At our Guild meeting in February, Anne Ball brought everything needed -- including an improvised kitchen sink -- to show us how to do the all-important step of blocking hand-knitted goods. It is especially important for lace items.
Anne swished the knit sample in her "sink" -- and told us she added whatever shampoo and conditioner she used for her hair. The shampoo cleans the piece and removes any oils picked up from the hands that made it, and the conditioner makes it all a little bit softer.
The piece is rinsed, then the extra moisture is squeezed -- not twisted -- out. She also showed us how she sometimes rolls the wet piece in a towel and then stands on it to press even more moisture out. Again, it is important that this is a pressing action, not a wringing action. so just stand there. Don't dance.
After all this, the piece will still be wet, but not at all drippy. It is time to block it.
Tools are important. Anne showed us interlocking foam pads that can be configured in any shape needed, blocking wires, rust-proof T-pins, and of course, a ruler or tape measure. The blocking wires were ideal for the strip of knitted lace Anne was working with; one slid into the selvage side and one caught each point of the lace design. Then a few T-pins were used to hold the two wires the correct distance apart.
When dry, the piece will have a more settled, finished appearance. Uneven knitting will look more uniform, and the piece will hold the shape the blocking assigned to it. Now you may dance.
Here's some of the information that came out of the ensuing question and answer time at our meeting.
Q: Do you need to block a piece if it's not made of wool?
A: Most things do look best after washing and blocking, though the most dramatic difference is noticed in lacy wool items. But no matter what the fiber, uneven stitches and a multitude of minor knitting errors can be rectified or significantly minimized by the process.
Q: Do weavers need to block their work?
A: The tension of the warp during the weaving process often keeps the shape of a scarf, shawl, table runner, or towel fairly uniform, but pieces taken off the loom still benefit from washing to clean them and to allow the fibers to shrink and lay together more uniformly.
Generally woven items are not considered to be "finished" until they have been washed. You don't want to give someone a 12" x 18" hand towel and have it become 10" x 15" the first time they wash it.
A simple blocking process (using wire or just pins) can make a woven piece into a more uniform rectangle or even up a wavy selvage,if that is a problem.
Q: I've knitted a vest and I need to stitch the front panels to the back piece (side seams). Should I block the three pieces before I sew them together or wait until after and block the whole garment?
A: There were some "that depends" caveats on this questions, but the general consensus was that the garment would probably be easier to stitch together smoothly if the three pieces were washed and blocked first.
Thank you Anne for showing us how to go about blocking! As each of us are ready to do it on our next project, we may be calling you!