Q&A: What is blocking?

Blocking. It's up there with making a gauge swatch in terms of something we should do... but often just don't quite get around to. Seriously though, it can be MAGICAL depending on the project!

WHAT IS BLOCKING?

In a nutshell, blocking is carefully washing and drying a finished object so it is its best self.

The process of getting wet then drying again is phenomenally effective at evening out gauge and setting stitches in textured patterns. It's also an opportunity to refine the shape, fit, and size. Plus, you'll often find garments soften up depending on what wash you use.

Caveats to this magic? Most projects (and especially superwash yarns) grow bigger when washed. Use caution with highly saturated dyes that could bleed. And always check the care recommendations on your ball band before giving it a plunge.

TOOLS

  • For wet blocking (a.k.a. hand washing), use a wool wash that doesn't need to be rinsed. This not only makes the process faster, but you agitate the fibers less, which reduces felting and piling. It also conditions and softens the fiber.
    • In general, you'll want to use a high-quality wool wash specifically designed for handknits. In a pinch, treat your handknits like you would your hair - after all, wool is sheep hair. Shampoo is not ideal, but it's far gentler than dish soap or even grocery store laundry soap.
    • Two popular brands of wool wash are Eucalan and Soak. Eucalan contains lanolin and is great for conditioning wool. Soak does not contain lanolin, so it's awesome for cotton and other non-wools. Both come in a variety of sizes and scents. If you are unsure what you like, grab a bunch of sample packs! (They're also great for travel.)
  • Also for wet blocking, you need something to wash the garment in. A sink, bucket, or large bowl are all great. If sink space is at a premium in your home, the Twistedistas (well, at least us accident-prone ones in 1 bathroom homes!) have recently fallen head over heels for using Stasher Stand-Up Bags for blocking small things like hats and gloves.
  • Towels! You'll probably use at least two dry bath towels.
  • In most cases, you'll want something to pin the project on to while it dries. Blocking mats are ideal, but ironing boards, a spare bed, or stacked towels all work, as well. Hats can do well blocked on a balloon or bowl to form a perfectly round shape.
  • Finally, t-pins, blocking wires, and knit blockers will all help keep your project in just the right shape while it dries.

WET BLOCKING

This is the most common and robust way to block. If you have cables, lace, or colorwork in your project, it will usually benefit greatly from wet blocking. 

  • Grab your wool wash and washing container. Follow the instructions for the detergent based on the size of your bucket/sink/tub/container. Use cool water.
  • Add the garment and gently squeeze the water through. Don't overly agitate or wring.
  • Soak the garment for 5-20 min. Though if you're worried about saturated colors bleeding or superwash yarns growing, you may want to not soak it at all.
  • Gently squeeze out the water as much as you can. DO NOT WRING OUT THE GARMENT! Unless your goal is felting, you are trying to get as much water out while roughing the fibers up as little as possible.
  • Lay the project on a towel, roll it up, and gently walk or push on it to further get out as much water as possible. You may want to repeat with a second towel. Be gentle, but the drier you can get it now, the less time it will take to air dry.
  • Lay out your blocking mats in the shape needed or prep whatever surface you are pinning your project to. A well-ventilated area like a spare bed under a ceiling fan is ideal. Avoid direct sunlight. You may want to shut the door to the room if you have pets. Nothing mystically calls to a cat like a freshly blocked lace shawl.
  • Pin your project into the desired shape. This is a great opportunity to make straight lines perfectly straight, open up lace, pull points extra pointy, and fix slight fit issues like sleeves that could be juuuuuust a little longer.
  • Check on it after a day. Thicker projects may need to be flipped so the back side has a better chance to dry. Make sure it's totally 100% definitely dry before putting it away in a drawer!

STEAM BLOCKING

If you have a finished project that you really don't want to grow OR you have a fiber that you don't want to soak OR you're in a hurry, steam blocking is a great way to get your stitches to relax and behave. 

  • Get out your steamer or, for most of us, your iron. Do NOT touch your iron to the garment! Using the iron's steam setting, very gently pulse steam on to the fabric as you work it into shape. The goal is to get it only just barely damp enough that it relaxes. 
  • From here, the process looks like wet blocking above. Lay out and pin the project to mats or whatever you are using to set the shape you want. 
  • Let it dry!

EXCEPTIONS

If your project is made from acrylic yarn, you are not going to see many benefits from blocking. Got a hat that fits absolutely perfectly straight off the needles? Blocking will change it a bit, so you could skip the blocking or stay with steam blocking. Socks? There are sock blockers out there that help smooth out lace and cable patterned socks. However, we are gonna be honest, most of us let our feet block them naturally. That said, it never hurts to block 'em.

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