Updated: Mar 31, 2019
It’s been such a busy time since Christmas I have not had a chance to keep up with my blog! I have been working very hard on a few publishing deadlines for as yet secret projects, and self-published my Pixie Hood Beanie (yay!) but thankfully things are settling down now, so on to the big topic of B_L_O_C_K_I_N_G.
I remember completing my first small lace doily with my Grandmother's help when I was about 11 years old. I felt so enormously proud of myself and what I had made seemed so precious to me, so of course I was horrified when Grandma told me to put it in water (but it would get wet!!?) and press it under a cotton cloth with a steam iron (but it might burn!!!??!). It all sounded very risky, and it was with my heart in my mouth that I followed her instructions. Thankfully it all turned out just fine – here is a little picture as I still have this little make.
Since becoming a designer, I have worked with a variety of fibres and have learned a bit about blocking. Every garment of mine you have seen or will see in publication has been blocked applying these techniques. The tips I share with you here are just my opinions and the way I do things, but no matter what your technique, blocking is absolutely essential for MOST crocheted garments. It sets the stitches, improves drape, smooths out some little rippled or bunchy areas, absolutely transforms lace work, and sets the garment to dimensions provided in the schematic of your pattern. (I say most garments, because depending on your fibre, or the function of the fabric, maybe you don’t want to…. Read on!)
Here is how I block a garment, using an example of a sweater. My photos relate to my square swatch made with Scheepjes Our Tribe so let’s imagine it’s a sweater made with this 70% Merino Superwash and 30% Polyamide blend, and I make some comments about other fibres as I go. I must confess I do not own a blocking board or blocking pins and I have never used them. All I use is a clean laundry sink, a bunch of large towels, my regular ironing board, glass headed pins and my steam iron.
Step 1. WET BLOCKING
This is literally letting your fibres of the fabric become saturated, rinsing thoroughly and laying carefully flat to the desired dimensions until it is dry.
I fill the sink with tepid water (just a little warmth only to my hand – I never measure temperature) to a depth that allows the garment to be fully immersed. I add a SMALL AMOUNT of soap (olive oil soap, wool wash, lux flakes or something gentle) to dissolve in the water and generate a small amount only of suds as seen in the photo below. The soap is needed as a wetting agent for water to fully penetrate the fabric, as otherwise animal fibres will naturally repel water. If it’s a cotton or acrylic garment, you could probably go without the soap, but I tend to still use it as I like the mild fragrance it imparts to the garment.
Immerse the garment and gently push under the surface of the water but do not agitate. Let it sit for 15 mins and reposition so the bits that have been sitting at the top of the water will now be underneath. Let it sit again for 10 mins or so. When the water has fully penetrated all parts of the fabric it will all be dark in colour - if there are light flecks it is where it is not yet saturated.
Once fully saturated, bunch the fabric in a clump to one side of sink, hold it there and drain the sink. Avoid lifting it in and out as you do NOT want to stretch the fabric. Refill with plain water, release the fabric from its clump at the side of the sink and gently immerse/swirl to rinse, clump again, drain and repeat (usually once or sometimes twice more) until all suds are gone. Clump, drain, and push in on the clump with both of your hands to squeeze out a bit of water, and scoop-lift it in its clump on to a large thick towel laid flat by the sink. The towel should be big enough for the bodice or main part of the garment to lay flat.
Place the clump on the centre of the towel and gently unfold to an approximate flat position. If there are sleeves, lay them over the bodice without pulling on the length of the sleeve. Put another towel on top and roll them up firmly and squeeze (but do not wring) the rolled towel to squeeze out excess moisture.
Carry the still rolled up towel to where you will lay the garment to dry out laid flat. Lay out a new thick towel here, large enough to lay the garment out completely flat including any sleeves. Unroll the towel with garment, clump the garment to then lift it onto the second towel. This time lay out flat pretty close to the schematic dimensions described by the pattern (get your measuring tape out to check). I tend to lay mine next to a sunny window and cover the top with a second towel so my cat doesn’t come and sit on it, and the sun doesn’t fade the fabric. Do not disturb until completely dry.
