A Very Brief History of Knitting added October 27, 2013
Fair Isle and Aran Knitting added October 27, 2013
How to Knit a Swatch added September 2, 2016
This article was first written for submission to the Master Knitting Program, Level 1.
Last revision on October 27, 2013.
by Deborah V. Gardner
Blocking is a very important step in finishing a knitted item. It helps with the final shaping and evens out, to a certain extent, uneven knitting, especially on fabric that has color changes, such as fair isle. “Dressing” is another term used for this process and implies a gentler process than the term “blocking.”1
A blocking board is very useful. Such a board can be purchased for approximately $70. A piece of foam board is much less expensive, though it does not have grid lines to help the knitter align the fabric. As long a rust-proof pins can be pushed into the board, it should be acceptable.
For very large items, the knitter might have to use the living room carpet (well-vacuumed, please!). Blocking mats are now available. A blocking mat is 12" square and the edges are cut like jigsaw puzzles. They usually can be purchased in sets of 9 so you can make the blocking surface various sizes and shapes to fit your project.
Blocking wool* is rather simple. Pin the item onto the blocking board. Use lots of rust-proof pins. Set a steam iron to the wool setting. Once it is heated, put the iron about ½" from the fabric and steam it. Move the iron to steam the entire piece. The fabric will be a bit damp. Let the fabric dry completely. Another method of steaming requires the use of a damp cloth over the fabric. Place the damp cloth on the piece. Briefly and lightly press the iron on the fabric and then move to the next section. Do not move the iron back and forth like pressing a shirt.2 If the iron is pressed to hard or too long the fabric may be flattened far too much. This will especially ruin patterns like cables; cables should not be flattened. Steam blocking may result in slightly felted fabric so proceed with caution. You may prefer to wet block your wool (or other animal fiber) items.
Cotton tends to pull out of shape, so steam blocking is probably best when working with this fabric.3
Blocking is especially important for lace. Referred to as the fairy godmother of lace knitting, blocking can take a shapeless blob of knitted fabric and transform it into an object of beauty by helping to define all of those yarn overs that were carefully worked into a pattern.4
Wet blocking is recommended for items knitted with acrylic yarn. This is the process of soaking the fabric until it is throughly saturated. (Adding a bit of Ivory soap to the water will aid in this.) Drain and gently squeeze out excess water before lifting the piece to prevent stretching.5 Pin the knitted item into shape. An absorbent towel between the item and the board will help the drying process. Leave the item pinned until it has thoroughly dried.6
- Myrana A. I. Stahman, Stahman’s Shawls & Scarves, Rocking Chair Press, Boise, ID, 2004, page 34.
- Katharina Buss, Big Book of Knitting, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., New York, 2001, page 121.
- Jessica Fenlon Thomas, Tools for the DiY knitter, 2002.
- Blocking, The Fairy Godmother of Lace Knitting.
- Celest Young, Twisted Stitches of New York Color Workshop, October 12, 2013.
- The Original Handknit Soaker, accessed 20 June 2006 from Little Turtle Knits; link no longer available.
This article was first written for submission to the Master Knitting Program, Level 2 and was revised on August 17, 2011.
In my opinion, the single most important measurement in knitting is gauge. Years ago (2004), an acquaintance learned to knit from a lady who had a yarn store in her home. She spent $100 on beautiful yarn and knitted a shell. She came to me when it did not fit. I asked to see her gauge swatch and she asked me what that was.
I explained gauge to her and two other people in our group said they “never check gauge.” My retort was that they never spent $100 on yarn. She had two options: Tear it out or wear it over a blouse.
Two weeks later she came by to show me her next project, another shell with more yarn that was expensive. I asked her if she had checked her gauge. No, she told me, she had not. The lady who sold her the yarn told her to use smaller needles. (By the way, the yarn was not the same.) Needless to say, she had another $100 shell that did not fit. Today, she checks her gauge.
Okay, maybe not all projects are “gauge critical.” That cute little teddy bear that is suppose to be 10" tall will look fine if it is a little bigger. But will your stitches be knit close enough to hide the stuffing? The bear will not be so cute if stuffing starts to stick out after a while. Checking your gauge could help prevent that.
Checking gauge helps ensure that the sweater will fit the intended recipient. It helps to make sure you purchase enough yarn for an afghan. You will not have a too skinny or too wide scarf, if you check your gauge. Purchase a 14" pillow insert for a 14" pillow and it will probably fit, if your gauge is correct.
Elizabeth Zimmermann once gave advice about knitting baby sweaters. She suggested that you knit the sweater and then find a baby to fit it. I usually make my babys weaters a size 2 or larger so the recipients can grow into them. Guess what? I still check my gauge.
Even if you don’t make a 4" x 4" swatch, please at least make a mini swatch. You will, at the very least, have an idea if you are on target. The patterns that have a notation to “Check gauge to save time” should add “and money.”
For further reading about gauge, check out these links:
Deborah always checks her gauge!