Hello! I am Renita Harvey, and I am so excited to be part of the wonderful KB team. I have been loom knitting since I was a child. My first looms were a spool loom and a small 12 peg round loom. About the age of 12, my parents gave me a Spin Knit loom. This was my first large loom that I made hats and scarves on. This was quite a few years before Knifty Knitter looms came along. Only thing I had to teach myself was the booklet that came with the loom. It only contained very basic information. E-wrap knit only. Not even a purl stitch! Now we have wonderful loom knit books written by very talented people and have a wealth of information at our fingertips on the internet. But almost every day, I see questions about “how do I do this or that” in loom knitting. Well, I would like to answer some of those Frequently Asked Questions or Loom FAQs in this column. Look for my column on the third Monday of every month.
Today I would like to address a very common question.
What is blocking?
Blocking is a finishing technique used in knitting and crochet. It is a way to flatten a piece, helps with straightening and sizing pieces that are to be seamed together, helps set the stitches, and opens up lace stitches.
But after that is said, there are always even more questions to be answered.
When and why do you block something?
If you are making a sweater or another project that will be pieced or seamed together, you will need to block each piece to size and shape before assembly. Please note that while you will be able to make some smaller pieces a little larger and make pieces match in size, if your gauge or tension is not correct, you will not be able to completely resize it with blocking.
If you are knitting a lace pattern, you will want to block the project to open up those beautiful lace stitches. It does make a world of difference with lace.
What fibers can you block?
You can block every kind of fiber. The type of fiber depends on the type of blocking.
What items do I need to block?
- A place to block the items
- Rust-proof pins
- Blocking wires (optional)
- Steam machine or steam iron for steam blocking
- Spray bottle for spray blocking
- Water – MOST IMPORTANT!
Do I need a blocking board? Are they important?
First you will need an area large enough for your item. One such item is a blocking board. Blocking boards are large boards covered in a tightly woven thick fabric printed with a grid over a piece of foam, cork, or acoustic board for the pins to stick in. While I personally do have one, they are not necessary to block an item. Sometimes they are just not large enough for the project. Some people may not have the space to store one. Kits may be bought to build your blocking board. But again it’s not as essential as having a space to do it.
You can use a bed, the floor, or even interconnecting foam blocks like floor mats or preschool letter blocks. Any of these surfaces can be covered with a waterproof liner like a trash bag and then covered with towels or blankets so you can pin the item into place.
Why do I need rust-proof pins?
Which leads me to a very important tool for blocking. Rust-proof pins. Make sure they are rust-proof since all types of blocking involve water. Unless they are rust-proof, the pins will rust. And rust stains cannot be removed from the yarn. Let me say “rust-proof” one more time for good measure…
Other questions I have seen involve tools that can be used for blocking.
What are blocking wires and why would I use blocking wires?
Blocking wires are wires that are woven into the edges of the work to help keep the shape of the edge. If you do not use wires, you sometimes get a scalloped edge when the work dries and draws up in between the pins if they are not close enough together. There are 2 kinds of blocking wires. Rigid wires for the straight edges, and flexible wires for the curved edges. You do not need to use as many pins when using wires, but blocking wire are not required to block an item.
Do I need a steam machine or can I just use an iron?
While steam machines are nice to have and make it easier to steam block items, they are not necessary. A steam iron will work. If you’d like to see a range of steam irons reviewed so you better understand your options, check out Review Loft (https://www.reviewloft.co.uk/best-steam-generator-irons/) You just need to remember not to get too close to the work since you have a large heat source on the iron while you do not have that with a steamer. But you can not just iron an item in order to block it. You can cause a lot of damage to the work if the iron is placed directly on it.
How do you block something?
This just happens to be the most important question of all. How? Well there are 3 ways to block a project.
- Wet blocking
- Spray blocking
- Steam blocking
Let take each one separately.
You can wet block any natural fibers. You cannot wet block acrylics. Acrylics need to be steam blocked. We will discuss why in Steam Blocking.
First you need to soak the item for at least 15 minutes so that all the fibers are fully saturated. You then will squeeze out the excess water. Do not wring or twist! This will stretch the stitches out of shape completely. After squeezing out as much water as I can, I like to put a couple of towels on the floor, lay the item on top, then add another towel on top to cover the item. Then I simply stand on it in my bare feet. Sounds crazy, I know. But standing on all parts of the item will finish squeezing out the excess water without twisting and cause it to dry faster.
Then you pin your item on the prepared blocking area to the shape and size needed. You will place your pins about 2″ or less apart if you are not using blocking wires. You can use a lot less pins with the wires. Allow the item to completely dry before removing it.
You can spray block all natural fibers, but not acrylics. Spray blocking is like wet blocking except you do not soak the item first. You first pin your item to the prepared blocking area in the same manner as wet blocking. Then you use a spray bottle of water and spray the item until it is completely wet. Allow the item to dry before removing it.
All types of fiber can be steam blocked. Why can acrylics only be steam blocked? Acrylic yarn is basically plastic and only heat from steam can set the stitches. Water alone cannot do this with acrylic while it will work with natural fibers. But you cannot iron it either. Direct heat from an iron will either completely melt the yarn or “kill” the fabric. “Killing” acrylic is not quite as violent as it sounds. It just means that the acrylic has melted to the point that it has lost its stretch and body but has not been completely ruined. There are times killing acrylic is useful, but not when you are wanting to block the item.
First you will pin the item to the prepared blocking area in the same manner as wet or spray blocking. Then you will steam the item in small areas at a time until the entire piece is steamed and damp. If using an iron, remember to not get the iron surface too close to the item. And also be careful not to touch the pins or wires, if using wires, as the steam will cause them to get hot as well and will burn you.
Allow the item to dry completely before unpinning it.
Sounds like a lot of work. And most times, it is. But the finished result is always amazing!