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My handy guide to cast-on methods last month turned out to be very popular, so we thought we’d try to provide similar guidance for another FAQ: blocking.

For the vast majority of your knitting, blocking is so simple. And the benefits are remarkable. Blocking tidies up your knitting, evening out stitches and smoothing the fabric. And blocking brings the fabric to its finished shape and size.

Blocking: It’s Not What You Think

The word “block” has come to be closely associated with stretching and pinning, and these types of tools…

Blocking mat, t-pins, wires, and pin combs, oh my.

But these tools—and the stretching they are needed for—are only required in a limited set of circumstances. Let’s take the wonder-process of blocking step by step.

Step 1: No matter what you’re making, the first step is washing.

Washing gets the dog hair and cookie crumbs off—crucial if you’re giving the item as a gift. Washing even removes excess dye to prevent it running down your face when your brand-new hat gets wet in the rain. Washing is crucial to moth prevention. Washing is inevitable, but it changes your FO. Accept the change that comes with washing, anticipate it, plan for it! That is, measure (and match) gauge after “blocking” swatches, and then when the knitting is done, “block” the pieces to bring them to the right size.

If you’re working with a delicate, hand-wash only yarn, fill a sink or container with lukewarm water and appropriate wash product and let the item soak for 15-20 minutes. Rinse if required (some wool-washes don’t need rinsing).

If it’s a washing machine-friendly yarn, feel free to stuff it in the machine. (The yarn label should tell you how to wash; if not, err on the side of caution and hand wash with a wool-safe wash product.)

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Step 2: Get most of the moisture out.

If you’ve machine washed, the spin cycle will take care of this.

If you’ve hand washed, you can roll the piece in towels and squeeze firmly, or even stand on it. And if you’ve got a front-loading washing machine, or a top-loader and can bypass the agitation cycle, you can use the spin cycle after hand washing. YES. I put even the most delicate lace shawls through the spin cycle of my machine. They use centrifugal force, and the faster the spin the better; the piece is held against the side of the drum, and the moisture is flung out. (A salad spinner works in the same way, and can also be used for smaller items.)

Step 3: Dry.

Unlike the other steps, what you do here absolutely depends on the project, the fabric, and the yarn. It’s still pretty straightforward, but for some projects, there might be an additional step, or a specific piece of equipment used.

Ultimately, your objective here is to only do what you intend to do when you care for the piece in its normal life.

Stretching and pinning should be a deliberate choice, because if you stretch to get a specific size or a finished look to the fabric, you’re going to have to stretch and pin every time you wash, to get the same results. Let me reiterate: If you need to stretch your wool sweater to fit, you’ll need to stretch it every time you wash it.

Some yarns—animal fibers and silk, specifically—can be stretched out when wet. It’s not just the fabric that stretches, but the actual yarn—up to 25% for some fibers! And if you pin out the wet fabric and let it dry, the piece will stay in that stretched position until it gets wet, when it will return to its original size—or nearly, anyway. This is entirely doable for something like a lace shawl that isn’t washed often, but it would be a massive hassle to have to pin out a kid’s sweater after every washing.

For other fibers, stretching and pinning is pointless: Cotton and synthetic fibers don’t have any stretch, and no matter how carefully you pin them out to dry, they won’t remember the stretched-out size or shape. (This is why we mostly use animal fibers or silk for lace shawls.) There are other ways to make those fabrics tidy.

Say Yes

Yes … if your project is worked in pieces and sewn up, wash the pieces before you seam. Your seams will be neater.

Yes … even if it’s something that doesn’t need to be sewn up, wash the pieces before you declare it done.

Yes … wash before you weave the ends in. If the fabric is going to shift, better to weave in on the fabric in its finished size/shape/state.

“But but,” you say, “I see pictures all the time on Instagram of sweaters pinned out for drying!”

True! And on Instagram everyone’s make-up is perfect and there’s never any dog hair on the furniture and no half-empty coffee cups on the table.  You can make garments (and other projects) a little bit tidier if you pin them out (carefully avoiding setting any precedents of unwanted stretch, of course), but if you’re not going to have the sweater photographed for a fashion magazine, you’ll find that the difference is minor and just not worth the fuss.

