I’ve professed the benefits of blocking in previous posts and I came across a post from Fringe Association “yarn + water = magic” that is so apropos. Yarn really does come to life in water, and will reveal its good or bad properties. By blocking all those swatches prior to beginning your projects helps to determine the appropriateness of the yarn for them. I think it deserves mentioning again, because blocking is really the first step in finishing your projects.
Blocking is the process of wetting or steaming knitted pieces to even stitches and fibers, and flatten the edges. Some pattern instructions inaccurately describe stretching the pieces to the correct size. If you have not obtained an accurate gauge, no amount of stretching will change its size, and may damage the knitting. For the best results and easier seaming, blocking should be done prior to sewing. The best way to see how a fiber reacts to blocking is to experiment with the swatch. I always block the swatch prior to measuring the gauge.
Wool fibers and specialty hair fibers respond best to blocking because of their high resiliency and water absorption. Synthetic yarns are heat sensitive and should not be pressed. Wet blocking doesn’t change the nature of a synthetic yarn because it doesn’t absorb water. Novelty yarns such as lurex (metallic fiber) should not be blocked. Long haired yarns such as mohair and angora, and highly textured stitch patterns become matted or flattened when pressed, so wet blocking is the preferred method. Ribbed borders should not be blocked, as these areas are meant to be elastic. Colorfastness or dye bleeding may be a concern, and is another reason to block the swatch, particularly with high contrast yarns.
I prefer wet blocking; spraying the pinned pieces with water. I’m not a fan of pressing with steam, as it flattens the knitting and may damage the piece. If you must, press with steam and a pressing cloth, and do not touch the fabric surface with the iron. Pressing works best on stockinette stitch fabric and inside seams.
I block each piece as it is finished by pinning the dry piece right side up to the blocking board or a flat, padded surface with T-pins. For garment pieces, I usually begin by pinning the bust/chest measurement working up to the shoulders, then to the bottom edge. Use the schematic measurements as a guide for pinning. Space the pins no more than one inch apart, and smooth the piece. Your edges should be even, not scalloped. Do not pin ribbed areas, unless the whole piece is ribbed. Pin according to the shape of the piece, allowing for curves. If your gauge is accurate, you should not have to stretch the piece very much. When finished pinning, spray the piece with water, and let dry completely. After the pins are removed, the piece will lie flat and have an even surface. With items like hats, scarves, mitts, and socks, I finish the piece, hand wash, and lay flat to dry without pinning out.
Blocking really is magic, and will make all the difference in the world to the quality of your projects.