Technical Tuesday: Wet Blocking

On Wednesday, when I talked about the fiddlehead mittens, I mentioned blocking in its various forms. I realized this weekend that not everyone will A) know what blocking is and B) know what is involved in the process. Since I don’t have any great pictures to do with blocking, I am going to break up this post with the best blocking videos I can find. So, what is blocking?

Every knitter knows about tension, how loose or tight you knit. This is very important when you are determining which yarn, needle size and pattern size you are going to do. Blocking comes at the end of this project; your garment is completely knitted and you heave a sigh of ‘finally’. I am sad to say that you are not done yet my friend!

Blocking is that final essential step in the knitting process. This post, I am only going to go over wet blocking, so those who are fans of steam blocking hold your horses, that post will come next week!

In a nutshell, to wet block a garment, you soak it in water then pin it out to dry. Outside of a nutshell, it is more complicated, but well worth it.

When you are filling your tub or sink with water, it should not be hot water! I try to hit room temperature water so I don’t freeze my hands off. Fill the tub first and add your fiber conditioner, such as soak or eucalan. Usually you need very small amounts of these soaps, when diluted with a tub of water, they still manage to give your knits a great smell. I first started using these to cover the wet sheep smell some yarn produces when blocked. It works wonderfully and now I associate the smell of Soak with a finished object that you’re wearing for the first time.

Once your tub and water are ready, put your garment in the water. You want to be careful not to agitate it too much, just press it into the water until it is fully saturated. If the water is too hot or your garment is agitated in the water it will cause felting. Depending on your yarn and the ease with which it felts, you may be able to get away with a little more or nothing at all. Take care here and remember the cautionary tale of the girl who touched her knitting too much while blocking. It just didn’t end well.

Now that your knitting is saturated with water and you have presumably let it soak for 15-20 minutes. Drain the tub. I generally hold my knitted garment towards the back of the tub so it isn’t sucked towards the drain at all. This is a benefit of using a tub as opposed to a sink. When the water is all gone, gently press the water from your garment. No twisting or wringing it out, just press straight down like you are applying chest compressions to said garment.

I usually prepare a towel beside the tub so I don’t have to walk far with it. When you pick up your knitting, don’t let any of it hang out of your hands. If a sleeve drops, the weight of the yarn will stretch it. You garment is in a very precarious stage now and is vulnerable to all sorts of misadventure.

Place the garment on the towel in a generally flat attitude. This is not the part where you pin it down, so it does not need to be perfect.

I order to get the water out, I use Elizabeth Zimmerman’s technique. I roll the towel with my garment inside. From the bottom up, I roll it as tightly as I can and press along the length as I go. When it is completely rolled up, throw in a few more of those chest compressions to get all the water out.

When you are using wool or another natural fiber that is prone to shrinking, water is evil. You want to get as much of the water out of the yarn as possible. Don’t be afraid to get a little rough with it; standing on the roll is acceptable and even encouraged.

Once you have sufficiently beaten the water out of your yarn it is time for the pinning. I know a lot of people use those foam puzzle piece mats to pin their knitting, but I currently have not upgraded to that. I just lay out a dry towel and pin my garment down to that.

This is where you lay everything out nicely. Make sure the sleeves are the same length, the hem is not rolled and the stitches down the side are all in a row. However you want the garment to look when it is dry, lay it out and pin it to look like that.

After this, you simply let it dry! There you have it, a fully finished and perfectly blocked item. Everyone develops their own system because everyone’s means and needs are different. While I can block things in my tub, not everyone will be able to. Don’t be nervous about experimenting, that is how everyone learns.