Well I’m back – with many apologies and few excuses! We finally moved house in December and I’m slowly unpacking, getting used to my new surroundings and writing exceptionally long “to do” lists! High on the list for some time has been “get back on the blog”, but it always seems to fall below “get out and meet people” or “explore the footpath by the river” and way, way below the usual admin of informing banks, utility companies etc that we have moved house, finding a new GP and working out how not to get lost when I drive to the supermarket!
Well, putting aside all the excuses I was prompted to write this post after a lady from Craft and Chat asked me about blocking. What is it, why do you do it and is it really worth the bother? The short answer is yes, it matters. The longer answer is it depends… So let’s talk about blocking. Why it makes a difference and how to do it.
Blocking is a strange word for a very straightforward process. In simple terms, blocking is the process of finishing you work. If you’re making something that has pieces which will be joined together, it’s made of wool or animal fibres or has a lacy stitch pattern, the chances are it will look far better if you block it. Sometimes I’ve noticed bloggers and podcasters referring to it as “setting” or “finishing”. Your aim is to produce flat, evenly shaped pieces that will sew together easily or allow the stitches to settle.
Garments which have pieces that need to be sewn together should be pinned out to their finished dimensions before sewing up – this allows all the peices to lie flat and be of the correct size. This makes it much easier to sew them together. Motifs which will be joined to make a blanket will fit together more easily if they’re all the same size.
The simplest way to block is to pin your pieces or motifs on to a flat, absorbent surface such as a thick towel, spray them lightly with tepid water and allow to dry. You can speed up the process by using a steam iron instead. Hold the iron over each piece after pinning out and press the steam button, but make sure the iron doesn’t touch your work. Acrylic does not like heat, the fibres can melt and become shiny, at worst it will leave a sticky black mess on the bottom of your iron. Wool can shrink or matt if too much heat is applied, textured work will be flattened and it’s possible the wool might be scorched. You can cover each piece with a damp cloth and then apply steam if you want to take extra care.
Wool and animal fibres always look better after blocking, either pinned out as described above, or after a short soak in wool or tepid water, sometimes called “wet blocking”. You can buy specialist wool wash liquids that don’t need rinsing, these are great and can also be used for washing your makes if you choose to hand wash them. Fill a bowl with water, add the recommended amount of liquid and put your knitting or crochet in the bowl for 10 minutes. Gently squeeze out the excess water and place on a flat, absorbent surface to dry. You can read a really helpful and thorough article about wet blocking on the Kelbourne Woollens website. You’ll also need to block your tension square before making garments – the change in size can be quite dramatic and there’s nothing more disppointing than skipping the tension swatch only to find your finished sweater is baggier than you expected it to be after it’s first washing!
Wool loves to be blocked. The short soaking allows the fibres to “bloom” and swell, it gets softer and any residual dye left over from processing is soaked away. Hats, mittens, cowls and socks can be soaked for a few minutes and then wrung out gently before being placed flat to dry (my favourite method is to roll items in a fluffy towel and squeeze out the excess water).
Acrylic doesn’t always “like” to be blocked, so go gently. Cheaper yarns often sag and become floppy if they spend too much time in water, so I generally recommend pinning out and spray blocking with warm water – better still – steam blocking will “fix” the fibres and help even out any wonky seams. Acrylic always seems to respond better to steam blocking than to wet blocking or soaking.
Cotton and plant fibres also have a tendency to “grow” after blocking, they should always be dried flat as the weight of wet cotton can stretch the fabric considerably.
Are you beginning to think blocking is a complicated and difficult process? If yes, then you’ll begin to see why so many makers will tell you they “never” block! Please, don’t be put off. You can find a simple guide to blocking in all my books and the links you’ll find in this post are all really helpful. Just as your hair can feel smoother, have more body and look sleeker after a professional blow dry than if you leave it to dry naturally; so your knitting and crochet can respond well to a bit of pampering!
Finally, in case you’re wondering – yes I always block – except when I choose not to – and yes, I always regret it if I don’t!
Interweave ( the US publishers of my book The Step by Step Guide to 200 Crochet Stitches) have an excellent guide on how to block crochet squares. My favourite online yarn store Tangled Yarn has an excellent guide along with great photos.