All Steamed Up

One of my favorite ways to block a finished knitted item is to steam-block it.  Of course, this only works for smaller things, like afghan squares, baby clothes, hats, and individual parts of sweaters.  For things like shawls, I usually either block them on a blocking board on the floor or set out towels on the carpeted floor and then stretch the wet shawl out to the proportions I want using blocking wires and pin it out and let it dry.

Steam blocking is such an easy way to block, though.  Would you believe that as long as I’ve knitted (over 50 years), I actually hadn’t steam blocked until just a few years ago?  I always soaked my finished item in a sink and then pinned it out.  Tedious and for things like sweaters, I often ended up with little “peaks” where the pins had been.  Ugh!  Even more incredible, I struggled to seam up side seams and set-in sleeves of knitted garments without blocking them first.  The day that someone told me that they always block their individual pieces BEFORE they seam them, the light bulb came on and it’s been so much easier since then.

If you have an ironing board cover that has lines like this (or if you have a quilter’s padded board or small padded blocking board), you can take your item and pin it out to the proportions you would like.

Then I set my iron to wool and the highest steam setting.  Don’t forget this next step – You need to use a pressing cloth.  I use a big square of muslin. One of my readers, Laura, suggested using a thick cotton towel.  The advantage of using a thick towel would be that it would give added protection from having the iron flatten your knitting.   Lay it over your knitted item and then hold the iron over the covered area so the steam is steaming that area.  You don’t want to press down on your knitting as though you were ironing a shirt.  I first steam an area without touching it at all.  Then I check it.  If it looks like it needs more vigorous blocking to behave, I VERY LIGHTLY make a quick pass with the iron on top of the pressing cloth, actually running the iron on top of the cloth instead of just holding it over the cloth.  The trick is to do it very lightly and quickly.  If you go slower and heavier, your garment will lose its stitch definition and look flat and unappealing.

The final result will still have its stitch definition but you’ll notice that the stitches have evened out and things just look better.  For squares, if you desire, you can leave the square pinned to your ironing board overnight to let the square dry thoroughly from the steaming before unpinning it.

One note of caution:  Do NOT steam block acrylic yarn.  It will melt the yarn and your knitting will become a mess.  Only steam block wool.

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Hot Flashed Funk

  • Instead of muslin, consider using a thick cotton towel – when you press on top of the wool, the towel pile protects texture you want instead of flattening it out. (“They” always specify a “Turkish” towel, but I’m not sure I’d recognize one if I saw it.

  • I looked real hard and tried to see the difference between blocking it and not, but didn’t see the difference. I would have to have it in my hand, it is lovely very nice job. I had been doing a project I think it was braiding a rug and was shown an easy way to do something, the light-bulb effect, have a great week

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