Ever had a sweater — store-bought or handmade — that just loses its shape? The sleeves are hanging at different lengths, and hems that used to hit at the hips now hang like a crop top. What can you do? You have to reshape it. That’s what blocking is for.
Whether you're well-versed in knitting techniques or just finishing your first project, this tutorial will offer a step-by-step guide for how to block in knitting that will be useful to everyone.
Knitted projects won’t come out perfect as soon as you bind off. You have to tell the stitches where to sit. That’s all blocking is.
There's a more thorough tutorial later on in this post, but the gist of blocking knits is this: To block any item, get it wet, wash the fibers and then lay it out on a flat surface. You could use an ironing board, a bed, blocking mats or something else. Then gently shape your project to be the dimensions you want. Let it dry, and the item will hold the shape you set.
Why block your knits?
Chances are, you have a couple of lumps and bubbles, in addition to uneven lengths. Blocking can take care of that, too.
Before you go crazy, don’t think that blocking will make up for the stitches you forgot to decrease or that little section where you went off-pattern. It’s hard to hide those mistakes. Blocking will simply reshape an item.
What types of knits should be blocked?
For some casual garments, like a one-piece sweater that is meant to be a wear-around-the-house type of item, perhaps blocking isn't essential. But most knits will benefit from the shaping that blocking provides.
To finish a knitting project you want to be relatively square, measure your dimensions as you lay out your project. If you aren't having success, the likeliest problem is that your project isn't wet enough.
A lot of knitters block their individual pieces before seaming them together, especially for garments like sweaters. I’m going to admit it: I don’t do that. I sew the whole piece together, then I block it. I prefer this because it just makes life easier. I can do all the blocking at once and have a better idea of what it looks like as a finished piece. If this makes you nervous, you should go ahead and block them separately.
Blocking tips for different fibers
- Only natural fibers like wool, alpaca, etc., generally benefit from blocking.
- For more delicate items like cashmere and acrylic, spritz blocking is recommended. For this, simply spray the item rather than soaking it and shape as desired.
- Acrylic yarn can be "killed" to create a softer, more limp fabric. By applying heat to the garment though steam blocking or ironing the fabric directly, the plastic fibers in the acrylic yarn essentially melt together. Once you've "killed" a garment, it cannot go back to its original shape, so make sure you decide wisely which acrylic pieces to use this technique on.
- Never try to block silk, as the fibers are far too delicate to withstand the heat. If you need a certain size or shape with silk, always create a gauge swatch first instead of relying on water and steam to help.
Like most techniques, there are a ton of tools you can use to block. I don’t own many of these tools. For the most part, I substitute in other things I have around the house. When deciding whether to buy these tools below, just purchase what you think is best for your skill level. Will you be blocking a lot? Can you substitute the tools? It all depends on your personal preferences.
Blocking mats are awesome because they have grids on them that can help when you’re measuring and tugging at your blocked item. You can also get a special blocking board or foam mat that serves the same purpose.
T-pins work well with foam blocking mats. You can push the pins in so they hold down whatever item you’re blocking and make sure it stays put.
I don’t knit socks often, but if I did, I’d probably buy sock blocks like these. They come in a range of sizes, so you don’t have to do much adjusting after you slip your sock on it.
Part of blocking involves washing your knit. Make sure you use a mild shampoo. Baby shampoo works well, or you can buy special wool wash to use.
How to block your knitting
I knitted my first sweater a few years ago. After every few wears, the rib at the bottom of the sweater starts to stretch out to the sides, making the sweater shorter and making my body look horrific in it. Here’s how I solved the shaping problem.
What you’ll need:
- Sink or bucket large enough to hold your item
- Mild shampoo or wool wash
- 2 towels, one for rolling and another for blocking
- Measurements of your finished item, usually provided in the pattern
1. Fill a sink or bucket with lukewarm water. Never use hot water when soaking or rinsing natural fibers. Hot water and agitation are used to felt wool, so if you use either of those when you block, your stitches will start to stick together to form a solid piece of fabric.
2. Toss a little bit of the shampoo or wool wash in there and mix it all up.
3. Dip your knitted item (in my case, a sweater) into the water. Move it around just enough to make sure the entire item is wet, but don’t go nuts and dunk it in and out. Just like the hot water, agitation will make the natural fibers come together. Let the item hang out in the sink or bucket for about 5 minutes.
4. Begin the rinsing process: Drain the sink or bucket and refill it with cool water. Keep rinsing the item until the water is clear and without suds.
5. Grab one of the bath towels. Lay your item on the towel. No need to check exact measurements right now, but lay it out roughly the way you want it to look. You’ll get one more chance later to really adjust it.
6. Roll the item up in the towel. Squeeze the water out as you roll. If the item still feels drenched, you can repeat this step with another dry towel.
7. Grab one more bath towel. Lay the towel on a flat surface.
8. Check out the measurements from your pattern. If you’re making a garment like a sweater, you’ll want to be more exact than if you’re blocking, say, a blanket. Start to pull on your damp item, making sure it is laying flat and that all the measurements match those from the pattern.
9. Now’s the time to perfect the sweater. Adjust every angle, and then leave the sweater on the towel to dry. If the item doesn't want to hold the shape, use straight pins to hold it in place. Once you're happy with it, let it sit and dry. Drying time will vary depending on how large the item is, so just check back in a couple of hours.
Steam blocking is a gentle way to shape knit garments, blankets and scarves. Instead of soaking the garment in water and pinning it to air dry, you steam it, most commonly with a typical household iron. There are many benefits to steam blocking, including that you can shape your garment, fix or cover up small mistakes and set stitches to appear more evenly.
The good news is that blocking is so easy, and there are two ways to do it:
1. Pin your garment out to the desired dimensions, making sure the wrong side is facing up.
2. Wet an old pillowcase or thin towel and wring out the excess water so that it's damp. Place it on top of the garment.
3. Use a household iron at its hottest setting and press down lightly, forcing the steam through the garment. Repeat this all over the garment until the pillowcase is dry. Then let the garment dry for approximately 30 minutes.
Another way to steam block is to take the iron, put it on the steam setting, and hover it about an inch away from the garment. The goal is for the steam to go through the garment without ever touching the iron to the piece. Keep the iron moving along the length of the garment and then let it dry for 30 minutes or so.