How to Block a Hand-Knit or Crocheted Sweater and Why It's Important
Knowing how and why to block a knitted hand knit or crocheted garment will turn your finished piece from "homemade" to "holy cow, you made this?!"
Knitters who pulled up their boot straps and confidently strode into sweater-knitting land are often appalled at the finished product when they’ve cast off that last stitch. Laying it out on their bed or carpet, they find mysterious bulges and wrinkles, the sleeves look uneven though they swear they counted every row, and the neck seems more asymmetrical than round. Believing their knitting skills are abysmal and that they have certainly wasted weeks or months of their lives, they either toss the sweater in the trash can or cry inconsolably on the shoulder of the person to whom they promised the coveted hand knit gift.
I feel for these knitters. I have been there. But a time came when I realized I was skipping a step. Reading knitting blogs pointed this out to me. The missing step is called “blocking.”
By blocking a hand knit or crocheted item, the stitches are allowed to bloom and become uniform. Furthermore, you control the outcome by manipulating the fabric into the shape you choose, guaranteeing a beautiful end result.
The following are directions for blocking a hand knit or crocheted item that is made of wool or a wool blend. The method can be applied to all hand knits, but each will react differently. Wool is stretchy and forgiving (unless you wash it with hot water, or put it in a dryer!), and wants nothing more than to be manipulated by you.
So don’t knock it ‘til you block it! Hold up your garment, and plunge in.
As you know, you cannot throw a hand knit item in the wash unless it is made of superwash wool or cotton. Even then, I recommend hand washing. Love and care went into the creation of the garment; treat it as such.
Depending on the size of your garment, fill a bowl, sink or tub with lukewarm water. No detergent is necessary, but if you want to add a pleasant fragrance or make the wool softer, you can add a very mild detergent. Baby washes are great alternatives to wool-specialty washes, but they require rinsing. Wool washes like Soak or Eucalan do not. Many knitters and crocheters believe in the specialty of Eucalan and Soak and only use those products. If I choose to use soap (though I usually don’t), I use my son’s baby shampoo. Only a small amount is needed.
Push the item in the water and let it soak for 15 minutes to an hour. Typically, the longer the soak, the softer the finished garment and the more time the stitches are given to bloom and find their proper place in the garment. I’ve never soaked more than half an hour, but others have soaked for even two hours. Once you get to know the wools you work with and experiment with soaking times, you’ll learn your own preferences.
Squeeze, Don’t Wring!
When soaking is complete, remove the garment and gently squeeze the water out. Squeeze only! Do not be tempted to twist and wring. (If you chose to use a mild soap that is not a wool-specialty wash, soak again for a few minutes to get as much soap out of the garment as possible. Twice is safer than once, with a squeeze between each. Do not agitate the fabric too much, however. This can result in unwanted felting. Read all instructions on a wool wash to see if rinsing is required.)
Towel Wrap to Remove Excess
Although you could theoretically trust your squeezing powers and move on to shaping the garment, it can take days for wool to dry. It’s worth it to lay the garment flat on two thick towels, then roll the towel in a tight roll. Folding will also work, but I prefer a roll. Step on the towel to squeeze out as much water as possible, to be absorbed by the towels.
Shaping and Pinning
Choose a spot in your home that will be left undisturbed for at least 24 hours. Using either towels, blankets, or a clean carpet that you don’t mind getting wet, lay your garment flat (blocking mats are also available if you’d like to purchase something specific to blocking).
Many patterns come with diagrams of the garment and measurements along each section (17” arms from shoulder to wrist, for example). It’s best to get a measuring tape and carefully stretch or smush your garment to match these measurements. You can manipulate the wool a lot in this phase. It is incredibly stretchy.
If you find you have to make the garment smaller or shorter
but there are large folds proving the garment is too big, there are still
alternatives (noted below*). If, however, it seems too big but not by much,
smooth and smoosh until you have it the length/width you want. (*If you dare, you can shrink the garment by drying it on low in a dryer. I would pull it out every minute to check the progress. You are in fact felting the garment and are in danger of shrinking and ruining it entirely. I suggest you gift it to somebody who may love it. A good fit and a happy giftee beat a shrunken, ruined sweater).
Once you have the fabric measuring properly, section by section, pin the piece down. You can use sewing straight pins, but blocking pins are also available.
Finally – wait.
Be patient! It took a while to make the garment and blocking is one last necessary step in the process. You won’t be disappointed in the results. What once was lumpy and decidedly looked “handmade” will now be a beautifully even-stitched sweater that makes you proud to have produced your own hand knit. Good job!