Now that the Secret of the Stole KAL is winding down and members are completing their stoles I thought it would be a good idea to compile a little of the information that I have found regarding the best ways to block a stole, scarf, shawl, or any other knitted item for that matter. Most knitting (pattern) books are conspicuously quiet on this topic, with more of a focus on the patterns and producing a finished product. So turning to the Internet for answers, a quick Google search will produce
way too many various excellent results on this subject. I compiled my own list of top blocking tips here from those results and my own experience. Let’s get started.
Blocking Surfaces: Where do I block my item? What type of surface do I need?
There are many creative blocking surfaces these days. The most important things to look for in a blocking surface are:
- Can pins be attached or stuck into to the surface?
This is important because the item needs to be stretched out, pinned down, and left to dry. The best way to do this is to use straight pins and push them into the blocking surface.
- Is the surface large enough for my finished piece when stretched?
Take into consideration the finished size of the item from the pattern designer. This will give you a rough idea of how much surface area you will need to successfully block your finished item. Obviously, you will need less blocking surface for a pair of socks than a shawl or stole.
- Is the surface in a place that it can stay for a day or so? Or, will it need to be portable? Do I have somewhere to store the surface when I am finished using it?Here are two of the surfaces that I find the most convenient and useful.
Foam Insulation -
If space and storage are not an issue (see below), the most economical surface to use would be the foam insulation board that is sold at virtually all home improvement stores. This board is almost always a pink color, is made of foam and is very light. The pieces are sold in 4 x 8 foot sheets and are very portable, even once the piece is blocked. These boards can be propped up against a wall after the piece is blocked out on them which keeps little hands and paws off. This surface can also be modified, made more portable and storable, by cutting it in squares and taping them together with Gorilla tape, found in the same stores (which is much stronger and more durable than duct tape).
If you are so inclined, you can attach gingham fabric to your board like Yarn Maven did and have a square surface reference for accuracy of straight edges.
Interlocking Play Mats -
This is the surface that I use. These mats are a little more expensive than the insulation and can be found at toy stores and sometimes at the bigger warehouse stores. The foam that these mats are made of is very dense and they last much, much longer than the insulation. I live in a small house and an even smaller boat and the advantage of these mats is that when I need to block an item I can pull them out and “lock” them together in whatever configuration I need to attain the correct sized blocking surface for my item. When I am finished I can “unlock” them and put them away again.
- Do I really need to purchase a blocking surface?
No, if you have a bed or mattress, carpeted floor that is clean or that you can lay a sheet out on, or even a trampoline outside on a cloudy, non-freezing, day you can block your knitted item. All of these surfaces require attention to surrounding issues, like little people, animals, and in the case of the trampoline, weather. Additionally, there are several commercially available “blocking boards” out there and it just takes a quick Google search to find them. They can be pricey though and in the end are basically the same as the two more economical alternatives above.
Blocking Tools: What supplies do I need to block my item?
There are very few tools required to block a knitted item.
- Blocking wires and rods, string and dental floss, which to choose?Blocking wires and rods -
These two terms seem to be used interchangeably and they are basically stainless steel rods (or spools of wire) that are about .030″ in thickness are very flexible and come in a variety of lengths. There are many for sale on the Internet, sold as “blocking wires” for knitters. However, the more economical way to go (what I use) is stainless steel welder’s rods that can also be found on the Internet and in some hardware/welding supply stores for a fraction of the cost.
String and dental floss -
An even more economical way to block your items is with a string or even, dental floss. Here is a wonderful tutorial on how to block with string.
Always use rustproof, stainless steel straight pins for blocking your knitted pieces.
Techniques: Steam, wet or dry blocking. Which do I use and how do I do it?
Blocking at different stages of a knitted item’s development require different techniques.
I use dry blocking, almost always, when I want to take a progress photo. This is pretty much the only time I use this method. To use this method, you can use rods or just pins. Gently stretch your piece out on your blocking surface and pin in place.
The steam method can be used for small projects, but I would not recommend it for larger pieces or for pieces that have been worn. This method uses a combination of heat and water to “set” the lace in a certain place. The reason I don’t recommend it for items that have been worn is that if there are any potential stains, grease, or that type of thing on the piece they will be permanently set in by using this method. This method is, however, handy for making a particular section of the lace item “behave” after wet blocking.
This is the method I use most often and here are the basic steps.
- Fill a clean sink, tub, or other container with cool clear water. If laundering or re-blocking a mild soap can be added and then you would need to repeat this step with another bath of clear clean rinse water.
- Gently immerse your item in the water, making sure not to agitate the item.
- Remove the item from the water and place in a colander to drain or place in between thick towels and apply pressure. It is very important not to agitate, squeeze or wring your item because it will begin to felt if you do this.
- If the item is long, like a stole, scarf, or shawl, take it to a place where you can sit with it. There is no need to run your wires through your piece while hunched over your blocking surface. Begin to run your blocking wires along the outside edges through the yarn over’s or motifs.
- Try to keep your “weaving” of your wires through the edge motifs consistent if possible. For example, go in one yarn over and come back out three down, repeat.
- Once you have your wires in place, lay your piece on the blocking surface and begin to pin the edges down. I stick the pins on the inside of the wires, with the head of the pins at an angle away from the piece. This keeps the wires from popping up and over the pins.
- When you finish pinning down one edge, move to the opposite side and pin down that edge. Continue this process until the entire piece is blocked or pinned down.
- You will want to gently stretch your piece until it has equal and moderately tight tension throughout. Lace is amazingly strong and conformable during the blocking process, so don’t hesitate to stretch, pin, re-stretch, and re-pin until the piece looks the way you want it to.
- If your piece has long straight edges you may want to use a yardstick or other straight edge of some sort to make sure the edges of your piece are as straight as possible. Keep in mind that however the piece dries it will stay until the next time you block it.
- Allow the piece to dry. This can take an hour to a day or two depending on the piece, yarn used, etc.
- Un-pin and enjoy!
Here are a few of the links that I found the most helpful when I was searching for information on this topic: