Blocking your knitwear

Finishing touches make all the difference.

Finishing touches make all the difference.

The important “Art of Blocking”

A lot of people will tell you that the difference between well made knitwear and beautifully made knitwear is in the finishing. And I couldn’t agree more. The trouble is that, more often that not, nobody ever tells you what this involves or how to do it! I always used to think that knitting a garment was the easy bit compared to the mind blowing complications of joining edges, grafting, mattress stitches, and BLOCKING. All of this is often resigned to a final sentence at the end of a pattern - and hence quite often overlooked!

But now that I know better (and have practised a lot) I have realised that it’s not as hard as we fear - you don’t need a degree to figure it out; just a bit of time and patience. But the results are more than worth it and the more you practise the easier it becomes. I very consciously chose the subtitle the “Art of Blocking” because it is an art - just as you never expected to be able to knit perfectly the first time you picked up needles, you also need to devote a bit of time and patience to the final stages.

So what exactly is blocking?

It refers to the washing and pinning out of any finished piece of knitwear to “set” it into the desired final shape and measurements as it dries - this is quite often critical if you want a well-fitted garment. It also helps to remove any waste products from the yarn and help the stitches to “bloom” and open up. If you are using any patterns such as lace or stripes, it will also ensure that they are fully opened or running in straight lines.

The photo below shows one of my Raindrop Cowls being blocked. At the top, the first section has been pinned to a straight line along each edge. The bottom section is only pinned between each pattern section and you can see the difference immediately. If I left this to dry as it was I would end up with a very wonky, shrivelled cowl!

Raindrop cowl

How to block your knitwear?

Every piece will vary slightly depending on the yarn you have used and the garment/shape/technique you have used which is where some of the artwork comes in. Refer to care instructions for your yarn and consider how you want the piece to end up. With this in mind, follow these simple steps

  • Soak your knitwear in a bowl (or bath if it’s large!) with warm water and wool detergent for a minimum of 30 minutes.

  • Remove the knitwear, rinse it and lightly press to remove excess water.

  • At this stage, I use a spin dryer to remove almost all of the excess water - this is mainly a time saving move by me as I block a LOT of knitwear and often don’t have 2-3 days to wait for it to dry! You can skip this stage if you’re nervous about the yarn or don’t have a spin dryer!

You should be left with a damp mess that looks like this!

You should be left with a damp mess that looks like this!

  • Now is the important bit of pinning it out to the shape/size you require. You can do this on a towel or a mat on the floor. I use a set of foam tiles that are designed for children’s play rooms and dress pins. Or you can buy blocking mats and pins designed specifically for this.

  • Starting at each corner or top and bottom start to pin, loosely shaping and stretching as you go to fit the desired measurements - working your way round from side to side. This is where the practise comes in - to know what is stretching too much or too little. Again this will depend a lot on the yarn, garment and overall look you are trying to achieve. if you have stripes or vertical patterns ensure they are running straight.

  • Leave your knit pinned into position until it is completely dry - usually overnight, sometimes longer.

Two front pieces for a cardigan - the one on the left has been blocked into shape.

Two front pieces for a cardigan - the one on the left has been blocked into shape.

And that is it! It really is as simple as that. You will be amazed what a difference it can make! It makes putting garments together so much easier as all the seams will be the same size and fit together perfectly. They are also much easier to handle as they aren’t all curled over.

If you already block your knitwear and have any other useful tips I’d love to hear them!

Cardigan pieces all blocked out.

Cardigan pieces all blocked out.