Why Block?- Morris Masterclass Series
Blocking your knit and crochet projects is a wonderful way to create a beautiful finish to your work and is a must for many crafters. It can help get those crisp straight lines in a blanket or match your size in a garment. Blocking can really be the difference between an amateur handmade item and something that looks professionally made. We are going to explore what is blocking, when to block your finished items, and two different methods of blocking: wet and steam.
In the simplest terms, blocking is the act of hand washing your piece, then pinning it into the desired shape and leaving it to dry in that position. There are various ways you can block your work including; spray blocking, steam blocking and the most popular, wet blocking, each of which have their benefits. No matter which you choose, this process allows the yarn to relax into the stitches and is particularly helpful if you have uneven tension or a textured pattern. This is because blocking encourages the stitches to adjust evenly throughout your garment, eliminating those nubbly stitches that might not be exactly the same as the others. The result is nothing less than a transformation as the texture of your piece becomes more defined, the drape improves and your stitches settle into place.
Things to consider
Now that we have defined what blocking is, what are some important things to keep in mind when blocking our piece? Afterall we all know that feeling of dread when we have laboured over a beautiful project for hours on end to have it damaged! Considering the fibres and texture of the yarn used in the garment is going to be the primary factor in deciding if it is safe to block our piece.
Natural materials such as wool, alpaca, and cotton can benefit greatly from blocking as these fibres bloom when blocked, filling out gaps in our work as it expands. This is because often in the process of manufacturing, yarns are exposed to spinning oils or are very tightly spun. Blocking revives natural fibres from this and allows them to really shine as it fixes into your garment. Our Empire 100% Merino and Maya 100% Baby Alpaca are some of my favourite yarns to work with and are examples of natural fibre yarns that really blossom after blocking. Not to mention they grow in size a bit as well, as many natural fibres do, allowing for a few extra centimetres in that scarf you’ve been slaving over or getting just the right fit in a sweater.
On the other hand some fibres are too delicate to withstand water and heat. Angora and silk are examples of these types of fibres and would likely be damaged during wet blocking. With these types of fibres it is important to achieve the correct gauge when knitting or crocheting, as I would not recommend exposing them to any strenuous techniques such as wet blocking as this involves completely soaking your piece and then handling it in this wet form. Instead I would suggest either spray blocking, the gentlest of the three methods or forgoing blocking all together. Spray blocking shares some similarities to wet blocking however involves you pinning your project into place first while it is dry and then gently spraying it with water until it is damp.
Other projects you may want to consider not blocking include novelty yarns or heavily textured hand spun yarns that vary greatly in thickness or a pattern that takes advantage of a yarn's unique texture in order to create tight stitches or puffs throughout the piece. These sort of projects may lose that quality which made them so endearing during the process of blocking if not outright damage them.
Additionally, there is some debate on the effectiveness of blocking acrylic yarns. This is because acrylic is notorious for having much less give than natural alternatives. Acrylic yarn will not transform in size or shape as much as natural fibres, but your stitches will still benefit from some evening out if you choose to block.
Lastly there are some dangers to blocking, specifically over-blocking. The unfortunate result is the yarn losing its natural bounce and fullness. Do not worry though, this is easily avoided as long as you respect your yarn’s washing guidelines and do not block the same piece over and over again!
When should you block
With all of this in mind the question arises then, when should you block your beloved handmade item?
I would highly recommend blocking, specifically wet blocking if your design includes elements such as lace or cable knitting. In these cases, blocking takes what is often an unrecognisable explosion of knitting on the needles and transforms it as the stitches open up and relax into their positions revealing the lovely lace work or cable motifs featured in your pattern.
Another brilliant use of blocking is with blankets and shawls where an elegant drape is sought after. This is because as the yarn relaxes into the stitches the drape of the overall piece changes as well. You will find a garment that may have been stiff and curly hanging over your shoulder will take on a smooth cascading effect once it is blocked. This can be seen in the Shadow shawl pattern by Antonia Shankland. This lovely piece recommends using the Manos Del Uruguay Serena, a cotton and alpaca blend and utilises garter ridges to create three-dimensional definition between the two featuring colours. As this piece is blocked not only will the simple details like the yarn over holes lining the centre of the shawl open and become visible but the way it sits on the body will change. The delicate folds and even edge is achieved as a result of strict pinning keeping the edges taught and straight.
Blocking does require a few tools in order to have the most effective outcome and it is important to ensure the tools you are using are clean and free of any harsh chemicals such as bleach or heavy detergents that could damage your wool.
The tools you will need include:
- A clean basin, sink or bucket to wash and soak your piece in.
- Towels: I recommend two clean old towels in case there is any unexpected dye bleeding!
- Wool Wash: Soak is a lovely brand stocked in our shop specifically made for handmade wool washing.
- Rust-Proof T-pins: Rust proof is a must! These pins will be exposed directly to your work while it is wet for a long period of time and you may risk permanent rust stains if the pins are not suitable. KnitPro Blockers are a great option instead of or in addition to T-pins. They are little combs with multiple pins in each comb making blocking faster and allowing more of an item to be pinned at once. They also have anchor holes in each blocker which allows you to attach string along large sections which can be pulled and pinned to maintain consistent tension.
