Let me start with one note, this post is not meant to be a comprehensive study of blocking. One could write a book about the subject. I simply want to highlight why blocking is so important and talk about how I approach the process.
Why block? Blocking is the magic fairy dust of knitting and crochet. Simply said, blocking improves the look of a project. You have spent a lot of time working on a project, so why would you skip the last important step? So many good things happen: your stitches relax, some tension issues can be eased and the yarn blooms and softens. It can also open any lacework, helps cables pop and can flatten the edges of your project. As an added bonus, blocking washes your project after completion.
Let's take a look at two of my projects pre and post blocking.
The Sophie Scarf: I knit the Sophie Scarf in a chunky version on a size 10 needles. In the pre-blocked project, you can see some tension issues and the length of the scarf was only about 44 inches, I wanted it to be 54 inches.
Look how lovely the project looks after its bath! The tension issues are gone and, because it is garter stitch, the length is the 54-inches I wanted. (Excuse the difference in the photos. One was taken in morning light and the other evening.)
The Cargill Sweater: The pre-blocked was looking pretty tiny and not measuring up to the schematic. (I was not worried about that, because I knit a swatch and knew what blocking would do.)The sleeves and body a bit shorter and the bust/body measuring about 33-34 inches in diameter.
Cargill after blocking?.... AHHHHHH, isn't that pretty! The sweater is measuring 37 inches in circumference and the arms and body are the correct length for me and the stitch pattern is looking so relaxingly stunning.
There are a few different methods for blocking your knit or crochet items but I like the wet blocking best.
The Bath: I do not like putting my knit wear directly in a sink basin. I am always worried that there could be cleaning products left behind. I use a Soak Blocking Basin or a bucket that is used only for blocking. If you do use a sink, please make sure you have rinsed it very well with clean water.
Fill the basin with luke warm water and a capful of wool wash before adding the project. Submerge the piece completely and give it a gently squeeze to ensure it is completely saturated. Leave it to soak for 20 - 30 minutes.
The Squeeze: It is important to remove some of the excess water from the projects. Remember, a project filled with water is a fragile thing. The weight of the water can easily distort or stretch your stitches. I tip the basin over the sink, holding the project in with one hand, to empty the water. With the basin on its side, I squeeze the piece letting the water run out. After I have done that a couple of times, I gently lift the piece up, supporting it as much as I can, and give the project a few more squeezes to get the water out. Do not wring your project!
Then I put the project on a clean towel, or my new favorite, the Cocoknits Super Absorbent Towel, roll it up and press the excess water out. Gently stepping on it works wonders.
The Magic: Now I carefully transfer the pieces to the blocking board. I often us the Cocoknits Block Set but I pulled out my old bulky blocking board for the sweater. I carefully pat the sweater out to the desired measurements, using the schematic as a guide. Boards, like the Cocoknits one, have a surface that gently grips the knitting to keep it in place.
Sometimes you need to pin something down to hold it in place. The blocking board comes with pins or you can use Knit Blockers (love these).
Just after taking my Cargill off the board, I replaced it with a project my mom is finishing up. Sucession, by Britt Marie Brehmer, is a fun little cabled vest that had to be blocked before seaming. After the soaking process it needed a wee bit of pinning to hold it in place. Nothing too drastic, just to flatten some curling edges in place until it dries. Doing so will make seaming a bit easier.
When I have the right project, I will do a little post about blocking wires for lace work and shawls but this little tutorial will be all that you need for most knitting projects.