Chock-a-Block: Tips on Blocking Handknits

August 31, 2020

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38 Comments
  • Wow, 50 or so years have gone by since I have been blocking my hand knits and passing by, watching them dry! Yarn fiber is really nicer now than in the “utilitarian” 70s!

  • Good information, especially about using the centrifugal force of my front load washer to remove excess water. I am avoiding superwash yarn whenever possible out of concern for the environmental damage of the process. So I will keep using my sock blockers.

    • What about steam blocking? I am knitting a twisted stitch pattern by Marie Wallen in Rowan Felted Tweed and she recommends steam blocking. I wet blocked my swatch and I was disappointed that some of the stitch definition (which I had worked so hard for) had been lost. Normally I like my swatches better after wet blocking.

      • A good question about steam blocking… I assume, at some point, that the garment is going to be washed. If so (and you really should, because moths are bad!) then you’re going to want the garment to look good after you’ve washed it. So if a proper washing doesn’t make the garment look good, then what that says to me is that perhaps the needle size you chose isn’t right – or possibly the yarn (not sure if the yarn was the one recommended by the designer)? There’s nothing that says you can’t steam *after* it’s been washed, you might find that helps. But to only steam could cause problems later on. Does that make sense?

    • Honestly, if you’re handwashing carefully, sock blockers just aren’t required – and again, there’s a risk of throwing the fit off if you stretch them too much.

  • How did you know that I’m blocking my Transom Cardigan TODAY??? Great timing on a great article. Many thanks!

  • This article and the previous one on cast on options are so helpful and both have been timely. Thank you Kate and MDK

    • Kate – can you expand on comment that washing helps keep moths away? Why?

      • I know this one! Moths thrive on darkness and dirt, so that’s why even if my sweaters don’t need frequent washing, when I put them away in a drawer for the hot weather, I wash them first.

  • Thanks so much for this, Kate. It confirms everything I’ve ever done:).

    • Same here! I treat a swatch as I would treat the finished garment—thus, I never pin a swatch for a sweater because I’m never going to pin the sweater to dry. And I’ve never been disappointed, fifty-odd sweaters along (not all mine.) Same deal with socks and hats—just let ’em dry and then enjoy them.

      Thank you for the details and confirmation!

  • The octopus clippy hanger, OMG I didn’t know such a thing existed. I actually paused in the middle of the article to go find one and order it. I’ve only been inside an IKEA once in my life and didn’t even stay long enough to have some meatballs. I’m feeling a little deprived right now. I don’t know how many years it will take for me to make enough socks to fill up my new hanger, but it’s something to look forward to.

  • Thanks for this informative article. I noticed a difference when I switched from using my regular detergent – Tide Sensitive – for my socks to “the one with ‘wool’ in it’s name.” Some of my hand knit socks were shrinking a bit. Woolite may not be the best, but it works for my socks. After all, I don’t want them to last forever…I like making replacements. 🙂 However, if you have some really nice lace socks you’ve knit, I can see how you would want to be more careful.

  • I’m shocked that I don’t have to fuss with those wires, to block my sweaters. Just lay down the pieces and measure, to see I’ve got them in the ballpark?

    • Just keep it simple! And if you matched gauge, you’ll be in the ballpark without fussing!

  • Another reason to leave weaving the ends until after blocking- if you discover something you really hate and absolutely can not live with or ignore, it makes it easier to rip out.

    • Pam, you’re not wrong!

  • Hi Kate, great article!
    Weird places my brain goes: if one was worried about socks shrinking (but wanted to use that yarn) could they be washed with plastic sock blockers in? Would that do something bad to the yarn?

    • If you wash gently, you don’t need to be worried about shrinking. Shrinking happens when wool is wet, and is agitated or shocked (like a fast temperature change). The soak-and-squeeze method of handwashing just won’t cause them to shrik, I promise! Remember, sheep get rained on, and they don’t shrink.

      • I just spit out my tea laughing at the sentence about sheep not shrinking!

  • I love the dog crate idea! My drying surface is a large wooden frame with stainless metal mesh stapled on, and “feet” at all four corners to lift it off a table. Before the table, I suspended it on two dining room chairs. Works great.

  • Great advice…many things I hadn’t considered. Thank you!

  • Thanks for the informative (as always) article, Kate. I will say that blocking wires can help when blocking sweater pieces before seaming, to keep the bottom and side edges straight. No stretching (unless gauge was off), but they do help avoid the scallops from just pinning the pieces down.