Step 2 STEAM BLOCKING – AKA “AIR IRONING”
This is saturating the fibres of the fabric with hot steam and allowing to dry. If your fabric is small (like a granny square maybe) you can pin it out to desired dimension with glass headed pins and steam away, but garments are way too big for this and need to be steamed in sections. I think of this process as Air-Ironing.
Firstly, set the iron temperature to wool if its animal fibres or acrylic blends, or cotton if its cotton, and set to maximum steam. Much like you move a shirt around the ironing board to make certain sections of it lie flat before you press with the iron, I do the same with my crocheted garment and hover the iron 1 cm above the fabric moving slowly across that section for a few seconds – maybe 5 seconds. Then I get a stiff A4 piece of cardboard and use it to fan the fabric to accelerate the drying for 10-15 second or so, then reposition and repeat with the next section of the garment. (Note: make sure any excess fabric hanging off the end of the ironing board has a stool or bench or something to hold it up so the fabric is not stretched dangling all the way to the floor.)
If your garment has a fair proportion of animal fibres in the yarn, you can see the stitches tighten slightly as you hover the steam iron over the fabric (and this becomes strangely hypnotic and addictive, watching it move slightly). This reaction smooths the yarn surface, increasing fabric sheen and improving drape, but also reduces elasticity. So never steam block the ribbing of your animal fibre based sweater if you want it to function as elasticated ribbing (but I would still steam block the bodice).
Sometimes the ribbing is more for show as texture than as an elastic structure, and steam blocking will improve the look and drape of that fabric (eg. anything cotton or acrylic, or maybe a dc ribbing in some circumstances), but I would never steam block raised treble post ribbing made from wool types or alpaca, as I really want this to retain its “spring”.
For the edges (hem, cuff, neckline) of the garment maybe there are some feature lace stitches or a ripple edge that needs some refinement – this is where I would use the glass headed pins to pin out the detailed edge and gently stroke the fabric away from the pins and steam block that section and reposition and repeat as needed to finish the blocking. I don’t place pins in the middle of the fabric as well as the edge; I gently stroke the fabric away from the edge pins instead to avoid kinks/distortions in the middle of the garment left by the pins. Edge pins should be placed pretty close at max 2cm apart to avoid pulling-in scoop shapes happening to your edge (particularly for animal fibres that will tighten the most with steam blocking).
Sleeves are a special section for steam blocking – a thin towel, rolled up tight to the approximate (slightly smaller) diameter and (slightly longer) length of your sleeve, gently inserted from shoulder through to cuff provides a round structure to steam block so there are no fold lines. Divide the sleeve circumference into about three sections and steam up and down the length of that section, fan to cool, then gently roll to the new section of sleeve.
Once you have steam blocked the entire garment, lay it flat on a fresh towel to cool completely, then it’s good to go!
SPECIAL FIBRE CONSIDERATIONS: (in my opinion)
Mohair– never block at all. Just enjoy.
Silk– never block at all. Just enjoy.
Alpaca– never wet block, but steaming will totally transform your main fabric! I steam block (iron set to “wool”) the main fabric of an alpaca garment to improve fabric drape or make lacework sit well, but do not steam any raised treble ribbing sections or anywhere it should retain its elasticity. Aplaca magically absorbs body odours and somehow doesn’t retain the smell, so unless you spill your dinner on it, it won’t ever need washing!
Merino/Wool– wet block, then steam block (iron set to “wool”) the main fabric as described for Alpaca, and again do not steam block any raised treble ribbing sections. Merino also does the magical odour disappearing act so once you have blocked your garment, washing requirements will be minimal.
~20-40% Acrylic blends mixed with dominant animal fibres – treat as for dominant animal fibre as above; set the iron to "wool" setting for low heat.
Pure Acrylics– wet block only. I don’t work with any pure acrylics myself, but I believe they just go in the washing machine as needed. I think do NOT steam block, as depending on type of acrylic, theoretically it might melt!
Cotton– wet block, then steam block with a hot iron set to “cotton”.
Mercerized Cotton Thread– wet block, then (unless there are textured stitches that need to stand up), press lightly (iron set to “cotton”) under a pressing cloth in sections. Never place iron direct to the fabric as it can scald the fabric, blanching the colour (I learned this the hard way, but at least it was a small item...). If there are textured stitches, then steam block instead.
Gosh it was a long one today – I hope it has some useful information for you!
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