“But but,” you ask, “What about sock blockers?” Nah. Same for using balloons for hats. If an item is worn with negative ease—that is, it stretches to fit—you don’t want to make it larger before wearing, as you could be throwing the fit off. Sock blockers are a nice way to display your socks for photography, and can be a handy drying rack, but that’s it. Sock blockers date back to a time before superwash, and they were a tool to help stave off felting. They’re just not necessary if you’re working with machine washable yarns, or if you’re hand washing carefully.

My one hat blocking exception is for stranded colorwork berets and tams: those are bigger than the head that is to wear them, and the fabric will need a stretch (or steam)—traditionally on a dinner plate, which is fun—to tidy it.

The Dos

Do … pay attention to your washing product. A lot of the detergents and laundry additives that advertise their stain-fighting abilities have enzymes called proteases in them. These destroy proteins – like food stains. The problem is that wool and silk are protein fibers, and these stain fighters will actually damage your fabric. Chose ones that are labelled as “wool-safe.” And no, the one with “Wool” in the brand name is not necessarily your best choice. Although it doesn’t have proteases in it, it’s harsher than it needs to be, and can strip moisture out of the fiber.

Do … use a mesh laundry bag for larger items that you’re putting in the machine. This keeps them all together, and stops things from getting tangled on the agitator or other clothes. And if you’re washing or spinning a knit before weaving in ends, it reduces knots and tangles.

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In addition to protecting your knits during machine washing, Eco Wash Bags are also great as craft project bags, produce bags, and perfect for storing lingerie (and socks!) during travel.

Do … consider the drying surface. Laying a damp item on a bed or carpet will slow the drying process, as the air can’t circulate around it. Consider a laundry rack … or the dog’s crate.

be sure to ask your dog for air rights.

For smaller items, I’m a big fan of the clippy hanger, especially the one from Ikea that looks like an Octopus.

an action shot from my bathroom on laundry day! The sock with the hanging end is just off the needles, waiting for the ends to be woven in.

The Short Answer

Blocking frames and wires and mats and pins and combs: unless you’re knitting a lot of lace shawls, you just don’t need them. Wash the pieces, let ‘em dry. Easy and so, so worth it. Don’t believe me? Maybe this photo will help you see:

the sleeve on the right has been washed and dried flat, the one on the left is just off my needles It’s lumpier, and has dog hair and cookies crumbs on it.

(Unstaged, I promise!) The edges are smoother on the washed sleeve, which will make it easier to sew. There’s even a slight difference in the color, as some excess die came off with the wash.

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If you’d like a flow chart of Kate’s drying recommendations, organized by type of item and fiber, here’s a printable PDF you can download: HowToDryKnits

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About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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?

  • 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.

    • Some blocking goes painless and easy. Some blocking is like trying to baptize a cat.

    • 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?


      • Hello Kate I live in the U.K., my friend has just told me I’ve been stitching
        Front bands and welts up wrong
        For years can you say what sticht am I supposed to use,I’ve done herringbone
        On all those areas for years
        And and did back stitching to on occasions
        Also I get confused on what coarser kneedles mean is it one size larger then what I’m
        Using. Which is a 4 ml or lower my size 16 baby coat. Turned out to a 18
        Second size
        I’ll be grateful for your help

      • 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?


  • 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.


  • I have been knitting for 50 years and have just started blocking in the last 5 or 6 years after reading a book about finishing techniques for knitters by Nancie Wiseman. Thanks for this article Kate, it expands on this techniques considerably, answering many questions. However, one question remains unanswered for me: do I block the pieces of my cardigan before knitting on the bands? I am about to pick up the stitches but this is holding me back. (Once upon a time I would have just picked up the stitches, sewn on the buttons and walked out the door with my cardigan on…no washing or blocking)

  • So what about brioche hats made with superwash? Just lay it flat?

  • I wonder if my hand knit sox are ruined for good due to washing and drying them by machine (I know I”m an idiot) One is okay and the other one shrunk. I see my identical sox hanging in the picture, the white ones. I worked so hard on them.

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