The magic of blocking your hand knits

Hello, Leonor here guest-writing for this week’s post.

After reading the title, if you’re not a knitter, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. What on earth is blocking and why am I writing about it?

Simply put, blocking refers to the act of stretching a knitted item with the aid of specialised wires and pins, with the intention of making it look a certain way. Think of all those airy, lacy shawls you’ve seen people wear – those have been carefully and mercilessly blocked into submission.

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Above is my latest project, the Banana Leaf Shawl. It looks nice-ish, but it lacks that finesse that one usually finds in store-bought shawls. The stitches look limp and you can see the differences in my gauge. Let’s make it right.

Firstly, soak the item in room-temperature water (add a nice wool wash if you want; I used Eucalan, a no-rinse Grapefruit-scented one). Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then carefully extract the excess water. Your knit needs to be damp but not dripping.

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Now comes the fiddly part. Using blocking wires, you’ll need to catch the edges of your project so it’ll keep the shape you want (in my case, everything’s a straight line, but it can be crescent-shaped, for example).
I decided to do this just before going to bed, thinking it wouldn’t take me long – how wrong I was. After one hour, I was losing the will to live. I’d need another hour to finish getting the wire through all the edges.

Next, you’ll need to pin the wires to a surface. There are special fancy mats you can buy for that, but I got some for home gyms that are a fraction of the price and do the job nicely.

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Because I have cats, I couldn’t risk them getting hurt on the blocking pins, so I had to move my blocks vertically for the night. I then used my desk chair to keep everything upright.

Once your finished object is dry, you can take the pins out and because fibre has memory (like the mohair and silk of this shawl), it’ll keep its shape… until you wash it again. Yes, blocking needs redoing every time a knit gets wet! Don’t you have a newfound respect for all the people who knit delicate lacy shawls?

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And here’s the finished product. I hope you can see how different my Banana Leaf now looks, comparing it to the first photo – from a slightly misshapen piece to one with sharp, well-defined edges. It’s grown quite a bit, too.

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The stitches look so much better, too, neater. They’re suddenly really well defined. This shawl now looks like something one would see in a shop front, if I do say so myself.

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Even if you’re not a knitter, I hope you’ve marvelled, like I do every time, over the magic of blocking knitwear. If you fancy reading the technical bits about this particular project, head on over to my Ravelry page.

Have you ever done blocking? Can you think of any ways this technique could be used for other fibre endeavours? I’d love to read (and steal) your good ideas.

About Leonor

I'm a textile artist who specialises in needle felting. Somewhere in the past I was also a psychologist and then a body piercer...
This entry was posted in Fiber Preparation, Guest Artists, Guest Writer, Knitting, Silk, Wool and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The magic of blocking your hand knits

  1. tracey2008 says:

    I’m not a knitter and yes I was marvelled! Definitely something for a shop front, a fabulous piece of chic wearable art.

  2. It’s a magnificent shawl! we hadn’t realised the work that goes into blocking a scarf like that – not for the faint-hearted – but so worth it.
    Very interesting read, thank you.

    • Leonor says:

      Thank you! This isn’t even a complicated one, can you imagine what it’s like to block those frilly shawls with teardrop shapes and etc? Still, it’s all worthwhile. Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

  3. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    Fabulous scarf! I’m not a knitter anymore and have not done such a precise process for blocking. Thanks for sharing your process. Well worth the extra effort. I’m sure it won’t stay in your shop long.

    • Leonor says:

      Thanks, Marilyn! If you ever have the patience I’d love to know how (or if) you blocked your knits.
      This one is for personal use I’m too much in love with the end result to part with it πŸ˜‰

  4. mandypayne2 says:

    I’ve blocked my knitted pieces before but never heard of blocking wires! Who knew! Not me! HA thanks for the post. I’ll have to look those up. I’ve just used T pins to hold the piece in shape! I can see where the wires would work so much better!-

  5. ruthlane says:

    Thanks for the great post Leonor! I do blocking all the time with wet felted pieces. It’s the same process but you pin down the felt to get it to a certain shape. Works great for straightening edges or wonky corners.

    • Leonor says:

      Thanks, Ruth! I’d love to see how you block your felted pieces! Can you believe it’d never occurred to me to do that with felting? I’m having quite a “well, duh!” moment πŸ™‚

  6. What a lovely shawl. I own one hand knit shawl. A friend knit it out of my hand spun. She blocked it with pins in a similar mat. I think she pined each of the pointy bits along the edge. I block my felt hats quite often. I pin one fold into place on the hat block and then do the next one. It prevents you pulling one fold out while doing the next one.

    • Leonor says:

      Thanks, Ann! You definitely need to own more hand knit shawls πŸ™‚ How lovely to have a friend knit one for you, though! In your own hand spun, no less.

      I’m so happy to know blocking isn’t just for knits, I’m constantly amazed by how elastic wool really is!

  7. zedster66 says:

    Wow, what a difference! And so much work, congrats on your patience πŸ™‚ It looks great.

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