Blocking a piece of knitting is when you use steam or water to set the stitches of the knitted piece. It is considered the final step in most knitting projects, especially projects knit with wool.
I am a convert to the idea that blocking a finished project has any real value at all. I first noticed it when I washed a sweater I’d made recently. I was unhappy with the sweater. It has some bunchiness in places, and the braid at the hem and sleeves didn’t quite sit right. Well, after I washed the sweater, I laid it out to dry and decided to smooth out some stitches and generally see if I could set the knitting right.
By gum, it worked! In fact, it turned it from a sweater I wasn’t entirely happy with to a lovely creation that I am happy I made.
I know blocking will not solve every problem you encounter in knitting, but it does cure that “slightly sloppy and homemade”1 look you sometimes get when you bind off a project and weave in the ends.
I am making a pair of mittens for my son to match a hat he’s fond of. I just finished the first mitten, and since it is stranded colorwork, I decided to try out this new world of blocking.
On the left is my pre-baptismal knitting. Notice the stitches are a bit bunchy and don’t lie neatly. I gave it a good dunk in water, and being raised Southern Baptist, I did hold it under until it bubbled.2 Then I gently squeezed out some of the water, rolled it in a towel and got some more water out. With the piece damp, it is fairly easy to coax the stitches into proper shape. You can see on the right how the pattern is much cleaner and clearer, the stitches neater. When they dry, they’ll dry in place giving a nicer-looking mitten.
1 As opposed to hand-made. My grandmother used to differentiate between the two. Quality custom was hand-made. Half-assed, sloppy work was home-made.
2 One of the advantages of wool is that it doesn’t saturate quickly and retains insulation holding up to 30% of its weight in water. It takes some time to get it properly wet for blocking. Cotton wicks quickly, which is why you wear it when you desire cooling by evaporation, and why you hear the expression “Cotton kills” among people for whom hypothermia is a concern.