooth, coherent fabric that drapes and moves beautifully;
  • It aids in finessing the fit and sizing of a garment
  • It gives a finished, balanced look to even the least flawed fabric, a look impossible to achieve otherwise.
Though there are lots of ways to go about blocking, I always wetblock, even when working with the most delicate fibers and the most textured fabrics. It's not just stubbornness: for me, a real washing (in exactly the way the garment will be laundered forevermore) is the easiest, fastest way to all the nice things listed above. It evens the stitches of any garment in any fiber more quickly than steaming does, and it best accommodates stretching and pinning. And of course, it cleans a project that I might have been toting around for weeks to coffeeshops and on subways. It does take a little longer to dry, of course, but I generally think it's worth it. Here's what I've done for every single non-sock item I've ever knit, whether silk lace or alpaca sweater or cotton Aran or wool colorwork:

1) Soak in a sink (or tub) of cool water with a dribble of shampoo (or wool wash) for 15-20 minutes, long enough for the fibers to be thoroughly saturated;
2) Drain the soapy knit, either in my hands if they can support the mass or in a colander if they can't;
3) Rinse without agitating in a fresh basin of cool water;
4) Drain again, squeezing gently to express most of the water and being very careful not to wring, twist, or otherwise abuse the piece;
5) Lay flat on a thirsty towel, cover with another towel, roll up and stand or lean on it to press out as much water as possible
6) Take the whole roll to my blocking surface, dump the knit out, and shape the now just-slightly-damp piece, whether by pinning to measurements or just patting it flat;
7) Walk away and leave it be for a day or two.

Notes:

  • I covet a blocking board deeply, but I've never quite found one that suits my needs. Instead, I block on a corkboard or a mattress - basically, any flat, firm surface that can have pins stuck in it - made non-porous with a plastic cover (a heavy garbage bag will do nicely). When blocking stranded knitting and cables, it makes a huge difference in drying time and threat of mildew (ew!) to keep water from soaking into the blocking surface.

  • I check that my lines and angles are straight with the mother of all t-squares, though lately I've been thinking about marking a large piece of oilcloth or vinyl with a permanent-marker grid (or buying a piece printed in a 1" gingham check) - voila, instant, non-porous, portable blocking surface!

  • I use lots and lots of rustproof quilter's t-pins - enough to keep a well-stretched fabric from scalloping at the edges, enough to pin necklines and armscyes into the exact shapes I think they should be. I've found it's always easiest, for any kind of knit, to pin a few major points around the perimeter first to get the size right and angles square, and then even it out by bisecting the unpinned sections again and again.
  • If necessary, I pinch and pull at texture elements to plump them up.

  • I try to block in pieces whenever possible - flat pieces are much easier, and quicker-drying, than a seamed garment. Later, after seaming and final finishing (collars and buttonbands applied), I'll gently steam the seams to get them to open nice and flat.

  • Pinning neccessarily stretches out ribbing along bottom hems and cuffs. To get it back into springy shape, after the whole thing is dry, I'll hold a hot, steamy iron an inch or so above the fabric and pull lengthwise to encourage the ribs to draw in again.

  • Though I think wetblocking works on most everything, there are some yarns that are specifically marked as "DO NOT SOAK." Believe them when they say that. Steam them into submission instead.

If you are in a hurry and prefer to steam, remember that steaming will kill manmade fibers. Remember, too, that the surface of the iron should never touch the knitting itself - pass the iron a half inch or so over the surface, letting the steam penetrate. When steaming, you'll want to:

1) Lay your pieces flat;
2) Cover with a damp cotton cloth;
3) Apply steam to one section at a time, just skimming the cloth and applying no pressure whatsoever. You can start pinning to size one section at a time, as each is relaxed by the steam bath.
4) If steaming seams, support curved ones on a rolled towel or pillow. Poke, prod and pat with your hands to get them to sit the way you want.

I consider spritzing to be pretty worthless. It's generally cited as the best way to deal with very delicate fibers, but I've found that a little care makes wetblocking work just fine. The major concern is that water-weakened wet garments will pull and stretch out of shape under their own saturated weight - just take care to support the whole mass of wadded-up knitting any time you move it, not allowing any one section to droop or spill.

