Every knitter knows the importance of blocking. Although it doesn’t seem to be the most glamorous step, it helps your garment take its final shape and size, which makes a world of difference.
Most of the time, blocking will make your project exactly the size you expected it to be, rather than fitting only because the stitches are stretched or in the wrong places. That’s where a blocking mat comes in handy.
What are blocking mats? Blocking mats are spongy, waterproof mats usually made of foam which allow you to lay out and pin finished textiles (“block” them) to ensure they hold the right shape. Many mats are adjustable in size for convenience.
While the “how” of blocking is quite simple and straightforward, using the right tools can make this process less dull and more enjoyable. Blocking mats are essential to help your garment take shape with less effort, providing a foundation that holds the T-pins in place, providing a gentle stretch to the garment.
Although we’ve focused on knitting so far, blocking mats work equally well for crocheted goods and even embroidery. If you’re new to blocking mats, keep reading to find out how to use blocking mats and our recommendations for the best blocking mats you can find on the market.
What Are Blocking Mats?
First things first. Blocking refers to the process of relaxing the yarn fibers using soapy water or steam and intentionally stretching out the garment to achieve the correct size and shape.
For a lot of patterns (especially cables and ribbings), the garment may not have the right shape and size right after knitting. Stretching out the garment will make your stitches more even and help the pattern look more pronounced.
Traditionally with blocking, you will need to wet the garment with water and lay down a towel or a piece of fabric before spreading out your garment to dry. For garments that need to be pinned down in order to take their final shape, this method is not very effective since the pins don’t have a sturdy foundation to hold on to.
Pinning is where blocking mats are useful.
As we said, blocking mats are spongy, waterproof foam mats that allow you to lay out or pin down your garment for wet blocking or spray blocking. Some blocking mats are even heat resistant, allowing you to block using a steam iron without damaging the mats.
These are highly effective tools that make blocking a lot easier since the foam can hold the pins securely in place, applying some stretch to the garment to create an even look for your stitches. Plus, your table, countertop, or floors won’t be harmed in the process of pinning.
Many blocking mats have measurements printed on them, which is especially useful when you are doing a swatch and need to achieve the correct gauge. The measurements can be a helpful guide to help you shape and expand the swatch to the size you need.
Blocking mats often have interlocking designs. They are usually shaped like large puzzle pieces, and you can easily link several pieces together to expand the surface to fit with a variety of garments.
You can transform the mats into whatever shape and size that fits your project. If you have a shawl or a sweater, for example, you can put together a large triangular surface using the mat pieces. If you only have a tea towel, you can just use one piece of blocking mat.
This versatile design allows you to save time, energy, and even storage space.
How To Block Your Knitting With Blocking Mats
Blocking mats are quite simple to use since they make your traditional method of blocking much easier. Depending on the type of yarn, you may want to use wet blocking or steam/spray blocking to achieve the best result.
Before blocking, you should assemble the blocking mats to comfortably fit the final size of your garment, making sure that you have plenty of space for the pins as well.
If you need to put several mats together to achieve the desired size, you should do so before you block. If your blocking mats have grids printed on them, you should make sure that the grids are aligned before starting the blocking process.
Wet blocking, also known as ‘wash and block’, is the recommended method for almost every type of yarn, but especially natural fibers. Wet blocking allows you to mold and shape your garment without harsh elements, allowing the fibers to maintain their softness and appearance while still taking a flattering shape.
There are essentially two steps to this method: washing and blocking. We will walk you through what to pay attention to with each step.
Step 1: Prep the Bath
Mix some gentle washing liquid (we recommend a no-rinse wool wash or a natural fiber safe wash like Eucalan) with warm water.
You want the water to be warm enough to relax the fibers but not too hot that it would damage the fibers. You’ll also want to avoid any harsh detergent that can damage your fibers; natural fibers are especially sensitive.
Step 2: Wash Carefully
Submerge your garment in the water, making sure that the garment is thoroughly wet. It is very important in this step that you don’t rub or knead the garment at this stage, especially if your wool is made of natural fibers.
Felting doesn’t happen easily with acrylic yarn, but with silk, wool, or other natural fibers, too much friction can create wool felt, which you want to avoid.
After your fibers are wet, they are relaxed and can be easily bonded together using a little bit of friction. This process is what creates wool felt, so if you rub or knead your garment too much when it is in this fragile state, the wool fibers will bond together to create felt!
Leave the garment submerged in water for about an hour to ensure that the fibers are completely relaxed, which will allow it to be molded to the desired shape and size during blocking.
Step 3: Rinse, If Needed
If you are using a no-rinse wash, you can remove the garment after an hour.
If the washing liquid requires rinsing, remove the garment and run clean room temperature water over it, making sure that you handle the garment with care. You still don’t want to agitate it too much.
Repeat this step as many times as needed until the water runs clear.
Step 4: Gently Remove Water
Remove the excess water by gently squeezing on the garment. It is important that you don’t twist or distort the garment at this step; since it is at its most fragile state, you will risk distorting the garment permanently.