    • Absolutely, agree that wires make for a straighter edge than if you pin… but! But! you don’t need to pin them, either! Honestly! There’s just no need. If you were running them through a sewing machine, you’d need them flat, but you just don’t for seaming. Truly and honestly. Save yourself the step!

  • This is such a great article and so well written. Thank you Kate 🙂

  • I say blocking is like baptism, it washes out all the sin.

    • I love that! Powerful truth!

  • I prefer to weave in the ends before blocking to make sure all the bits are secure, but I don’t trim until after blocking in case I need to resecure, or fix an area, and because they seem to stay put better. Specifically for items with a lot of ends which I’ve been doing lately.

    Or when I can weave in as I knit, then wash and trim after blocking.

    For items where it’s just pulled through, though, yeah, wash, block, weave in last because they are already mostly secured ends.

    • Your strategy absolutely works. Keep doing it! This tells me is that you’re very neat and tidy with weaving in ends – more so than me! That’s something to be proud of.

      I will openly admit I’m pretty cavalier about that step. The solutions I offer are definitely of the pragmatic variety – ones that work for the most knitters, with the least fuss! (Although I will suggest that if you’re worried about your yarn ends not being secure before they are woven in, you might want to look at other joining methods. There are some methods that might alleviate this concern for you?)

  • Very helpful I overblocked something when I first started knitting and it distorted the shape I was heartbroken!

  • Question: I finished knitting a cardigan knit in garter stitch in cotton ribbon yarn. Wash the pieces before seaming? Seaming it terrifies me so much it’s been sitting there for 4 weeks! The yarn is lovely but changes color and I’ll have grey yarns woven into white areas!!

    • Hello Lynn!

      The short answer is that everything should be washed before you seam it up.

      But obviously you’ve got a slight challenge with your yarn, I think.(This isn’t helpful now, but next time you’re working with multiple colors, check to see if they are colorfast by getting a short length wet and wrapping it around some paper towels.) At some point, your cardigan will have to be washed, so I don’t know that you can avoid the colors running… Salt can sometimes help fix dye on cotton, and you can also buy a product known as a ‘color catcher’ I think, with the laundry products. If you’ve got bits of the yarn left, I’d try soaking two together with some salt to see if that helps? Or try a color catcher.

      Once you’ve got a sense of how that goes, you can decide how to proceed.

      I hope that helps?

      Kate

      • I have read that the argument against blocking before seaming is that you can change the size of the finished pieces and run the risk of edges not matching when they finally dry. Full disclosure: I have no problems with seaming and often find a bit of stretch or of compression is needed when setting in sleeves. Do you think the method makes a difference if you have maintained a (relatively) consistent gauge?

        • Jacqueline:

          My advice doesn’t change no matter the consistency of your gauge or not! Always wash/block BEFORE seaming. If the pieces change size after you seam, then your seams risk being out of alignment with the garment. As to the risk of the pieces changing size before you seam so that they no longer fit together. I understand the concern, but I think it’s a little bit misplaced.. if it’s a side or sleeve seam, you’re sewing two sides that have the same number of rows, so the pieces should change the same way, so it’s a non-issue. And if the pieces change so much that they no longer fit together – e.g. in the example of setting in a sleeve – then it means that they’re not the right size. Because if you sew before washing, and then you wash, you’re going to get a misaligned fabrics. For example, if you set in a sleeve before washing, and the sleeve gets much wider, then the sleeve will looked ruffled in the armhole. Does that make sense?

          Really, it comes back to the essential truth that you need to be knitting so that the fabric is right with washing. If it’s not right after blocking, it’s not going to be right after you’ve washed it… and then you’ve got a garment that only really “works” until you wash it the first time. Does that make sense?

          Kate

  • Very impressed at this and would recommend to my knitting group.. well done.

  • Thank you for the helpful article. I have a question about washing and steeking. I have a sweater that I am just finishing up and have already put in a crochet steek but have not cut yet. Is it better to wash before cutting or after? I was thinking that washing before cutting it may help everything stay nicely together? Thanks!

  • Thanks for this Kate and MDK!
    Question to the UK/Euro knitters: i have seen “bio” laundry detergent on the shelves in Britain. I thought this meant ecological, but no, I am told this means enzymes. Can anyone confirm? Will bio-detergent be harsher on my woolens?

    • Hello!

      “Bio” indeed means those pesky stain-fighting enzymes you don’t want. Look for something labelled non-bio, or even better, labelled as being safe for wool and silk.

      Kate