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How to block a hand-knit sweater

October 15, 2015
Sweater Blocking

The final step in most knitting projects is blocking, which settles the knit stitches into place, stretches and reveals lace patterns, and allows your yarn to bloom and the collection of knit stitches to become a unified piece of fabric.

The steps below for wet-blocking are also the same process you will use when washing your handwash-only hand knit sweaters.  I’m not adverse to hand-washing, but I find that part of the magic of wool is that it needs washing only once or twice a year, so taking care of your hand-knit wardrobe doesn’t become an unreasonable task!

Wet-blocking a sweater is really much the same as blocking any other piece of knitting.  If you’ve never heard of blocking, you might like to read our Blocking Basics post first, as it illustrates the basic steps that we cover below.

Depending on the garment, and the finished size you desire, you will block your sweater more or less aggressively.  In some cases, you may want to use blocking wires, while in others this may not be necessary.

How to block a sweater

  1. Fill your sink or basin with lukewarm water and wool wash if desired.
  2. Gently wet your sweater. I do this by submerging my knitting and pressing out the bubbles. You don’t want to agitate your knitting too much. Leave it for about 15 minutes to get it good and soaked.  Some fibres (cashmere, silk) take longer to become saturated with water.  If you are blocking a multi-coloured piece, you will want to prevent the colours from bleeding into one another in the soaking bath, so instead of wool wash, add white vinegar to the soaking bath, and take care not to leave the sweater to soak for too long (don’t forget about it overnight!).
  3. Take your sweater out of the water and press out as much excess as you can. Do not wring your knitting, this can put it out of shape permanently.
  4. Roll your sweater in a towel and stomp on it, this remove excess water.  You may need to use two or three towels in a row if you’re drying out a larger or bulkier sweater, as the knit will have soaked up a lot of water.
  5. Lay your sweater out on your blocking boards (or mattress, or carpet) and using your hands push it into shape.  For a simple stockinette sweater, it may be sufficient to simply pat it into shape, with approximately the right body and sleeve width / length.  For a patterned sweater, you may wish to block the piece aggressively, using blocking wires and pins to stretch out the body, sleeves, and yoke to open up a lace or cable pattern.  If your finished garment turned out a little too short, or too skinny for your liking, you can also block ‘for length’ or ‘for width’, stretching the piece more aggressively in one or the other dimension to coax it into a better fit!  This won’t work a miracle, but knit fabric (especially wool) is quite flexible, and as Alexa and I always say “when in doubt, block it out”!
Sweater Blocking

The Flax pullover is a pretty basic design, so you can either just lay it flat and pat it into shape, or do as I’ve done, and use blocking wires.  If you haven’t already knit Flax, you should cast on today – it’s a free pattern!

Sweater Blocking

The Lush cardigan is a little more complex, with a beautiful lacy yoke, so I’d definitely use blocking wires, and as I’ve done here, I pinned down the line of the button band too to keep the knit in shape as it dried.  This one is in Rainbow Heirloom Sweater in ‘favourite aunty’.

Sweater Blocking

The Windswept pullover, with larger lace inserts, also benefits from a stiff block! I’ve used blocking wires to ‘outline’ the central garter panel to keep it crisp and vertical. I’ve also used a ruler to check that I’m pinning the sweater to the desired finished measurement.  This Windswept is knit in Rainbow Heirloom Sweater in ‘fluffy bunny’.

Sweater Blocking

If you look carefully, you can see where blocking wires are run down the outside garter stitches of that central panel to create a crisp vertical line. As you can see, on the other edge, the lace creates a waving line in the surrounding fabric.

Year of the Sweater #TCK12sweaters2015

Have you been knitting along with us during Tin Can Knits ‘Year of the Sweater’?  I hope that you’re tagging your sweaters with #TCK12sweaters2015 on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and submitting your entries on our Ravelry Group KAL too!  There are some great prizes…  I happen to know that Alexa has finished at least 12 garments already… probably more like 15 or 20!  I’ve only actually completed 8 this year, as far as I can count… but I have WAY too many more on the needles right now so I’ve got to get finishing.

Tin Can Knits on FacebookTin Can Knits on Instagram Tin Can Knits on Twitter Tin Can Knits on Pinterest Tin Can Knits Email Updates button-ravelry-40

A few more that I’d like to knit this year:

Snowflake by Tin Can KnitsPeanut by Tin Can KnitsHitchcock by Tin Can Knits

47 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary M Thompson permalink
    June 3, 2021 7:51 am

    I am having trouble with finer gauge hand knits becoming too huge after handwashing. No one else seems to have this problem. I do fine with washing and blocking worsted weight and above. I just dont get it.

