Blocking is the last step before you get to wear a knitted garment. The goal is to get the item nice and flat and all those stitches evened out, with the flat parts flat and the puffy parts (think nups) puffy.
There are basically four ways to block an item:
- Throw it in the washer and dryer,
- Throw it in the washer and lay flat to dry,
- Soak it/wash it by hand then steam it to size or
- Soak it/wash it by hand then pin it to size.
First you need to decide which way you want to wash it. If you know the content of your yarn that can be pretty easy. Anything that is 75% or more acrylic or 100% cotton can be safely thrown into the washer and dryer and it will turn out fine. Acrylic and cotton yarns are simple because there is nothing you can do to make it get into a shape that it does not already have. Anything with less acrylic or cotton should be tested. Testing can be done successfully with your tension/gauge swatch. You do make make tension swatches for every project, right?
Some yarns you just know should not be washed and dried in your laundry machines. 100% wool will felt in the washer and dryer no matter how you handle it. If you want felt, that is all well and good but if you don't, please avoid the laundry room. Many super wash wools ask you to wash in the machine but dry outside of the machine. Fancy yarns usually like you to handle them more carefully...hand wash and pinning. Lets look at the four ways of blocking your project.
1. THROW IT IN THE WASHER AND DRYER
This is not an official blocking method but it is useful to know. This is the simplest way to block something but there are a couple of cautions. First don't use hot water or cold water. Room temperature or tepid water are just fine. Most cottons will bleed color so don't put your best white blouse into the same wash...unless your knitting is white. I also toss in a few color catchers to soak up that extra color. Do not use your toughest cycle, normal or permanent press cycles only. Acrylic items tend to dry just fine on normal and permanent press dryer cycles while heavy cotton items sometimes need extra drying time.
2, THROW IT IN THE WASHER AND LAY FLAT TO DRY
This is how I handle super wash wool items and most anything with 25% acrylic content. I generally do my socks this way. I will wash them in a normal wash in the washing machine with other knit items then dry them on sock stretchers. Sometimes though I have found that the strecthiness of the socks just doesn't come back after washing and blocking on stretchers. When that happens I wash them again and put them right into dryer.
3. SOAK IT/WASH IT BY HAND THEN STEAM TO SIZE
This is the way I handle odd shaped items that should never go into the washing machine. It is also the way I wash my hand embroidered items like cross stitch or linen work. Think of all-wool sweaters or odd shaped wool shawls and you get the idea. In this instance. you fill up the kitchen sink with tepid/room temperature water and some gentle liquid soap. I use liquid dish soap or Soak. I prefer liquid dish soap even if I have to rinse it a lot because sometimes perfumed Soak makes my nose unhappy. Gently immerse your item into the sink after the soap has dissolved and leave it for several hours. You may gently agitate it every once in a while but the important thing is to let it soak for an extended period. This will relax the yarn and make it easier to flatten it all out. Remember to wait for several hours before going on.
Gently remove your item from the soap bath and gently rinse it in tepid water until the soap has been removed. Gently squeeze out excess water and lay out your item on a large bath towel roughly in the shape that your want it to take. Roll up the towel around your item and leave it to damp dry for a few hours.
Unwrap your towel and lay your item on a flat surface that is water resistant and heat proof...I use my big ironing board. Gently tug your item into shape and press it flat with a steam iron. I put the iron down then pick it straight up and press the next section. I start at those edges that may be curled from knitting and work on them before going on to the body of the item.
Let the item rest flat covered by another towel or two overnight until completely cool. Store your item folded or flat on a shelf, out of the sun but exposed to air.
4. SOAK IT/WASH IT BY HAND THEN PIN IT TO SIZE
This is the preferred method for blocking those lacy shawls made out of wool that we all love to see but dread to block. Start off the same way as the method above right up to the unwrapping from the towel.
With a spray bottle of clean water on hand, for re-wetting, if necessary, lay out your item on a flat surface. Also have on hand blocking wires, stainless steel pins and a large pinnable surface (could be your carpet or a special mat or an extra large cutting board which is pinnable). Carefully thread the wires through the edges stitches of your item...yes, every edge stitch.....then use the pins to pull the wires apart stretching the item to within an inch of its life. Yes, this can take a lot of time. Yes, it is worth it. For curved edges just pin the tips, again stretching until well stretched. Leave your item to air dry...usually several hours.
You could skip the wires but then you would need to pin every edge stitch as well as the pointy bits.
Remove the wires and pins and gently fold the item, matching the edges and ends together then let it rest between a couple of towels on a flat surface with a pillow or two on top of it. Leave it over night and the next morning you will be extremely pleased with how your shawl looks. This last step is recommended by Nancy Bush and really does make for a better product.
So that's my take on blocking knitted items. There are hundreds of You Tube videos and articles available on the internet which have their own take on this topic but these are the four methods I use so they might be useful to you. Some links you might enjoy are listed below:
Basic lace blocking on Knit Picks
Knitty's take on blocking (pretty funny in parts)
Knit Simple's instructions
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfwAkgtitwE - a nice video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fQitQ2j8AI&feature=related - an early Knitting Daily episode