Blocking is to knitting what baking is to bread. It’s the final act that turns a series of random stitches into beautiful, cohesive fabric.
Some view blocking as drudgery, others find it daunting. Regardless of how you feel, blocking is essential for a truly finished look.
Proper blocking generally involves moisture, shaping, and sometimes heat. We moisten the knitted fabric, lay it out on a flat surface, nudge it into the desired shape, and let it dry.
Some fibers will stay put when you nudge them, but most want to retreat to their pre-blocking shape. The problem is even greater with lace, which needs to be stretched open in order for the stitch pattern to reveal itself. That’s where pins and blocking wires become essential. (Read about how to block lace using the HandWorks Dressing Wires.) But even more essential? The flat surface on which to do the blocking.
The obvious solution has been to spread towels out on the nearest carpeted floor and pin our projects to them. But this has proven problematic for those whose animals or children may get into the pins, or whose floors don’t invite handknits. The next solution was to use a mattress, which works except when we need to sleep on a bed that isn’t covered with pins and a wet piece of fabric.
Traditional blocking boards provide thickly padded surfaces with measured grid lines for even shaping. They’re perfect for many projects, but their inflexible shape can sometimes pose problems for larger items such as shawls. They can also be rather cumbersome for storage.
This inflexibility inspired others to create things like the Knitter’s Block blocking kit. Made up of fabric-covered interlocking floor mat pieces, these kits can be moved around like puzzle pieces to create the size you need for your project.
Block n Roll
In July 2011, The BagSmith released its answer to the blocking conundrum: the Block n Roll. This padded mat measures 38 inches by 50 inches when open.
On one side, a Teflon-coated fabric surface has pre-printed grid lines to help you line up fabric edges before pinning them down. The lines are not numbered, but their grid measures 30mm by 30mm.
On the other side, a thin layer of flame-retardant foam gives padding and some protection. Be aware that there isn’t enough padding to keep wooden tables or floors from getting poked by T-pins, even if you’re careful like I was.
When not in use, the Block n Roll can be rolled up and secured with two ties like a sleeping bag. The Block n Roll retails for $59.95 and is available directly from BagSmith or from retailers such as Dream Weaver Yarns.
Mind the Gap
The light-weight portability of Block n Roll only becomes a problem when you’re trying to do some rigorous lace blocking, as I did with Evelyn Clark’s Prairie Rose Shawl from my book.
At a certain point, the tension was simply too much and the edges of my Block n Roll began to curl.
Another issue is purely an aesthetic one: my T-pins left large, awkward holes in the previously smooth and shiny blocking surface. I suppose smaller pins would leave smaller holes, but they wouldn’t hold my blocking wires in place as well. How will the fabric look after a year of blocking? I’ll let you know.
Bottom line? All the blocking boards, mats, and rolls I’ve looked at tend to be a bit pricey—$45 and up. If money is tight, you can always resort to the towel-covered mattress or carpet. Or you can pick up some foam insulation boards at your local hardware store and cover them with fabric.
But if your budget permits and if your knitting demands it, a dedicated blocking surface is a lovely thing. Ironically, you’ll probably still end up unrolling the Block n Roll onto a bed or floor—but it’ll be easier to move and you won’t have to worry about stray pins.
My only caveat is for vigorous blockers who like to stretch their lace to within an inch of its life. You’ll probably need a more substantial surface than the Block n Roll provides. But for most other everyday blocking—including lace—Block n Roll gives you another option.
Source of Block n Roll reviewed: The BagSmith.