    • June 6, 2021 10:55 pm

      Hi Mary – I’m sure there are other knitters who have the same problem! You’re not the only one. I think you’d probably do well to do a LARGE swatch in your finer-gauge yarn, block it using the same method you would for a garment, and then measuring gauge. If you knit following your blocked gauge, then the way that the garment stretches / relaxes after knitting will be taken into account.

  2. Linda C. permalink
    February 14, 2021 2:06 pm

    Any suggestions on blocking the lace panel in Bonny? Thanks! I can’t wait to wear it.

    • February 14, 2021 11:33 pm

      It’s easiest to do before you sew up the shoulder seams. Once you’ve seamed it though, you can fold the top in two and block the lace out the front.

      • Linda C permalink
        February 15, 2021 4:44 am

        Thank you!

  3. Sharon Keary permalink
    January 16, 2021 12:57 pm

    Hi, every time I have tried to block a sweater it swells and stretches and ends up way bigger than it was meant to be. What am I doing wrong?
    Thanks Sharon

    • January 17, 2021 10:08 pm

      Hi Sharon – It sounds like your sweater is tooooooo wet. You want to use more towels to dry it out and when you lay it out use your handy dandy measuring tape to make sure you aren’t blocking it to any wild dimensions.

  4. Britt permalink
    November 24, 2019 2:44 pm

    Do I have to reblock every time it’s washed? I made a baby stockinette stitch cardigan using Swisher worsted.

  5. marj permalink
    January 20, 2018 7:10 am

    I often knit with acrylic yarn – due to wool allergies. Do sweaters made with acrylic need to be blocked? If so, what method do you recommend, and is there anything special I need to be aware of?
    Great tutorial!
    Thank you!

  6. irene permalink
    January 19, 2018 8:38 am

    Do I need wires for a baby sweater?

    • January 19, 2018 10:23 am

      I think blocking comes out a little crisper with wires, but you don’t necessarily NEED them.

  7. Dorian Mcclain permalink
    December 6, 2017 3:40 pm

    Hello I really enjoy your very informative tutorials on knitting, blocking. I have a question, I hope to be making “frost at midnight” by Kate Davies,(a lovely cardigan) The yarn is scrumptious lace by fyberspates. It is 55% Merino wool, 45% silk. Kate Davies suggest making a Swatch, and blocking the Swatch. I plan to do this, however I am really looking forward to making this sweater( I have never knitted with any silk at all before this time) when I looked on ravelry , and several Knitters who knitted this pattern commented on how the neckline was so big, and some didn’t seem to fit very well(looking kind of stretched out, some had put what looked like pleats around neckline) How can I have a good outcome, is it the blocking? Do you block differently with yarn with high silk content? I even purchased all the beads, I am really looking forward to making this cardigan. I need all the help, and suggestions LOL. Thank you for your help, Dorian

    • December 6, 2017 7:20 pm

      Hi Dorian – I had a look and I think the answer to any puckering issues is blocking, most of them look really lovely, it’s just a few that look like maybe they could use a block. For the neckline I’m not really sure without actually seeing the pattern how to make it a bit smaller, it’s usually just casting on fewer sts and then working an increase after the ribbing (or in this case the picot edge). I don’t think I would block any differently with a silk yarn. The finished garment will have a bit more drape than a wool.

      • Janie Berks permalink
        February 7, 2019 6:40 pm

        This was very nice of you to help her, no wonder I am such of fan of Tin Can Knits!

  8. Claudia permalink
    October 26, 2017 4:49 am

    I use long dowels I buy at Canadian tire to hold my sweater taut & straight, & it eliminates fold marks on the sleeves & sides of my sweaters.

  9. August 7, 2017 1:44 pm

    What about covering the garment with a wet dish towel and steaming it through the wet towel?

    • August 7, 2017 8:12 pm

      Hi Joanne – there are definitely lots of ways to block a sweater, this is just the method I always use. I’m a little afraid of mixing steam and knitting to be honest, but I know people have been successful with it. I just worry about felting etc.

    • Belle permalink
      March 13, 2019 9:16 pm

      That’s the way my mother taught me to block and that’s the way I have always blocked. I’m not a big fan of completely submerging the garment and playing around with pins.

  10. May 13, 2017 6:00 pm

    I am a loose knitter and I wonder when I finish my project will blocking help tighten up the fabric a bit?

    • May 16, 2017 11:41 am

      Hi Hana – unfortunately blocking works the other way, it can loosen the sts a little, but it won’t tighten them.

  11. Katie permalink
    March 5, 2017 5:50 pm

    Question-what about sweaters with buttons? Do you suggest blocking first and then seeing on the buttons? Or buttons before blocking? Thanks:)

    • March 6, 2017 10:55 am

      Hi Katie – Good question, I usually sew my buttons on after blocking, you want all the stitches to have settled in where they will be so they properly match the buttonholes.