That's it! It takes just a few extra hours - but I think it's the difference between a sweater that looks "homemade" and one that looks "handknit."

unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions, signed with your name, blog url, or psuedonym to unraveling@eunnyjang.com. Your question may be edited for style and space.

Comments

THANK YOU!! I can't tell you how many times I have paged through knitting books, searched the internet, and racked my brain trying to figure out how to block something. Hurrah for clear directions!

I completely agree. I've seen items in catalogues and webstores that haven't been blocked and I cringe. I also love blocking lace and watching it go from the pre-blocking "wad of crap" to post-blocking lovely heirloom piece.

You write GREAT tutorials.

But do you block your socks?

Thank you. I'm glad to know I'm doing SOMETHING right!

Now, one last question. Do you have to block something every time you wash it? Like a lace shawl?

Thanks so much, Eunny, for your timely tutorial! I'm about to block a sweater and a will find your instruction enormously useful. Like Sachi, I'd like to know if you block everytime you wash an item. Seems like an item would return to its original state when wet. Also, do you carry your larger projects on your commute or do you have simple "commuting projects?"
Thanks!

Why don't you actually iron a piece? I'm a wet blocker myself, but just what happens to a piece which has been ironed? Other than a mashing down of the lovely stitches?

Thanks again, Eunny. Back when I was first learing to knit, I seacrhed and searched for this information. The few times I asked about it at my local yarn stores the ladies looked at me like I was an idiot. I'm glad to say that after much trial and error, I pretty much block the same way as you.

This is exactly what I needed to read right now! I'm finishing a piece that I would rather didn't look "handmade" and was wavering between steam and wet blocking.

I can't wait to see my even and polished final product. Thanks :)

That was the best tutorial on blocking I have ever read. THANK YOU. One quick question - I assume you put the garbage bag on the bed, then a towel on top of that, and then the item to be blocked on top of the towel, pinned through everything. Is that correct? Thanks again! -Carla

OK, not only do you write great tutorials, that is hands down THE BEST blocking illustration I have ever or will ever see. :) Thank you!

I second Sachi's question. When it comes to lace stuff, what degree of reblocking is necessary when washing an item? And how to explain it if you're gifting to the non-knitter? (Just kidding about that last one.)

OMG you block the way I do! with TONS of pins, soaking, etc. I do have a blocking board and i LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! it's so big, you can block a baby blanket on it! do you ever use blocking wires? i found those helpful too when i didn't feel like pinning down 100+ pins. ;)

Loved your illustration on blocking...it's so cute and gets to the point.

I've always wondered .. I see your points about blocking for finishing and so on but .. how does it affect the garment in the long term? I mean after you wash it from wearing it, do you have to reblock?

What about hats? Is it best to shape them on a blocking board or instead use a mannequin head or balloon or other orb?

This is the best tutorial on blocking I've seen so far. Thanks for writing it!

Just a note on the usage of garbage bags, though--some are treated with chemicals to keep pests out (something my parents learned in food safety courses), so it's important to check the type of bag you're using. A good rule of thumb is to garbage bags meant for indoor use and stay away from those that are meant for outdoor/gardening use.

Another great column and I love your illustration.

The only thing I would add is a note about objects that may not be flat, i.e. I blocked my first knit purse on a cereal box with a grocery bag over it.

It's funny you mentioned a cork board; with 2 cats and a 5 year old, safe vertical space is at a premium around here. So I sent a message to my local Freecycle group and picked up a 6'x4' cork bulletin board yesterday after work. Mildew never occurred to me tough, thank you for mentioning it.

I've only blocked one item so far, but I have a suggestion for those who want an easy blocking "board"--at my local fabric store, I found a big, folding ironing surface that's marked off in a grid. It's meant for quilters who want to turn a large table top into an ironing board. (I quilt too...) It's great because I can just fold it up and shove it in a closet when I don't need it, but it's got some stiffness to it.

i love your sassy sweater samples, especially the first one with her lips all pursed and pouty :) i recently added a link to your blog on my sidebar because when i ran across your blog, i didn't want to possibly lose it, and i think we can all learn something from your experience, and the clarity inwhich you illustrate lessons. so, a big thank you for the time and effort you put into your posts, and thank you for sharing with us all! and, what happens when you do soak something that says "do not soak" ?!

