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March 09, 2007

Learning to Block

As I mentioned in my previous knitting post, there are some knitting techniques that just intimidate me to no end. Most of these don't relate to the actual knitting (I've got knit and purl and their various variations down pretty well), but rather to the finishing: seaming, sewing on extra stuff, and blocking. Over this past week, I have begun to face my fear of blocking.

For non-knitting readers, blocking is what you do to a piece after it is knitted to make the knitting lie flat and to coax the piece into its proper shape. But how this was done seemed very mysterious to me. Early on, I thought that you were supposed to iron the piece, and that terrified me. To begin with, I don't iron (despite having asked for an iron for my twenty-fourth birthday). Second, the thought of pressing a hot iron to a piece of fabric I had spent hours creating out of two sticks and a string was just too much. But as I read more about blocking, I learned that one should actually not iron knitted items, at least not without placing a wet towel between the item and the iron. So how do you block? Well, different sources gave vastly different directions. Some said to soak the piece in soapy water and then pin it out, while others said to pin it and then steam it with an iron. Another suggested pinning it into shape and then spraying it with a spray bottle. But pin it to what, I wondered? And where does one find rust-resistant pins?

For my entire knitting career, I have dealt with my fear and ignorance of blocking by only knitting items that didn't need to be blocked: hats, mittens, legwarmers, socks, felted bags, ribbed scarves, and anything in garter stitch. Last weekend, however, I found myself almost finished with a project that desperately needed to be blocked. I had been wanting to make flora from Knitty for about a year, and I had just enough of a gorgeous red/pink/green yarn, so I cast on. The part that goes around the neck is knit in stockinette, but with a border of moss stitch that I thought would make the piece lie flat. Between the stockinette and moss is a lovely row of eyelets. When I finished that part I realized that the moss border did not make the stockinette lie flat and the eyelets were not quite open enough to look like eyelets. I would have to block it.

The pattern said to "steam block," so that is what I tried first. I folded up a large towel, pinned the piece to the towel (I have no idea whether or not my pins are rust-resistant -- I just used what I had on hand), filled the iron with water, and plugged it in. When the iron started steaming, I held it above the neckwarmer and bathed it in steam. At this point, I ran into two problems: one, my iron drips water and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop; two, having not used the iron in a very long time, it was also scattering fine particles of I-don't-know-what on my knitted piece. All the instructions said to leave the piece pinned until it was dry, so I did just that and tried not to worry about it. When it did dry, it didn't look any the worse for having hot water dripped on it, and the fine particles brushed right off (for the most part), but the piece still wasn't quite flat and the eyelets were still somewhat closed.

For blocking attempt number two, I pinned much more aggressively, pulling the eyelets open and using every pin I had. I went to Downtown Home and Garden and purchased a spray bottle. When I asked the salesman where I could find a small spray bottle, he asked if it was for watering plants. I said no, it was for knitting, and a saleswoman who is also an avid knitter perked right up and said, "oh, for blocking." I was quite relieved -- this must mean I was on the right track! I brought the spray bottle home, filled it with water, and sprayed away. I let it dry for two days and unpinned it last night. And guess what -- it worked!

Posted by eklanche at March 9, 2007 07:39 AM


I'm sorry to tell you this, but even things that don't *need* to be blocked are vastly improved by blocking. Blocked socks fit better, blocked scarves drape more elegantly, hats don't pucker, and so on. At the very least I always just wet the piece in lukewarm water, squeeze it out by rolling it in a towel, and then spread it flat on the bathmat, shaping it as desired. Then let it dry.

With socks, I have two forms I made out of wire hangers. I just pulled the bottom part of the hanger down and bent it until it was more or less sock shaped. Then I made another one. When I'm finished with socks, I wet them, squeeze them out, put them on the wire forms, and hang them (with the hanger part of the hanger) from the shower curtain rod. Voila!

Posted by: esik at March 9, 2007 10:15 AM

Anything I've ever blocked (not that there have been that many) I've pinned to an ironing board and steamed through a wet, wrung out towel. The water in the towel creates the steam so I don't have to put water in the iron (a good thing since my iron is so old the steam mechanism is broken). Thanks for the tip about the spray bottle - it sounds fairly easy and low tech, and I'll try it next time.

Posted by: khilfman@Earthlink.net at March 11, 2007 02:51 PM

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