How to block knitting projects: Your Essential Guide

To block or not to block? Whatever side of the fence you’re on, blocking can turn a good knit into a great knit. Rosee Woodland explains how…

How to block knitting projects

The first time you finish a big knitting project, the thought of sewing it all together can be a bit off-putting. Those curly or uneven edges are not motivating, especially when they make sewing seams more than a little bit tricky. It could be so disappointing if all your hard work ends up in the making-up basket where it languishes unloved for months or years! But don’t despair – this is where blocking is your friend.

Blocking may be a slightly odd word, but it’s simply the art of preparing your knitted fabric for its final use by using various techniques to even it out. If you’ve been working in stocking stitch, this can be as simple as getting the edges to lay flat. For a lace pattern it will probably mean stretching your work so that the eyelets (holes) show up better. With cable or rib fabric, blocking may only be very gentle as you don’t want to over-stretch your stretchy fabric.

Whichever method you choose for your knitted fabric, blocking can make the difference between a homemade and a handmade finish. If you’ve spent weeks knitting something, it definitely pays to take the time to give it that extra bit of care – we guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

How to block knitting – stocking stitch

Stocking stitch is the easiest style of fabric to block as it is very smooth and even. All you’re really doing when blocking stocking stitch is uncurling the edges and straightening up the stitches. It might not seem worth the hassle, but stocking stitch is much easier to seam if you block it first, so take the time to do it and you’ll be amazed at the difference. Here are three methods to try, depending on the composition of your knitted fabric.

Method 1: Steam blocking

Suitable for: all yarn types

It’s important to remember that if your swatch has been knitted using acrylic, nylon or polyester yarn, take great care not to touch the fabric with the iron or let it get too hot, or there’s a significant chance our united fabric will melt! If you’re unsure, or concerned, you may prefer to go for the next option – covering your work with damp cloths.

Step 1

Take your finished knitted piece and lay it flat on an ironing board.

Step 2

Set your steam iron to its lowest heat and hold it about 0.5cm above your finished piece.

Step 3

Allow the steam to penetrate the fabric.

Step 4

Your fabric will start to lie flat as it soaks up the moisture from the iron.

How to block knitting steam method

Method 2: Cover with damp clothes

Suitable for: acrylic, all wools

Not suitable for: cotton, silk, alpaca

This is quite an old-fashioned method of blocking and you’ll often see it suggested in vintage patterns. It works well for fibres like acrylic and wool that dry quickly, but avoid it for cotton, silk and alpaca, which can all be slow to dry and may not dry out properly at all with damp cloths over them.

Step 1

Take your finished piece and lay it flat on a blocking mat or dry towel.

Step 2

Soak a tea towel (or more than one if it’s a large piece) and wring it out so it’s just damp.

Step 3

Smooth out the tea towel and lay it over the fabric.

Step 4

Leave to dry and your swatch will dry flat underneath.

How to block knitting with damp cloths

Method 3: Iron on the reverse

Suitable for: cotton, super wash wool

Not suitable for: anything fluffy, acrylic, non-superwash wool, silk

Most finishing experts will tell you never to iron a piece of knitting. It’s true that ironing can squash the stitches and even make them shiny. Certainly it’s only suitable for stocking stitch sections but as long as you’re gentle it’s OK – test it on a swatch first if you’re worried about ruining your fabric.

Step 1

Take your finished piece and lay it flat on an ironing board with the wrong side facing up.

Step 2

Set your steam iron to its lowest heat and gently skim it across the surface of the finished piece.

Step 3

Allow the steam to lightly penetrate the fabric. Cotton yarn takes a long time to dry so don’t let it get soaked. Your fabric will lay flat thanks to the heat and added weight of the iron.

How to block knitting iron on the reverse

How to block lace knitting

Although you can use any of the first three options explained for stocking stitch fabric, lace knitting looks better when you block it firmly, opening out the holes and showing off all those lovely stitches! Lace responds so well to blocking, it’s worth using natural fibres for lace projects if you can – wool, alpaca, cotton or silk (or blends of these fibres). Yarn made from synthetic fibres like acrylic or nylon has a tendency to ‘ping back’ when blocked firmly. Each time you wash your lace knit, repeat the blocking process – it pays off.

