Knitters often ask me about blocking knitted items: Do I steam, wash or dampen? Which method is best? And what tools do I actually need?
Well, blocking is a big topic! I am no expert for every method, but I have found a way that works for me, and I will gladly share it here with you. First thing you need is equipment: Lots of pins (I use the ones with colored glass heads, but there are special blocking pins out there that are sturdier and longer). If you have knit something with straight edges or a circular shapes, blocking wires are probably very handy. I do not own any as they are hard to come by here in Germany and I always help myself by using lots and lots of pins – which is a lot of work, but the result is also fine. Also you will need a surface you can pin them into that is big enough to accommodate your knitted piece. I use some thin insulation board made of styrofoam that I found at the hardware store, but you can also use puzzle mats that you can find in a toy store or special blocking mats.
Now I let the knitted object soak in lukewarm water. Ideally you leave it there for 15-20 minutes. I usually do not have that much patience and just make sure every part of the shawl has soaked up some water. Then I carefully take it out, squeeze it gently, roll it up in a towel and step on the rolled towel for a minute or so. After that, I place the shawl on the blocking surface, making sure it fits. If it doesn’t, I add another piece of insulation board. Then I carefully arrange the piece such that straight edges are straight and the shape is the way it’s supposed to be. If the piece is not lace, that’s often all it takes. I might add a couple of pins to make corners more pronounced (like I did with “Heaven and Space”). If you have a complicated piece of lace (like the “Aeolian Shawl”, see pic below), it will only open up and look the way you want it if you stretch it. You will be surprised how much it stretches! It’s a good idea to have a look at the pattern or the pattern website to see how the designer has planned it and you can pin it accordingly. If there are any rectangular shapes, lines or circles on the inside of your shawl, it’s a good idea to block those first and work your way out to the edges. If you are blocking pieces of a garment that are supposed to be sewn together, look at the schematic and lay down and pin your pieces such that the measurements line up. This will make seaming a lot easier.
I cannot say much about other methods like steaming or dampening, mainly because the only steaming apparatus I own is my iron, and I have a lot of respect for it. But I also think that wool will better hold its shape if it has been thoroughly wet, not only damp. By the way: You will have to block your shawls afresh after each washing if you want them to look beautiful.
Blocking in my experience is never fast: simple things take at least 30 minutes, and a big complicated shawl might take up to an hour. And then you will have to wait until it is really dry. You should not remove the pins before that, otherwise it will not keep its shape. However, when it’s time and you can remove them, the whole beauty of your work will show. Enjoy!