Blocking. When you hear that word, what happens? Do you groan? Do you think, "I never block anything"? Do you wish blocking were easier?
I used to have those reactions. That's because I had a very specific definition for what I thought blocking meant. And in my mind blocking means stretching and pinning something out. So I didn't understand why anyone would block socks (stretch them out! no way!) or a sweater (but it fits perfectly right off the needles; why should I stretch it?). Maybe that's how you feel about blocking.
What if I told you that stretching is only one of the many ways to block an item? What if I told you that blocking and stretching/pinning are not synonyms? What if blocking was a much easier concept?
Blocking = washing.
That's it. Blocking your hand knit and crocheted items just means that you're giving that item a wash. Some things, like a lace shawl, benefit from getting stretched and pinned. But most of the time, things just need to be washed and then laid out flat to dry (perhaps with a bit of patting for shaping purposes). You don't need fancy sock blockers (I only use them for photos and display) or other items. You just need a little space to lay out the item until it dries. (This post from the Yarn Harlot is what opened my eyes and changed my thoughts on what blocking actually means. It's super helpful. Go read it now. Don't worry, I'll wait. Then come back and finish up the rest of this article.)
So if you say "I never block anything" then you're saying that you never wash your hand knits. Eew! And although one of the characteristics of wool (if that's what you're using) is that it doesn't need washing as often as other fabrics, it does still need to be washed. Think about it: do you take your knitting with you to public places? What has that yarn/project touched while you've been working on it? Do you always wash your hands before you pick up your project? Always? It definitely needs a wash!
So every time you wash a handknit item, you're blocking it. It's really that simple.
"But wait," I hear some of you saying. "My sweater fit me perfectly before I blocked it. Now it's too big and I'm really upset. I wish I had never blocked it." Again, let's get real. You're going to have to wash your sweater at some point. So whether that happens right after you bind off or after you've worn it a few times, it's going to happen. How can you prevent blocking aka washing from "ruining" your item?
Yup, along with the dreaded B word, I'm using the dreaded S word. Making a swatch is not just about seeing which needle size you need to get the same number of stitches as the designer. (Note: Sometimes a pattern will specify, but usually your gauge should be measured after blocking.) It's also about making sure you like the fabric that you're getting with that yarn at that gauge. And that includes the fabric after washing. If you're using superwash wool or something like bamboo, both of which have a tendency to grow with washing, you need to account for that in both your needle size and the measurements you're knitting to. (If you want your sweater to hit you at a certain place on your body, you need to figure out not the measurement to knit on the needles but the measurement to knit that will make the final washed version hit you at just the right spot.)
I know. You just want to start working on your project. I admit to feeling the same way. I don't want to take the time to make a gauge swatch -- especially to make a fairly large gauge swatch (because a tiny one isn't going to react in the same way as a larger project would) -- and then wash it and let it dry. But if you want to be happy with how your project turns out -- after washing it! -- taking this time before starting the project is essential.
So make a pretty big gauge swatch (at least 6 inches square) and wash that swatch the way you plan to wash your finished object. Dry it the way you plan to dry your finished object whenever you wash it. And if you're making something like a sweater, you might also want to let your swatch "hang" for a few days to see if the yarn has a tendency to stretch out just from its own weight while you are wearing it. (Bamboo scarf, I'm looking at you!)
I know you hear all the time how important swatching is. The same with blocking (remember, it's just washing!). And writing this is as much of a reminder to myself as to you as I'm not perfect in this regard. I'm planning to start a new sweater project soon. Yes, I want to start working on it right away, but I want my finished, washed sweater to fit well. So I'm vowing to do a large gauge swatch and block (aka wash) it before I even think about casting on for the sweater itself. Will you join me the next time you start a new project?
In the meantime, give your hand knit and crocheted items a wash. And just lay them flat to dry (unless it's a lace shawl that would actually benefit from stretching and pinning). Congratulations, you've just done some blocking!
Want More Content Like This?
Do you want more content like this every other Tuesday? Join the list for new articles and tutorials straight to your email inbox.