I am so glad you wrote this article. Just the other day I was thinking, "I need to send an email to see if Eunny can talk about blocking." For some reason it seems no one ever tells you about blocking, I had no idea how to do it. Thanks so much for the info.

I have some cotton fabric with 1" squares preprinted. You can find this in a quilting store, generally to be used when making watercolor quilts. We have a large roll of clear construction plastic that we keep in the garage. It is amazing how handy this stuff is - we use it often. I cut a piece and stretch it across the fabric. Now I have a waterproof gridded surface.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I look forward to the next installment.

Eunny, I didn't want to buy a blocking board either. I read the Knitty article about making your own and went to Home Depot in search of homosote board. They'd never heard of it. When I explained what I wanted it for, a very helpful man suggested using a ceiling tile. You know, the somewhat spongy ones that you see everywhere. I bought one that measured 3'x6' for less than $3, drew gridlines on it with a Sharpie, and covered it with clear groundcover plastic. Voila! A watertight blocking board that pins press easily into for CHEAP! Plus, it's very lightweight and stores upright behind my china cabinet. For a larger one, I'm going to attach two of the tiles together. When I progress to making sweaters and such, that is.

hi eunny! i love your blog and often refer my students to your informative posts! i know i don't leave many comments, but i read every post! when i read about your wanting a blocking board, i though i would share information about mine, as many people do not know about the product it is made from.
for years i have used something called Homosote board. it comes in 4 x 8 foot sheets from the lumber yard (not home depot, go to a smaller lumber yard) and is a pressed paper board about 1/2" thick. it is used for acoustic walls, etc., but is a lot like bulletin board material in that you can pin into it.
it does not become damaged by wetness, it can be cut down to size with a knife, and it lasts forever as long as it is not exposed to standing water.
i have a 3ft by 4 ft piece attached to the top of my pressing table, but before i had a table, i used it as a portable piece. i covered mine with a wool batting and then with muslin (or you can even buy shirt fabric with stripes or windowpanes to assist in measuring/shaping). the fabrics are easily stapled into the back of the board, which can then be pinned into quite firmly for blocking. it can be stowed away behind furniture.
now i have a real workroom and i also covered the top of my long table with it. (it also works great for taping down watercolor paper to prepare for painting!)

I cam to your site today to pour over the lace instruction (which I need desparately to help me out on an upcoming project)--only to find this excellent discussion. I've got all the pieces of a cabled cardigan sitting in a basket waiting for finishing once I figure out how to do it well enough. What perfect timing! Now I have a bit more confidence. Now: any great advice on button bands?

i love your blog for it's technical expertise. I know a lot about knitting, but you continue to teach me. Keep writing.

Thank you so much for wonderfully answering my question! I found it clear and understandable and feel that now I'll have confidence to block completed projects. You have a gift to write so clearly!

A million thanks for the best tutorial on blocking I have ever seen. I have bookmarked this post for many future uses. And thank you to all the commenters for the blocking board suggestions, I'm off to Home Depot this weekend!

Hi Eunny- Yet another suggestion for a blocking board. I use a cutting board for sewing (the folding cardboard type) and covered it in clear contact paper. Both are rather inexpensive and since the board folds it stores neatly under my bed without taking up a lot of space. Hope this helps you and any one else that may be looking for ideas.

love your advice on the wetlocking. I agree totally!
when are you going to be syndicated?

Lucy Neatby (hair flip) recommends getting a llllaaarrrrge slab of insulating foam from a hardware store. You can draw a grid on it if you desire. It's a significantly cheaper alternative to a blocking board, and you can get one to suit your needs. Not that I've ever taken the advice myself, but hey, when I see a chance to name drop for you, I gotta take it...