Method 1: Soak and stretch with blocking wires (straight edge)

Suitable for: all natural fibre yarns

Not suitable for: synthetics

Blocking wires are great for getting a straight edge on garments or pieces of garments. You can buy special kits with blocking wires and mats, but children’s interlocking play mats and welding rods will do exactly the same job, and they are cheaper too!

Step 1

Soak your piece of lace in wool soak in a washing up bowl or basin filled with warm (not hot) water. As long as you use a wool-wash like Euclan or Soak there’s no need to rinse it. Leave it for at least 15 minutes so that it soaks up the water.

Step 2

Take out, fully supporting the weight of the fabric, as it will stretch when wet, and lay flat on a towel.

Step 3

Roll up the towel so that the fabric is rolled up with it and press to remove.

Step 4

Smooth out to your desired shape and thread blocking wires along the edges to create a straight edge. Leave to dry thoroughly and remove wires carefully when done.

How to block knitting with wires method

Method 2: Soak and pin out with T-pins (Scalloped edge)

Suitable for: all natural fibre yarns

Not suitable for: synthetics

This technique is perfect for shawls, or any knitting that has a scalloped edge. Secure your knitting with pins (large or T-pins are best), or you can use blocking wires to create a scalloped or pointed edge by threading them through the edges, with intervals between each ‘point’. Bear in mind, if you want a straight edge you can achieve one by using lots of pins, but using blocking wires is quicker and easier.

Step 1

Repeat steps 1 to 3 given above.

Step 2

Smooth out to desired shape and pin along all the edges to create a scalloped shape.

Step 3

Leave to dry and unpin.

How to block knitting withi pins

Method 3: Steam and gently stretch

Suitable for all yarns

This method is suitable for lace fabric made from synthetic yarns. You won’t get the same dramatic effect as if you stretch out the fabric properly as in options 1 and 2 above, but it will still help the appearance of the lace, helping to show off your pretty lace stitches.

Step 1

Take your finished piece and lay it flat on an ironing board. Set your steam iron to its lowest heat and hold it about 0.5cm above your finished piece. Allow the steam to penetrate the fabric thoroughly.

Step 2

Your fabric will start to lie flat as it soaks in the moisture.

Step 3

Stretch out the lace a little and leave to dry completely.

Top tip: Remember if you're using acrylic, nylon or polyester yarn the iron will melt on contact so be very careful!
How to block knitting with steam and stretch

How to block cables or rib

When blocking cables or rib, you want to do the opposite of ‘hard’ lace blocking and just gently stretch out the fabric so that it doesn’t lose all of its spring! It’s best not to iron cable or rib as you can flatten them out really easily, and they’ll never look quite the same again.

Method 1: Steam and gently stretch

Suitable for: all yarns

This blocking method is suitable for all cabled fabrics. The aim is to help the fibres relax so that the stitches even out without losing their plump, three dimensional look.

Step 1

Take your finished piece of knitting and lay it flat on an ironing board.

Step 2

Set your steam iron to its lowest heat and hold it about 0.5cm above your finished piece. Allow the steam to penetrate the fabric thoroughly.

Step 3

Your fabric will start to lie flat as it soaks in the moisture from the iron.

Step 4

Stretch out and manipulate the cables in your knitted piece a little to enhance the shape and finish. Leave to dry thoroughly.

Top tip: don't over-stretch cabled fabric when blocking it or you'll end up with a floppy, distorted cable.
How to block cable knitting steam and stretch

Method 2: Soak and lay flat to dry

Suitable for: all yarns

This blocking method is suitable for all cabled fabrics. The aim is to allow the water to help even out the stitches, creating a smoother finish.

Step 1

Soak your piece of fabric in wool soak in a washing up bowl or basin filled with warm (not hot) water. As long as you use a wool-wash like Euclan or Soak there’s no need to rinse it. Leave it in for at least 15 minutes so that it soaks up the water.

Step 2

Take out, fully supporting its weight to prevent stretching, and lay flat on a towel.

Step 3

Roll up the towel, (pressing gently as you go), so the fabric is rolled up with it.

Step 4

Smooth out to desired shape and leave it to dry.

Top tip: if you're not using a specialist wool soak, like Euclan, you will need to rinse any detergent out before blocking.
How to block cable knitting soak and lay flat
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