Home and reunited with my favorite blocking tools, I finally gave my Stripe Study Shawl (rav link) a good soak and spread it out to block. While it was drying, it occurred to me that I’ve never really talked with you about my blocking process. So that’s what I’m going to do today. I’ve found blocking to be a simple and inexpensive way to make my finished knits look dramatically better. You see: yarn has a lot of twist in it already, and knitting it just kinks it up even more. Wetting it down and smoothing it out lets all the twist relax and settle in, resulting in a much neater finished garment for you.
Some of this likely won’t be all that illuminating to those yarnbenders among you who have been at this craft awhile and many of you probably have your own methods. The methods and tools featured here are just the ones I’ve personally found to be easiest and most useful so far. Of course, your mileage may vary. Let’s get started.
The first step is to finish knitting. In most cases, I like to weave in any ends before blocking. Once that’s done, out comes the wool wash and my trusty dishtub.
I’m currently using Eucalan wool wash, which is a gentle, no-rinse soap that I purchased at a yarn store. I currently like Eucalan because it smells like lavender (I’m obsessed with lavender), but any other nice wool wash (Soak, Kookaburra) would work just as well. You can also use other kinds of gentle soap, or even just plain water if you like, but I highly recommend taking the plunge and treating yourself to a bottle of nice wool wash. Even the most premium brand costs a mere fraction of the yarn you are likely using for your project and each bottle is likely to last a really long time. You use the stuff a spoonful or two at a time.
I take about a generous spoonful of the wool wash and put it in the bottom of this plastic dishpan I purchased for less than $5 at my local discount store—look for them in the dishrack aisle. I like having the dishpan for blocking because then I don’t tie up the sink (nor do I have to clean out the sink to block…bonus!).
I fill the dishpan about half full of lukewarm water and then add the knits. It’s a good idea not to use hot water for blocking and if your knits are wool, DO NOT put the knits in first and let the water run on top of them, unless you want to end up with felt.
After the knits soak awhile, I gently and carefully lift them out of the water with both hands and squeeze to get as much water as possible out.
Next I spread the knits on a clean towel that I don’t care about (in case dye comes out of the yarn) and I roll the whole thing up together. Next the fun part: I stomp all over the towel in my bare feet so the water moves out of the knitwear and into the towel.
Finally, it’s time for the blocking boards.
My blocking boards are these obnoxious green children’s playmats that I scored at a discount store long before yarn stores got smart and started selling them in less eyeball-searing colors. I like them because I can hook them together based on the shape I need for my garment.
I use blocking wires and t-pins for almost every project that is flat or has flat pieces. Blocking wires are heavy gauge stainless steel wires cut into pieces of various lengths. I like to run the wire through the stitches at the very edge of my knitting first. I then make sure the edges of the piece are nice and straight and all the corners look nice as I pin it down.
Any pins will work for this purpose, but T-pins are great because they are so easy to grab onto and to see. If you are stretching out a lace shawl, the big knit stitches also can’t accidentally lift over the pinheads. T-pins are often available at the yarn store, but you may find them cheaper at a chain fabric store (ie. Joann’s, Hobby Lobby) if you have one near you. I found mine with the quilting stuff.
Blocking wires are also available at the yarn store, which is where I got mine. I got a whole set for around $20 and they were worth every penny. There are tutorials out there for making your own, but I suspect it might not be that cost effective if you don’t have the right tools already. If you get or make new blocking wires, make sure to clean them carefully with a paper towel before you get them near your knits; they can have grease/oil on them from the factory. Another DIY option: temporarily thread smooth cotton string through the edges of your knit pieces. Pulling the string taut can help you get a nice smooth edge while your piece dries.
That’s all there is to blocking! After that, you just have to wait patiently for your knitted goodness to dry.
A few last words about blocking on a budget, my total cost for all these tools was $50-60, which I spread out over time and I have found to be totally worth it. If you want to get serious about blocking your knits but it isn’t in your budget to buy all of this stuff at once, I recommend putting your money first toward a nice wool wash and some t-pins, followed by wires, followed by blocking boards. In my experience, having a gentle wool wash makes a huge difference in the character of finished knitted fabric. Other soaps can be too harsh for handknits and require lots of rinsing, which can make for fuzzy knits. Knitting on a real shoestring budget? You can always soak your knits in the sink or bathtub and pin your work out on a stack of old blankets if need be.
Here’s to beautiful finished handknits! Happy blocking, everyone!