Last week, I told you a little bit about why you should block. True to my word, this week we’ll talk about how. If you didn’t read part 1 of this post, I recommend starting there. We went over materials needed and what blocking can do for you. Today, however, we’re going to discuss blocking techniques: Wet, Steam, or Spritz.
Generally speaking, this is the go to for wool, acrylic, and blends. Wet blocking is the most effective technique and will give very dramatic results. You can add several inches to a large piece if desired. When deciding whether to use this method ask yourself: is this a durable fiber? If the answer is yes, then block to your heart’s content!
However, if you say to yourself: “Self, this yarn is as delicate as a tiny glass llama.” Skip the wet block. You will run the risk of breaking fibers and ruining your hard work. If you just aren’t sure, you can do a quick tug test:
- Take about 4 inches of your yarn, in the thickness you knitted with. I.E. if you doubled up your yarn to knit, then double it up for the test.
- Hold each end and give it a firm — but not violent — tug.
- If the yarn splits in two, you should not wet block it. If it holds just fine you are good to go.
How to Wet Block
Completely submerge your knitting in water and let it soak for 20 minutes to an hour. The length of time largely depends on the size of the project. You want every stitch to be completely soaked, so for a really large project (like a Geek-A-Long blanket) you’ll want to give the yarn plenty of time to soak up the water. If you are going to use a wool wash, now is the time. I usually soak small projects like the Sweet Sixteen Hat in a bowl or stock pot, and larger ones in the bathtub.
Once your project has soaked, take it carefully out of the water and ask yourself: Do I just want to add shape, or am I also adding length?
To add significant length, which means more than 1/10th of the total length, you’ll need to thwack it. I didn’t make up this term, I swear! But if you’re piece is 10 inches long and you’d like to add another two inches, you’ll need thwack it and thwack it good. Take hold of the piece firmly at the base of where you’ll add length, like the armpit of a sleeve, and whack it against the side of your tub. Don’t go crazy, there are no points awarded for extra enthusiasm, but get it one or two good whacks. The more you do this, the longer it will get.
For every inch you thwack, you lose the same amount in width.
Once you’ve thwacked, or if you didn’t need to thwack, roll up the piece in some nice clean towels and step on the towels to blot out the water. Then, immediately stretch it into the shape/size you want on your blocking surface and pin it in place. Allow the piece to dry completely before taking it off the pins. Just be aware that this method may cause colors to bleed. When working with strong colors, it’s always a good idea to wash the yarn with some Color Catchers before knitting with it.
Steam Blocking is great for cotton and silk, though I will sometimes wet block silk if I’ve made lace. Always use extreme caution when wet blocking silk since it becomes weak when wet and easily develops disfigurements that you may not be able to get rid of. Cotton, though strong, doesn’t take to wet blocking well. It gets stiff sometimes when drying, so I use steam when I can.
Steamers are a great investment for knitters, and you can get one for less that $30. Steam blocking can be much quicker than wet blocking, but the results are not as dramatic. There is no opportunity to thwack, and you want to be really careful not to damage your hard work with heat.
How to Steam Block
When using a steamer like the one I linked to above, hang your knitting on a hanger and then hang that from a shower rod. Holding the steamer at least three or four inches away from the fabric, and being careful not to steam your own face off, move the steamer over the fabric until the whole thing is warm and moist. Don’t go overboard. You don’t want to make it wet, just moist and pliable.
But Megan-Anne, I don’t WANT to buy a steamer. I only need to steam this one thing. It’s just not worth it. I think I’ll just wet block this super expensive silk instead. It’ll be fine.
Stop. Just stop, because you are hurting my delicate sensibilities.
If you don’t want to spring for a steamer, you can MacGyver a solution with a wet pillowcase, some towels, and a run-of-the-mill iron. You need a surface that can take the heat, like an ironing board with a clean towel on it. Even if you have a steamer, you might use this for very small projects. I blocked the Silver Pan collar this way since it wasn’t worth hanging such a small project up for the steamer.
How to Steam Block the MacGyver Way
Lay out a towel on your ironing board, place the piece to be blocked on top, and smooth it as flat as possible. Put another towel on top of that, and then finish the blocking sandwich with a wet (but not dripping) pillow case and one more towel. Run your iron on medium heat over that top towel to force steam out of the pillow case and down through the knitting. Just do one pass, then lift up the towels to reveal your now compliant work. Smooth it into the shape you want it to take, replace the towels and pillow case and give it one more swipe with the iron. Don’t put the wet towel directly on your work or your iron.
Do not steam block wool as that can cause felting.
Just like with a wet block, immediately pin your project to the shape you want it onto your blocking surface. Let it dry completely before removing it from the pins.
This final method is what you will use if you have something really delicate, or if you don’t know which fibers are in your yarn. For example, lets say you think it’s mostly merino, but it might also contain silk. Go the safe route and spritz block it. You won’t get the dramatic effects of a wet block, but you won’t ruin your work either.
How to Spritz Block
Gently pull and stretch the project into place and pin it WHILE DRY to your blocking surface. Then, spritz the whole thing with room temperature water using a spray bottle. Let it dry thoroughly before removing from the pins.
So that’s it! There are no excuses not to block your work to perfection. It really does a lot for the overall look of a piece and can fix a whole lot of knitting sins. If you have tips that I didn’t cover here, sound off the in the comments and share them with the class :D
Don’t be fooled by the knits that I got, I’m still Megan on the block.