Lay the garment flat on a dry towel, then roll the two layers together, gently pressing on the roll to remove any excess water.
At this stage, it is safe to press down on the garment (since it is buffered with a towel) to remove water, which will help the garment dry faster.
Step 6: Block
Place your garment flat on the blocking mat.
In this step, you can gently stretch any part of your garment where you want the pattern to look more pronounced. Depending on the pattern (cable knit, lace, or just plain knitting), you can apply the appropriate amount of stretch to help your pattern look more pronounced.
Cable knit, for example, only requires some light stretch, while lace patterns require the lace to be more stretched out to make the design look more prominent. If you are blocking a lace garment, it is better to employ wires inserted through the edges of the garment, to add more stretch to the garment to help the lace achieve the best look.
Use pins to pin down the edges of the garment on the blocking mat, leaving a 2-inch space in between each pin. Make sure that you pull and stretch the garment occasionally to help it expand to its proper size.
If you are using a blocking mat that has printed measurements, you can use the measurements as a guide for your gauge and stretch out the garment to the proper gauge that the pattern requires.
Step 7: Leave to Dry
Leave the garment on the blocking mat to air dry. When it is completely dry, you can remove the pins, and your garment should have the desired shape and size!
Steam or Spray Blocking
While wet blocking is ultimately more beneficial for the garment, sometimes, you just need to block a quick swatch to make sure that you have the correct gauge before making your project.
If wet blocking sounds like too much work, there is a much simpler alternative – steam or spray blocking.
We recommend using this method when you have a small garment, like a swatch, a tea towel, or a potholder. For small items like these, steam or spray blocking is simply more efficient since you don’t have to do a lot of washing and rinsing!
Here’s how to steam block:
Step 1: Lay Item Flat
Lay your item flat on a blocking mat.
Step 2: Wet the Item
Use a spray bottle to wet the item thoroughly with warm water. For more stubborn fibers, we recommend using a steamer if you have one, which relaxes the fibers more efficiently.
If you are working with a steamer, make sure that you don’t hold it too close to your garment since it can burn or damage the fibers and even the blocking mat!
Step 3: Pin and Block
Pin down the item on the blocking mat, pulling and stretching as you go so that the garment will take the desired shape.
During this step, you can continue wetting the fibers with a steamer or a spray bottle to make sure that you can easily shape your garment.
Step 4: Leave to Dry
Leave the item on the blocking mat to air dry. When it is completely air dry, you can remove the pins, and you should have a perfectly blocked garment!
Note that this method is not very efficient if you are blocking a very large garment since it does not wet and relax the fibers thoroughly.
Depending on the fiber’s composition, the heat of the steam can even affect its softness and appearance, so make sure that you test this method with a small swatch before moving further.
The Best Blocking Mats on the Market
If you are an avid knitter hoping to invest in some quality blocking mats, here are our recommendations for the best blocking mats on the market:
|1.||KnitIQ Centimeter Blocking Mats||Cm markings, 30 T-pins, 9 blocks of 32x32cm|
|2.||Red Suricata Blocking Mats||Cm/inch markings, heatproof, 9 blocks of 12x12”|
|3.||Knit Picks Blocking Bundle||15 straight wires, 20 T-pins, 9 blocks of 12.5x12.5"|
|4.||Knitter's Pride Lace Blocking Mats||Colorful, 9 blocks of 12x12”|
|5.||Umien Blocking Mats||Inch markings, 100 T-pins, 9 blocks of 10x10”|
|6.||Boye Interlocking Blocking Boards||Grid markings, thick foam, 4 blocks of 12x12"|
|7.||BalanceFrom Kid's Puzzle Play Mat||Colorful, 16 blocks of 12x12"|
We’re sure whichever you pick, your next sweater will be perfectly shaped and ready to dazzle.
1. KnitIQ Centimeter Blocking Mats
The KnitIQ set comes with nine blocking mats, each printed with clear, easy-to-follow centimeter grids for easy blocking. The nine mats have interlocking grids, which allow you to put the mats together in various configurations to accommodate a variety of garments.
The mats are made of 1.9-centimeter thick foam, providing a sufficient foundation for the pins to sink into. The foam is also waterproof and heat resistant, which can serve you during wet blocking as well as steam blocking. You don’t have to worry about damaging the ink or melting the foam, even when you are working with a steam iron.
The kit comes with a storage bag to help you neatly store the mats, as well as 100 T-pins to assist you during blocking. This set can be considered a complete blocking set to assist you with this crucial step in your knitting project.
Overall, this set has everything you need for blocking a knitting or crocheting project. It can accommodate smaller-sized items as well as big projects, and it does the job well, ensuring that your knitting project takes the best shape with ease.
2. Red Suricata Blocking Mats for Knitting
These blocking mats are quite superior in design. Each mat has a grid system that allows you to accurately stretch and measure your gauge. Depending on your preference, you can purchase mats with a centimeter grid or an inch grid to measure your gauge.
