Blocking your work is an important step, and not one you should miss out. It can make all the difference when you have finished a project, or part way through if you have several pieces to join up. It can making sewing small motifs together much easier if they have all been blocked.
Blocking helps the pattern really show up, particularly with lace, and gets your work into the correct shape and size. It can sort out any tension mishaps, and flatten pieces that might otherwise be all rumpled. Some designs, such as the spiral in these photographs, can "pull" the stitches so that it is impossible to make them lie flat without blocking.
A crochet "square" before blocking
The same square, after blocking
Method 1: Wet Blocking This is suitable for any project made with a yarn that is completely, or partly, made from natural fibres. It will not work with 100% acrylic yarns.
Something to block on - this can be a mat, like a rubber floor tile, a clean towel, a thick piece of cardboard, a cork pinboard, or if you are desperate - a carpeted floor
Large headed pins (normal dressmaking pins with small heads can be painful to push in and out of the blocking mat)
Tape measure and, if you need a straight edge, something firm and straight, like a quilting ruler
You need your work to be more than damp, but not dripping wet. If your yarn is machine washable, then washing it on a gentle wool cycle with an appropriate detergent and some fabric conditioner is ideal.
Otherwise, fill a large bucket or bowl with warm water and a drop of baby shampoo or wool detergent, and soak your work for at least 30 minutes.
Agitate it a few times during the soaking time to ensure that it absorbs the water evenly. Rinse it carefully to remove the shampoo, then gently squeeze it until it stops dripping, and roll it in a towel to absorb excess moisture.
Place your work on a blocking mat (or other suitable surface) and pull firmly until it is approximately the desired shape and size. Working from centre out to the edges is a good idea.
Using a tape measure and/or a quilting ruler, pin the edges to the exact size required. If your work is an uneven shape or curvy, then you might find it helpful to draw the shape you are trying to achieve on a large piece of paper and place this under your work, then pin according to your drawing.
Make sure you place the pins at regular, frequent intervals, to hold the edges firmly in place.
Keep smoothing your work from the centre out, to ensure that it is flat, and that you have blocked it evenly on all sides.
Note: If you are working with several motifs that will be sewn together after blocking, it is essential that you make sure they are blocked exactly and to the same measurements.
Blocking adjoining motifs at the same time to ensure they will be the same size after blocking
Leave your work to dry
When it is dry, you can remove the pins. Do this carefully, with a finger placed on your work, immediately next to the pin, to ensure that it does not damage the fibres as it is pulled out.
Your work should now be soft, supple, flat and the right shape. If you have blocked lace, it will also have enhanced the pattern and brought the whole project into focus.
Lace shawls will grow enormously when you block them and it will also help show off the pattern!
Other ways to wet block Sometimes, if you have a three dimensional piece of work, like a cowl or a jumper, then blocking on a flat surface may not be suitable. With a bit of ingenuity, an answer can be found!
A friend of mine was very lucky to inherit a wooden blocking horse from her grandmother, and she always blocks jumpers on this.
Photo used with permission of J Allcock
She also applied some thought to the problem of how to block a cowl, and used her kitchen bin.
Photo used with permission of J Allcock
Sometimes, you might not have enough room in your house to block a really large project.
Blocking in the garden
If you do block outside, then make sure your work is not in direct sunlight. It might fade the colour or cause sun damage to your work.
Once you are confident with the basic principles of blocking, you can experiment to find new ways that work well for you.
Method 2: Steam Blocking For work made with 100% acrylic yarn, this is the most effective blocking method I have discovered.
Ironing board, or other firm, heat-resistant surface
Large clean towel
Large headed pins
Tape measure and/or quilting ruler
Note: Your work does not need to be wet for this blocking method.
Set up your ironing board and set your iron to its hottest steam setting.
Fold the towel several times and place flat on the ironing board. Ensure there are no crumples in it that could affect your blocking.
Stretch your work out firmly to the desired shape and size. If you are struggling to pull it out far enough, then it may be helpful to spray it with a small amount of water, to dampen.
Pin it carefully round the edge to the towel.
Hold your iron carefully about 2 or 3 centimetres above your work and allow the steam to cover it.
Be careful not to touch your work with the iron - only the steam should touch it.
Make sure you get the steam right into the corners of your work.
A few minutes of steaming for each part of your work should suffice. When you have finished, your work should feel damp and hot to the touch.
Leave to cool down and dry before removing the pins.
If your work does not remain in place, or doesn't seem adequately blocked to you, then repeat the pinning and steaming, but give slightly longer on the steaming.
Good luck blocking your work! You will be amazed with the difference it will make. It's easy to do, and well worth the time and effort.