Blocking your projects
I'm going to let you in on a secret: until a couple of years ago, I had never blocked any of my crochet projects. I just ignored that little line at the end of crochet patterns! I saw it as an unnecessary extra step standing between me finishing my project and being able to use it. The first few years I was crocheting, I made mostly amigurumi, scarves and hats. It didn't really matter that I never blocked anything; some of them didn’t require it anyway. But when I started making shawls and then garments, I realised that it most certainly was a necessary step. Pattern testing and testing for Stephanie Erin in particular has taught me so much about blocking. I really didn’t realise how important it was until I heard Stephanie talking about blocking. The first time I blocked a garment, I couldn't believe the difference it made. Now I wouldn't dream of skipping blocking.
Blocking relaxes the stitches and gives your item a neater, more professional look. I also learned from Stephanie that it’s better to weave in your ends after blocking, which makes so much sense. If you had woven in your ends beforehand, you would then run the risk of those pesky little ends popping out again once all the stitches had relaxed a little during blocking. I have had several occasions where ends have come loose after blocking and it really stresses me out, but now that I’ve started weaving them in after, I rarely have this issue.
There are a couple of different blocking methods. You can block your item by laying it out (or pinning it out if it’s a lacy pattern) and spraying it with water, or you can steam block using a steamer or a steam iron held just above the fabric. My preferred method is wet blocking - essentially giving my item a bath! I fill a basin or sink with lukewarm water and add some wool wash (my personal favourites are Soak or Eucalan), then immerse my item and let it soak for about 20 minutes. I then drain the water and gently squeeze my item to remove any excess water - without wringing it and risking stretching it out of shape! Next, I place it flat on a towel on the floor, roll the towel up and then stand on it to squeeze out the remaining water. Finally, I lay it flat on the foam play mats that I use as blocking mats (you could also just it lay it out on a towel). I don’t stretch it out or pin it unless it’s something lacy. Then it’s just a case of waiting for it to dry!
Another thing I have learned from pattern testing is the importance of blocking your swatch. You need to treat your swatch exactly the way you would your finished item. That means all my swatches have a little bath before I measure my gauge. It can feel like a bit of a pain when you’re desperate to get started on a project, but it’s definitely worthwhile to see how the fabric will change with blocking/washing. Some fibres will grow a lot, some won’t grow much or at all. But if you’re making a sweater or a top, you want to know that it’s going to turn out the size you need it to. Blocking your finished object also means you end up with a nice, clean item after you’ve been handling it for days or weeks while making it!
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I’ve been working on a shawl pattern recently which has quite a big lacy section (pictured above). I was pretty excited about it as I was working up my sample, but when I took it off the blocking mats, I was properly mind blown by how different it looked. It may have taken me a very long time (and a lot of furniture rearranging - it’s a big one) to block it, but wow, it was worth it! I did have to use a lot of pins for the lacy section which was very time consuming, but I’m so glad I took the time to do it.
I have actually since invested in some knit blockers and blocking wires to try, as I need to make a second sample shawl, so I’ll be interested to see how they work out. Once I’ve used them I’ll be sure to share how it went!