Many craft stores sell crafting mats, however I recommend heading to your local shopping centre or hardware store and picking up some childrens play mats or camping mats as a cost-effective alternative! What is important here is that they are water resistant and you have the option to clip them into each other to create the perfect size and shape to fit your piece.
- Measuring Tape
- Rust proof blocking wires: These are particularly useful for achieving perfect straight edges and lace work! Blocking wires come in a variety of weights and lengths becoming the perfect tool for curved edges.
Additionally it is helpful to keep your pattern handy to reference for sizing and any tips from the designer. But with these tools available you are more than ready to begin blocking!
Overall it is important to remember there are no rules in crafting. If you love your piece just the way it is you don’t have to block it. But I highly recommend anyone give it a go and experiment with the wonderful effects blocking can have on handmade items. Blocking may be an extra few more hours of work but the amazing finish it provides to my projects is something I cannot go without.
Now that you've learned what blocking is and decided if your latest project needs to be blocked, here are two methods of blocking that we think work wonders. The first is wet blocking and what our staff tends to use the most and the second is steam blocking which is loved by ARNE & CARLOS
Step-By-Step Guide to Wet Blocking
Additionally, I recommend if you are blocking a garment that is already seamed together to try it on prior to blocking to take note of the fit and if you would like to stretch its size a little.
Step One: Washing
First, fill your basin, sink or bucket with clean water until there is enough to completely submerge your work. For temperature I recommend referring to the label of the yarn you have used. For example the Morris and Sons Empire range recommends using water under 30 celsius for washing. Thus we will use cool water for blocking.
Feel free to add in wool wash now to clean and provide a pleasant scent to the finished garment. It is important to note however, if the wash is not a rinse-free product you will need to re-submerge your item in clean water once or twice after soaking to remove excess soap from the fabric.
To soak, submerge your piece into the body of water, gently squeezing it to release air bubbles trapped in the yarn fibres. It is important that your piece remains under the water without being held down. Do not aggressively agitate or swish your piece around as it is very delicate while wet and this may cause distortion or unwanted stretching.
Next I recommend letting your work soak for 20 minutes, but it is always best to refer to your label if it has any washing recommendations. This is to ensure the yarn is fully saturated and all the fibres have opened.
Once you have finished soaking carefully use a scooping motion to lift your piece out of the water. It is important not to drag or allow your work to hang as you remove it from the water for the same reasons mentioned above. You may gently squeeze your work to remove some of the excess water but never wring it. Place your project carefully onto a clean spread out towel and slowly begin to unfold it until your garment is flat against the towel. Then I recommend taking a second towel and placing it parallel on top, sandwiching your work safely between the two towels. Then begin to roll your work, pressing firmly on top as you do to gently push the water into the absorbent towels. Much like a spill on your carpet, press but never rub! Once you have reached the end and pressed the length of your project, unravel it and remove the top towel to reveal your work. You should find that it is noticeably less wet than before and should be a little easier to handle.
Step Two: Pinning and Shaping
Next move your piece off of the towel and onto your blocking mats, which I recommend having already set up and ready in a well ventilated space where they will not be disturbed. Be careful, if you have pets, freshly pinned garments seem to be a favourite for cats and dogs!
Spread your piece into the approximate shape you would like your garment to be. From here we can begin pinning. Pin your work along the edges in regular intervals ensuring there is no significant scalloping between pins. To achieve straight edges I use Knit Pro’s Knit blockers. These are very useful as they place several pins at once perfectly straight allowing you to achieve that professional crisp edge in a blanket or top. You may also want to use blocking wires to accentuate points in a shawl or ensure straight seams in a garment.
Once the entire circumference of your piece is pinned it is important to check sizing if it is a garment. Use your measuring tape to compare your sizing against the pattern or the notes you took when trying it on as suggested above. Thankfully through blocking we can gently stretch the garment by lightly pulling the piece tighter and pinning taught if necessary to reach the correct size. This is also helpful to get a little extra length in a scarf or blanket!
Your work should be evenly taught without any unintentional warping of the stitches or pattern motifs if featured. Then you simply leave your piece to dry. Your work may dry overnight or even take a day or more depending on the weather however keeping it in a well ventilated area should speed up the process.
Ensure your work is completely dry both on top and bottom before unpinning. This is crucial to the blocking process effectively setting into the piece. While unpinning you may notice, especially with wool fibres they tend to spring back a little. Do not worry as this is completely normal and means you have not over-blocked, though you may want to stretch it a little extra while pinning to account for it.
Overall Comments and Finishing up
In the next 24-hours you may notice some changes as the garment relaxes into its new state. This is also completely normal! As long as you take care when storing your piece by keeping it neatly folded when not wearing it should keep its crispness and drape.
ARNE & CARLOS prefer to steam block their finished items and have created a great informative video guide on their youtube channel! Please take a look and see if it's right for you. Steam blocking is an excellent method for fibres sensitive to being soaked but can withstand gentle amounts of heat.
After you've blocked your project it is time to enjoy all the hard earned hours you’ve poured into your piece and wear it proudly! Do you enjoy blocking your finished items? Let us know in the comments below and any questions you may have. We also love to see items made from our yarns so please feel free to send us pictures or tag us on instagram!