    • LaVerne Gibbs permalink
      April 19, 2017 8:32 pm

      Do I need to block a baby sweater made with Peaches and Cream cotton yarn?

      • April 19, 2017 9:00 pm

        Every project needs a little soak (think of the yarn running through your hands), and I would lay it flat to dry

  12. October 31, 2016 1:48 pm

    I have just finished my first sweater for my little toddler grandchild. My instructor said to sew the seams etc first. I have soaked and towel dried it. The bottom edging will not lay down. It wants to curl some. What can you suggest I can do for this? Thanks Betty

    • October 31, 2016 9:01 pm

      Hi Betty – It depends on what the fabric is, if it is stockinette it will automatically curl up, it’s in it’s nature. You could pick up around the bottom and work some ribbing to make it all lay flat.

  13. Sherry caldwell permalink
    September 27, 2016 7:58 am

    Did a vest in 100% merino wool and love it – did a 3 needle bind-off on shoulder seams – how do I block that/flatten it? It’s the method to bind off that was called for in the pattern.

    • September 27, 2016 9:34 am

      Hi Sherry – I would block the sweater normally, but if that isn’t getting the seam to sit quite right it may be because the seam is too tight. Try taking out the bind off an re-doing with a larger needle.

  14. Dlynch permalink
    September 16, 2016 4:54 pm

    I’ve never blocked a knitted sweater before and used a steam iron. Now all the stitches are flattened. Clan this be fixed?

    • September 17, 2016 3:24 pm

      Hi – I’m afraid I don’t really have an answer for you, I haven’t blocked with a steam iron before. I don’t THINK there is anything you can do, but you could try giving it a regular block and see what happens. It can’t hurt!

  15. Jennie permalink
    May 27, 2016 10:03 am

    Alexa, Do you block your sweater pieces before or after you sew the seams? I’m working on a basic sweater pullover (my first).

    • May 27, 2016 10:37 am

      There is definitely some debate on the issue, but I would say that you want to block the pieces before you sew them together

  16. Laura Walz permalink
    March 13, 2016 10:04 am

    Thanks for this great tutorial. If a sweater grows too much after blocking, would reblocking work to shrink it back to the desired size?

  17. Gina permalink
    February 17, 2016 7:35 pm

    I recently knit the Lush Cardigan and I’ve got little armpit holes. Is this something that blocking will tighten up?
    Sorry if this is a stupid question, this is my first ever sweater

  18. October 26, 2015 4:35 pm

    Thanks, glad to have found your site.

  19. October 16, 2015 6:14 am

    Thanks for this! I just bought two sets of blocking wires so that I can get the results I want from lace but I love the idea of using them to give sweaters the right structure! I am so close to being able to finish the 12 in 2015! (Still not a gauge swatch covert :/)

  20. October 16, 2015 12:27 am

    Thank you for this post. Loved it, and found it very very useful.
    Your sweaters are absolutely beautiful!

  21. October 16, 2015 12:00 am

    I love blocking and this is a great tutorial – thanks! But one question. There have been times when my knit has “grown” due to blocking – and suddenly what I knit to size is much too big – any fix for that?

    • October 17, 2015 12:57 pm

      One thing is to make sure you block your swatch, that way you will have an idea of how much things might ‘grow’. I would make sure you are stamping out even more water (more towels!) so your knit isn’t too heavy when you start laying it out, and once you lay it out make sure you aren’t stretching it too much. Pat it to the dimensions you want

  22. Andrea permalink
    October 15, 2015 4:39 pm

    Great post! There are so many posts on blocking a shawl but I’ve had a harder time finding good info on blocking a sweater. This is just in time, I cast on for an itty bitty “Prairie Fire” this past weekend.

  23. October 15, 2015 2:45 pm

    HI, I don’t know if you will even see this message but THANK YOU so very very much.  I needed to know who to do this.  But I do not have the wires. Debra From: Tin Can Knits To: Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2015 5:55 AM Subject: [New post] How to block a hand-knit sweater #yiv8240001249 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv8240001249 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv8240001249 a.yiv8240001249primaryactionlink:link, #yiv8240001249 a.yiv8240001249primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv8240001249 a.yiv8240001249primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv8240001249 a.yiv8240001249primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv8240001249 | Emily Wessel posted: “The final step in most knitting projects is blocking, which settles the knit stitches into place, stretches and reveals lace patterns, and allows your yarn to bloom and the collection of knit stitches to become a unified piece of fabric.The steps belo” | |

  24. October 15, 2015 1:00 pm

    Thanks for this very clear and informative post on sweater blocking! Ironically, I did cast on Flax today, just before reading this!

  25. knittedblissjc permalink
    October 15, 2015 11:35 am

    Such a great tutorial, I love this! I have blocking wires and they were a blocking game changer, for sure.

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