The set comes with nine interlocking mats of 12×12″, each one marked with a number. When you need to block a larger item, you can assemble the mats using the order printed on each mat to make a large blocking board. This design makes blocking much more convenient and takes the guesswork out of your craft.
The foam mats are made of waterproof and heatproof materials, which are suitable for both wet blocking and steam blocking. You don’t have to worry about runny ink or damaged foam, and the boards can help you achieve the desired shape and size.
Since the foams are waterproof, you can wipe them down with a damp cloth after each use and put them neatly away in your storage space for future use. These are versatile, functional tools that are quite practical for your knitting projects.
3. Knit Picks Blocking Bundle Set
The Knit Picks blocking bundle offers everything you need to assist you with the blocking process, including a set of blocking mats, lace blocking wires, and T-pins. The foam rubber mats are quite basic blocking mats, but they are quite versatile, offering various sizes and configurations to help you with a variety of projects.
The set comes with nine blocking mats that are 12×12″ each, which can be used individually or assembled together to create a large surface. The mats are ⅜” thick, which would accommodate large (up to 1.5″) T-pins for blocking.
The foam is quite dense and sturdy, helping hold the pins in position and apply a light stretch to help your garment take its proper shape. These mats are waterproof, so your garment will dry quickly and easily during the blocking process.
The bundle comes with a lot of accessories to assist you with blocking, including rust-resistant T-pins as well as blocking wires. The wires are quite useful if you need to block lace projects, while the T-pins are just the right size for the mat’s thickness.
Overall, if you are looking for a bundle that comes with the basic accessories required for blocking, this is a one-stop purchase to satisfy your needs.
4. Knitter’s Pride Lace Blocking Mats
This set of blocking mats bundles together nine 12×12″ mats that can be configured in various ways to accommodate your garment. When assembled together, the mats can cover up to a nine square-foot area, which is suitable for garments large to small.
Although these mats don’t have measurement grids, they are still quite functional as blocking mats. Each mat is ⅜” thick, and the dense foam holds the pins securely in place to stretch the garment. The surfaces are waterproof, allowing your garments to dry easily while taking their proper shape.
Similar to other blocking mats, these ones are waterproof and easily cleaned, so they would work with both wet blocking and steam blocking. This set of blocking mats is suitable to help you block even bigger garments like shawls and sweaters.
While the design is quite basic, it functions well as a blocking mat that provides a sufficient area for you to block your garment with ease. This set of blocking mats comes in a convenient storage bag, so you can store them neatly away in your craft area and have easy access to them when needed.
5. Umien Blocking Mats for Knitting
These Umien blocking mats are extra-thick blocking mats for heavy-duty projects that require longer and thicker pins. The mats are printed with an inch grid to guide your blocking and help your project achieve its correct size without much effort.
These black and white mats are quite elegant, with interlocking designs that allow you to use the mats separately to block several small projects or collectively as one big grid to block a large garment. The grid is perfectly aligned and measured, offering precision to your gauge.
These mats are extra thick – at 0.75″! This thickness allows the foam to hold the pins securely as your garment dries and takes its final form. Moreover, the dense foam will heal when you remove the pins, so you don’t have to worry about holes and patches affecting the mats’ quality after several uses.
Overall, these blocking mats are highly effective, strong, and durable to help you achieve the right look for your project. They are very quality blocking mats that can last you a long time, helping you with a versatile range of projects from big to small.
6. Boye Interlocking Blocking Boards
The Boye Interlocking blocking boards are great starters for your knitting kit. The kit comes with four 12×12″ interlocking mats, which you can use as single mats or connect them together to create a bigger piece. This size is big enough to help you block small garments like tea towels to bigger garments like sweaters and scarves.
The blocking mats have 1×1″ grids printed on them, so you can use them as guides for blocking. The grid is especially useful when knitting gauge swatches since you want to have an accurate gauge before starting any project.
The mats are made of thick foams, which provide appropriate support for the pins to stretch your garment. The pins can be inserted easily and stay in place once they are secured. If you are only making small and basic items, these are perfect additions to your toolkit to help you with your creations.
7. BalanceFrom Kid’s Puzzle Exercise Play Mat
While these mats are not technically blocking mats, their features and functionality are very similar to what you would usually need. We recommend getting these mats as an alternative option, especially if you are hoping to block a very large item that requires a big area.
Each mat covers one square foot, and you can use one or assemble several mats in various configurations to help you block large garments, like throws and blankets. There are two options: 16-tile, which gives you a 4′ by 4′ area, and 36-tile, which covers a 6′ by 6′ area.
These mats are designed as playing mats for children, so they meet all of the safety standards that are required of toys. They are non-toxic, lead-free, and BPA-free. They are waterproof and easily cleaned with a damp cloth, which makes them great as blocking mats.
The dense foam makes it easy to pin down your garment, and it holds the pins in place to help apply a light stretch to your piece. They are very lightweight and easy to assemble, and when you are done, you can take them apart and put them back in your storage space for future use.
We recommend this option if you need a bigger blocking mat compared to other options available on the market since it can cover an area big enough for baby blankets!