Winnie the Wool Wagon
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To block or not to block; that is the question.

To block or not to block; that is the question.

Some people never do it; others don't consider the project finished until its blocked. It is all a matter of preference.

So what is blocking? Well, it is when you set the shape of your finished item, using a combination of soaking, stretching, and drying the item, or by using steam. Both are good methods, but it is important to know when, and more importantly, when not to use either one.

Wet blocking involves soaking the item in tepid water. I use some Euculan which doesn't need to be rinsed out and has lovely perfumes of lavender, jasmine (my favourite), or grapefruit - use about a capful in a sink of water. First let the item soak for about 10 minutes to allow the fibres to get thoroughly wet. Then let the water drain out of the sink and squeeze the excess water out. Lift the item carefully out onto a large towel. It is important to support the item as the fibres are fragile when wet. Now arrange the item roughly into the shape you want, roll it up in the towel and squeeze as much moisture out of it as possible. I admit to jumping up and down on it at this stage. Now is the time to get your blocking mats out. You can use a big dry towel, but the mats make life a lot easier. Lay your item out to the shape you want it, then pin it down carefully to the exact dimensions you want your finished item to be. Now it's time for patience. Leave it to dry naturally. This can take days so if you can leave it in the spare room or under the bed it's probably best. It is also a good idea to keep it out of reach of any inquisitive pets or children!

Steam blocking is usually done by covering your project with a cotton/muslin cloth and holding a steam iron a few centimetres above it and pressing the steam button to get bursts of steam. It is faster than wet blocking but does have its drawbacks. Whatever you do DON’T press the item. This will just flatten it completely and it will lose all its lovely texture. The other no-no is steam blocking acrylic. Steam destroys the elasticity of acrylic, and you will be left with a floppy garment that cannot be rescued. Don't say you haven't been warned!  

The two main things to consider before blocking is what yarn have you used and what stitches you have used. 

Wool responds best to wet blocking as it has a memory so when fixed in place it keeps its shape well. On the other hand, acrylic doesn't change much with wet blocking and personally I don't bother to block it. Again, I warn you about the dangers of steam blocking acrylic as mentioned earlier. 

When it comes to the stitches, if you have made a lace pattern then it usually needs to be well stretched to show off the lace patterns. If the blocking instructions on a pattern suggest strenuous blocking then you know it needs to be well stretched to show off the design.

finished unblocked lace


finished lace blocking


finished lace blocking corner detail
Finished lace awaiting blocking.. to Finished lace blocking & Finished lace blocking, corner detail

Alternatively, if you have used lots of cables it needs to be blocked more gently as you don't want to flatten the texture of the stitches. In this case you are using blocking to set the size and shape of the item. 

Blocking can be your new best friend. If your finished garment is just that little bit too snug, a firm blocking can encourage the garment to grow a little. This is where I find the lace blocking wires a great help as one wire slipped up the inside of each side of a sweater allows it to be blocked without the 'pointy' effect that you get using lots of pins. 

As mentioned already there are plenty of tools to help you with the blocking process. The first thing to be used is a gentle wool wash - here at Winnies we love Eucalan. It is very gentle, smells delicious and is no rinse which saves water. Next are the mats, these are thick foam mats so you can stick the pins and they won't move. The lace blocking wires can be used in conjunction with the pins and can be used for lots more than just blocking lace projects. The blocking combs are like little rows of pins joined together which saves having to move each pin separately as you stretch the item to get the best shape, and they are available in plain white or a rainbow pack of mixed colours. And then for the sock fans amongst us there are the sock blockers. These come in small, medium, and large and are lovely wooden sock shapes with cut-outs of flowers or sheep to name a few. There is also a great blocking board especially for blocking squares such as granny squares. This is holed wooden board with metal dowels you can place in the holes to make the size you need. This means all your squares will be an identical size which makes sewing them together so much easier. The great thing with this is that you can stack several squares on one set of dowels just leaving a bit of space between them to allow for air circulation.

So, it is up to you - to block or not to block. Personally, I couldn't believe the difference it made the first time I tried it and now every item gets the treatment. Give it a go and see what you think. 




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