There are loads of different techniques to block, but I’ll show you the one I personally like to use best. Please feel free to add links in the comments below to your favourite technique.
Non-knitters: wool has a ‘memory’. If you take the care to dry and wash it properly, it’ll take a lot more abuse than you think and spring back to your desired shape each time.
Knitters: you know when you’ve spent months and months finally finishing that piece of work you’ve lovingly crafted and it’s finally done? I know, I know, once you’ve knit it, you’re probably itching to get it sewn up and worn – blocking takes more time that you just don’t have. But trust me, the results are worth it. It’s probably THE most crucial finishing technique you can use to make your lovely knit look crisp and professional. After all, you’ve taken all that care and effort to knit it, you might as well present it beautifully, too.
In my last blog post, I talked about how to wash your knits. So let’s go from there – you now probably have something that looks like this, post washing…
Honestly, it’s completely normal for your knitting to curl up like this. But it doesn’t look great, does it? So what you need to do is get your knitted garment into the shape and dimensions you want and somehow to stay there.
If you have a little knit, like a baby hat or booties, it’s easy to gently reshape your damp washing and leave it to dry flat slowly. I tend to dry my little knits on a big thick pale-coloured towel cushioning the slats of the airing cupboard.
For something bigger like a pullover or a blanket, you’ll want it to look absolutely pristine: you’re best off blocking it. For that, you’ll need a few hundred rust-proof dressmaking pins and a padded surface. There are loads of surfaces you can use: carpet, cushioned ironing board cover, towels on top of a flat surface, special blocking and steaming pad from craft stores, your mattress (though please vacuum the mattress surface first: when you see the white film of yuck in your vacuum cylinder you’ll be glad…). I tend to use a cheap, unused, foam mattress from a child’s bed from that out-of-town shop that looks like a blue and yellow cube.
OK, so I’ll assume you’ve washed your garment and squeezed all the excess water out like I explained in my post about how to wash. Now gently shape your garment into the dimensions you want it to dry to. The same as when you washed it, be gentle! Remember I said to treat your knits like a baby? Well, now is when you forget that – you’re going to have to stick lots of pins in your garment now.
Where to stick pins and how many can’t be prescribed: you have to use your judgement, and put them along the lines of tension, ie where you had to gently push or pull. If you use too few, your knitting may dry with a jagged edge. That’s fine if you’re drying lace (see Shetland Shawl below) but not so great if it’s a flat-edged blanket. Sometimes you’ll be fine just pinning out the perimeter of a blanket, other times you’ll really need to pin within the blanket too. Eg the bue squares blanket needs pinned around each square to look at its best; the muted rainbow blanket only needs perimeter pinning and down 2 internal lines; the Shetland Lace shawl needs pinning throughout, as well as each individual point (all 200 or so of them…). Don’t pin or stretch ribbing.
Take your time pinning. Do stop and check that your corners are square and that you’re not pinning your heirloom blanket into a parallelogram! As you’re going to all the trouble of pinning, you might as well do it perfectly.
Now leave your garment to dry. It might take longer than you expect (12-48hrs) because little air gets through it and the padded block. When it’s dry, remove all the pins. Leave it alone for a few hours (and admire your handiwork). Double-check it’s completely dry before removing and using lovingly.
Notes on pics below (click on each once, and maybe once again to see each photo bigger):
1. The red arrows on Muted Rainbow Blanket show the lines of pins – can you see how many I used?
2. The red dots show where I tend to pin the Shetland Lace Ring Shawl. I’ve only shown the bottom left side; the top right is so you can see the lines of lace I’d follow.
3. The blocked Blues Square Blanket, ready for use!