Swatch Blocking: A Guide

How to Swatch Blocking Guide. Image of blocking board, scissors, and steamer.

A guide on blocking your gauge swatches. Yes, you need to. If you want to learn a bit more about creating a swatch, I’ve written about that HERE.
Because, yes, there is a bit more to it than just stitching up a square. There are a few rules. Not many, but a few that will benefit you if you know them. 
WHY & HOW: CREATING A SWATCH

At the end of that article/guide, there is a link back here to better understand how to block your new swatch, so you won’t get lost if you want to jump over and read about creating a swatch first.

QUICK THOUGHT

Although, truly, you’ll get the most out of this process if you read Why and How: Creating a Swatch, but if you didn’t read it, here’s a quick overview: 
When making a swatch, it needs to measure at minimal 6″ [15.5 cm] square. Larger is better. Personally, my goal is 10″ [25.5 cm]. 
The reason you need extra space is because when measuring for gauge, you need to measure the INSIDE stitches. There is something about the edging/border stitches. They lie they lie they lie. 

When making your swatch, it is best to start with the hook suggested in the pattern. Unless you know yourself to be a very tight or loose stitcher. 

Always use the same yarn in the swatch you will be using to create your project. 

After creating your swatch, follow the steps below to properly block it in order to get an accurate gauge measurement for stitching your project.

Now what?

So you’ve done the thing. Followed the rules. And you’ve got a square of knit | crochet fabric that is a match to the project you’ve been dreaming of.
A “swatch”
You’re officially A Swatcher.
Awesome!
Now what?

Next step is blocking. 

Gauge and Blocking

Key to creating the project of your dreams is to block this beautiful swatch you’ve just made.
Blocking is going to show you the true nature of your yarn and stitch pattern. It is also the next factor in determining your gauge.

Every yarn behaves differently. 

A wool blended with silk will have considerably more drape than a 100% merino, which is likely to be very lofty with a fair amount of spring to it. While an alpaca yarn will “bloom” (get puffier with the release of a halo) after blocking. Cotton has a tendency to stretch while wet, and then shrink back a bit after drying.
There are simply too many variations of possibilities to risk NOT swatching and blocking. 

Supplies

You need a water source. That can be a sink or bucket if you’re choosing a Soak block, you can use a Spray bottle or you can use Steam.  Each works. Steam and Spray are much faster, but not as fully accurate as a soak in some cases. If I’m using a fairly solid stitch pattern, I will typically steam or spray block. Steaming is my favorite in these instances because it is so much faster. However, I frequently forget to buy distilled water for my steamer, so spray blocking happens a lot around here.

Rust proof pins. I prefer Tpins because I like the stability of the T shaped ‘head’.  The large strawberry pin cushion is no longer available however check out the cute hedgehog cushion.  

Blocking combs are very nice to have. Not a necessity, but they certainly are nice to keep lines straight and insert multiple pins at once. A real time-saver.

Blocking board. Again, not a necessity, but the pre-grid boards {shown} are an absolute luxury to have around. You can easily pin straight lines and corners. The grid also makes it so that you can be certain you have evenly pinned any details within the stitching.
If you don’t have blocking boards, you can use an ironing board, a towel covered pillow, towel covered couch cushion, mattress…. Just be wary. Some yarns bleed! Please don’t accidentally ruin your couch by blocking a bright purple swatch on it.

If you decide steaming is going to be your blocking method, you don’t have to spend a ton of money. This hand-held gadget cost me about $35. It lives in the utility room and is used by everyone in the house because it’s so much easier than ironing (Which is why its always out of water! We are a house of many) .

You can find all of the exact items I use and enjoy for blocking HERE {amazon affiliate link}

FREE download!

I created a worksheet you can download that will keep all of your swatching information organized.

This worksheet also has a fill-in-the-blank section for the gauge math. Woot! Easy math, my favorite kind.

Print one off for each of your projects. It’s a great resource to have if you ever need to refresh yourself of the details for a project.

How to block your gauge swatch

As I mentioned briefly above, there are several methods you can choose from when it comes to blocking.

If time is the most important factor, steaming is bar far the fastest.

If you are making something with a lace pattern, soaking will provide the best accuracy.

Spray blocking is a midway point between steaming and soaking. It takes a bit longer than steaming, but less time than soaking. The stitches are more likely to stay in their blocked position due to the amount of water penetration and time spent drying in place.

To Wet Block {Soak}

  • Measure your swatch pre-blocking.
  • Submerge swatch in a cool water bath until thoroughly wet, gently squeeze out excess water. To remove more water, roll in a clean towel and squeeze. Never twist or “wring out” your hand stitched fabrics.
  • Pin the fabric to a blocking board**, opening the lace/mesh fabric to the gauge measurements given. Use blocking wires or as many pins necessary to keep edges straight and avoid “scalloping” your fabric (unless the pattern calls for shaping). continued below

To Wet Block {Spray}

  • Measure your swatch pre-blocking.
  • Pin the fabric to a blocking board**, opening the lace/mesh fabric to the gauge measurements given. Use blocking wires or as many pins necessary to keep edges straight and avoid “scalloping” your fabric (unless the pattern calls for shaping).
  • Thoroughly wet swatch with cool water using a spray bottle, gently pat swatch with hand to encourage water absorption. continued below

To Steam Block

  • Measure your swatch pre-blocking.
  • Pin the fabric to a blocking board**, opening the lace/mesh fabric to gauge measurements given. Use blocking wires or as many pins necessary to keep edges straight and avoid “scalloping” your fabric (unless the pattern calls for shaping).
  • Pass the steamer/iron (on steam setting) over the fabric without touching the hot surface to the swatch, making sure the steam fully penetrates the yarn. continued below

...continued

  • Verify measurement of the swatch after pinning.
  • Allow to dry | cool (if steamed) completely while pinned. If the fabric is removed too quickly, the measurements will be inaccurate.
  • Remove pins.
  • Allow fabric/fibers to relax; longer is better. Several hours is a good amount of time. Give it a gentle shake in your hands, manipulate it gently, without pulling, to simulate wear.
  • Measure the swatch after relaxing. This final measurement is your “gauge”.

** as I said, if you do not own a blocking board, use an ironing board, folded towel, flat pillow, mattress- all work well. A note of warning: Some yarns|dyes bleed! Yarn dye is permanent. Please please don’t ruin your furniture. Always double or triple fold a towel under your wet swatch. 

I truly hope this has been helpful to you and has filled in the gaps of “Gauge”. Maybe this has piqued your interest? Read more on Creating a Swatch HERE.
If you have more questions, leave it in the comments and I will do my very best to help.

Don’t forget to grab the FREE download.

handwritten signature by Rebecca
Pinterest picture showing blocking boards, yarn soap, scissors, yarn, hook, t-pins and pin cushion

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