Blocking is an integral part of the knitting process. It evens out your stitches, manipulates the size of your finished piece, and produces a smooth, polished looking garment. My third knitting project ever, as an obviously uneducated knitter, was a cabled baby blanket knit on US3 needles. Sigh. That thing was my albatross. When I was finished, I was dismayed to see that my reverse stockinette was lumpy and uneven, that my cables were bunchy and drew the fabric in too tightly in columns down the length of the blanket. My friend and teacher, Amy, shrugged and said, "Just block it!".
I was mystified and had her send me step by step instructions. There's something really scary and seemingly counter-intuitive about plunging your FO into a sudsy bath. What if it's ruined?! When I pulled it out, it was so fine and even that it felt like a bed sheet (but not so fine that the cables disappeared). It was perfect, and I was hooked. I block every single thing I make. At the top of this post is Appledore, a shawl from our Spring 2011 booklet of accessories and small garments, High Seas, knit in Firefly. Below are some pictures of it on the blocking board.
Do not be deceived, fellow crafters, not all blocking methods are created equal. They range from a subtle spritzing to aggressive plunging. For wool and wool-like fibers like alpaca and camel or llama, wet blocking or steaming is recommended. I often wet-block, and find it suits me quite well. The supplies I make sure I have at the ready are a tape measure, my pattern's schematic, tons of pins, a flat slightly puffy surface to pin to, and either a cup of coffee or a beer depending on the time of day. No, seriously. This might take a while, so I make sure I have provisions, coffee and/or beer being staple liquids in my household.
Here are the steps I take:
1. Soak your piece in tepid water for 15 minutes. You can use a no-rinse gentle wool cleanser if you wish. I use Eucalan or Soak, and the delicate smells make me feel oh-so-professional.
2. Your piece will be fragile! Carefully squeeze, do not wring, the water out of it.
3. Roll it in a towel to remove most of the water. For large pieces, I forgo the towel and put it in a pillowcase in the washer on spin cycle only. The centrifugal force will squeeze the water out for you.
4. Lay it out flat on a surface you can pin. I use my bed--I have a great quilt with lots of linear blocks that help me keep it straight. Some people use foam core that you can get from Staples, or even a blocking board made specifically for this very purpose.
5. Pin to your desired size using T pins or straight pins with colored heads, which I find are easier to track down.
6. Let dry thoroughly.
I take these steps after weaving in ends, but before snipping them too close, and before I seam my pieces. I make sure to measure each piece carefully according to my schematic, every last measurement including shoulder slope. Do not block your ribbing! That is designed to stretch, right? So don't stretch it out before it's on your body!
Otherwise, check out these guidelines for blocking methods:
Mohair/Angora/Wool Blends: wet block by spritzing with water and pinning out.
Synthetics: just a note, these often don't possess the elasticity of a natural fiber and blocking doesn't have the same magical effect. This is why I avoid using synthetics for lace or even some cabling, I know I can't have the luxury of stretching and evening out my finished object. Ask me how I know.
Cotton/Linen/Hemp: Wet block or steam with a warm/hot steam press. You can also dampen a cloth and place it on top of your pieces. Then hold your hot steamy iron right over, not on top of, the cloth.