Yes. Block. Yes. Even if your project looks good to you right off the hook it will look even better blocked, with keener stitch definition, more even edges and proportions, and an overall professional finish. Most of my designs feature seamless, one piece construction and are blocked after they’re done. For projects that are created in separate sections (back, fronts, sleeves) it would be wise to block each piece to measurements before assembly. Yes, that includes motif afghans.
I get a lot of complaints from fans and readers about blocking. Not to perpetuate the perception of crochet and knitting as US vs. Them, but apparently, knitters just do it. In every single knitting pattern I have ever read, particularly for designs requiring the sewing of seams, the Finishing section routinely begins with the words “Block pieces to measurements”. Why, oh why is that same instruction in a crochet pattern greeted with so much fear and loathing?
It’s not because we are slackers unconcerned that our work look its best. The more I interact with crocheters the more I suspect that our attitude about blocking derives from our personal experience with crochet. By far the largest segment of the crochet population comes from a place of craft yarn and from making not-garments.
I was hardly surprised by the recently published results of the 2010 U.S. Attitude & Usage Study by the Craft & Hobby Association (CHA) wherein crocheting shows up as third (with 17.4 million doers) among the Top Ten Crafts by Household Participation (knitting is ninth with 13 million). Crochet ranks seventh (with over a billion dollars) in the Top Ten Craft Segments by Sales. Knitting does not even appear on that list.
You really can’t compare these statistics with what we were told in the survey from The National NeedleArts Association (TNNA, a summary of The State of Specialty NeedleArts 2010 is available to the public) because the two studies are, like, apples and oranges… or Boyes and Bates. I did it anyway. Picking apart the differences in survey methodology, the statistical significance of the sample sizes (the actual number of crochet respondents in each of the studies), and myriad ways these statistics may be interpreted, I feel the numbers back up something we already knew. Crocheters spend an uncontested, undeniably big fat whopping gang of money on craft yarn and not as much money (at least not as much as our knitting sisters) on yarn shop yarn.
Between the lines of these surveys lives the traditional and stereotypic inference that crochet is all about afghans and home goods; knitting is about sweaters and socks. In my experience the difference is very real. I have never met a knitter who has not knitted at least one wearable for self. Can’t say the same about crocheters.
So it is no surprise that millions of crocheters coming from a place of craft yarns and craft projects have never blocked any of their work. Most craft crochet doesn’t truly need it. I readily concede that there are fibers, project categories and constructions that you don’t want to block, and that we make some things that wouldn’t be any better if blocked so why bother: obviously, jewelry and beaded/embellished masterpieces; anything crocheted in little bitty pieces or destined to be stuffed (toys, amigurimi, dolls, scrumbles); anything crocheted very firmly and solidly (“hard” crochet meant to stand up on its own); anything for everyday household use (potholders, coasters, tissue covers, dishcloths); most bags, belts and other accessories like hair doo dads. No block, no worries.
HOWEVER, day by day more crocheters are coming to my lace garment designs after years (decades for some) of non-garment crochet. I am overjoyed every time I meet a long-time craft crocheter who has caught the excitement, newly determined to make something wonderful to wear, taking the first steps toward the Dark Side. Once you start down the Dark Path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will. 🙂
To you I offer these words of encouragement. I do not berate you for not knowing what you don’t know through experience. But from this day forth you will block. Yes you will. Really.
Blocking is in part for the benefit of the yarn, to bring out the qualities of the fiber that are not apparent in the hank, or to attenuate the qualities already there. In other words there’s more than meets the eye/hand, particularly with many animal fibers like wool and mohair and to some extent alpaca and cashmere which are expected to soften and full (plump up or halo out). You would never have seen this happen with acrylic where blocking makes no discernible change in the fiber.
But it’s not just about the yarn. The major goodness of blocking is about the crochet stitches and the fabric. If the yarn is kinky or twisty out of the skein, if the stitch pattern has bunchy bits, holely places, shaping (like ripples, increases or decreases, short rows), blocking helps to lock the stitches in place and smooth out the hinky bits. I did these swatches for an article I wrote a while back. They’ve been stored… kinda balled up and stuffed in a box all this time… but you can still see what happens.
To make that swatch come out so horrible I had to force myself to crochet without messing with it at all. You can’t help but smooth, straighten, pull and stretch the work as you go; we all do it. It’s part of being able to correctly read your crochet stitches and see what the heck you’re doing. So in that instance the work was artificially made to look really lousy off the hook on purpose.
What about if you finger block as you go and it looks decent off the hook?
Then it becomes an issue of fit and fabric. Blocking helps you achieve full measured garment dimensions and helps create the fabric that you’d most want to wear. Most lace will gain in both width and length after blocking, but not always in the same proportions or in any calculable way, so you really have to do it to know the end result. Most crocheted fabric will open up and have improved drape after blocking, be better able to bend, curve and mold around the body. What you get is a better looking and better fitting garment.
Hey, I block afghans, too. Especially lace stitch ones. Even ones that are made in craft yarn granny squares. It never hurts and it always gives your work a smooth, even appearance that spells “hand-made” instead of “home-made”. Know what I’m saying?
So if I’ve cajoled you into just doing it, check this separate page for an expanded excerpt from one of my DJC Designs patterns that addresses the technique. Trust me, it be OK.