Are you against the spin cycle as a method for removing water after the soak? I find if I let the piece(s) balance against other items in the washtub (things that won't leave lint, like sheets) that I don't have to worry about them spinning out of shape. They stay in their zone of the tub and get dryer than they do by pressing them in towels (and then I don't have the wet towels to deal with, either). Block on!

I made a homemade blocking board with plywood, covered with a big sheet of foam, then canvas, but it was too huge to store anywhere and I got tired of dragging it out. I finally bought a bunch of those foam interlocking tiles (2 ft by 2 foot), the kind that you put down on playroom floors. I can put together however many I need, and it makes crawling around on my hands and knees much easier for pinning. You can pin right into them. They are very lightweight for carrying, and much easier to store.

it's so nice to read the details of your blocking technique. i do the same thing and use a cardboard sewing board for the pinning part. my mother taught me to knit, is a super fast irish knitter. BUT she doesn't block her work! it makes me crazy. i'm going to send her a link to your blog right now!

I agree with blocking it just makes for a nicer finish in all ways, but I did have a big problem once - I steam blocked a cotton/wool blend to even out the stitches mainly and I lost about 20% in the legnth when it dried.

Thank you so much for that tutorial. I have been steam blocking everything in the past year, and I was alarmed to read that steaming "kills man-made materials"!! Maybe I've only been knitting with wool of late...but could you please elaborate a little on that?

Excellent tutorial! I agree with you on blocking to give items that wonderful finished look, but I don't block everything. I don't block socks (your feet will do the blocking) and I don't block simple stocking caps.

For finished lace items that have already been blocked, I recommend that the item be gently blocked into shape after washing. Cottons will stretch so extra care needs to be taken on those to block them evenly.

For a blocking board, I've had folks recommend the construction insulation foam with a covering of 1 inch gingham stretched over it. It comes in several sizes and has a waterproof side. It can also be cut to size. For shawl and other lace blocking, two 4 X 8 footers make an excellent blocking board; duct tape down the middle to make a hinge, cover with the gingham, then use with abandon! When finished, you can fold it for storage.

Thanks for another great tutorial! I especially loved your cute illustrations :) A blocking sweater is a happy sweater!

Oh Thank You, Thank You. I have been looking for step by step clear directions on blocking for ages now. I have taken every word to heart!

Good instructions. I do one thing different: I use HOT water, especially with wool. The heat will relax the fibers so that you can manipulate them even more than with cold. Also, the block seems to hold better after subsequent washings. Hot water need not be feared; just be careful not to agitate.

For a blocking board I just use the cheap cardboard fabric-store cutting boards. When it wears out I will buy a new one, but I have only needed to replace one after my then-two-year-old daughter scribbled all over mine. I figure that doesn't really count.

Is there anything differently you would do when blocking a winter hat?

Thanks,
Jill

How do I block a sweater that has streached out.. back to it's normal shape?

Thanks for this great information! I have found a problem when blocking. My item starts out the right size when it is knit, but, as soon as it gets wet, it stretches and gets too big. I am very careful to not agitate in the wash and do not wring out the piece to dry it, but rather apply only top down pressure. Any advice?

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

I have looked through every knitting book I can get my hands on and read up on blocking, I've asked my knitting friends constantly, referred to every knitting website, and blocking never made sense! This did! I'm now addicted to wet blocking and wet block all my FOs b/c i wash all my FOs anyway! I also like your simple approach, wash, pin to bed, let dry. No fancy notions to buy. Thank you for this article!

Is this a wordpress blog? or some other software?

Love the tips! I'm pretty lazy about blocking though, especially cuz I've knit mostly scarves & wraps so far.

When I do get off my lazy butt & wet-block, I use my home-made ironing board, just 3/8" plywood with 2 layers of cotton batting and another 2 of muslin (stapled in place.) Best part is, you can make it any size your heart desires!!! I have a small one for quilting, and a large one for everything else!

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Does anyone know an online store that has blocking boards for under $50? Thanks for any suggestions!

Thanks for this post, someone on KH sent it to me! I LOVE the title of it too ;o)

Nice article. I've found that yoga mats work well for blocking too, especially for long skinny things like scarves.

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