Should I Block My Cowl?

Should I Block My Cowl - Olive Knits Blog

I break a lot of knitting rules, in part because most of them make no sense to me. How we hold our hands, for example, should be a matter of comfort and personal knitting style (as long as you get the correct results, who cares whether you wrap or pick, or use your right or left hand). Do your stitches look great? Awesome. Po-tay-toes, po-tah-toes. You do you.

But I do have two knitting rules that I hold in near-sacred reverence: swatching and blocking. [Gasp! Faint!] Break all the rules you like (as long as you can do your own troubleshooting if your results get wonky), but whatever you do – don’t skip swatching or blocking.

But what about cowls? Should we swatch for – or block? – a handknit cowl?

Great question, I would love to tell you. (Said in the voice of Elyse Meyers.)

The short answer is yes. Yes to blocking, and mostly-yes to swatching. But let’s focus on blocking your cowl, which will cause us to brush right up against swatching, like it or not.

Blocking your cowl (or any project, really) is critical for drape and stitch definition. But more than that, a good dip with wool wash can help remove any residue or debris – from the mill, the dye house, the warehouse, or the knitting process – and will soften and relax the fiber. As stitches relax, they create a more cohesive fabric and can help eliminate stitch inconsistencies that may have been obvious otherwise. (I’d like a show of hands from anyone who would NOT enjoy a little post-knitting stitch smoothing for the weird tension changes that happened while you were watching an episode of Dateline.)

Key Reasons for Blocking Cowls

  • Improves drape to make it more wearable
  • Enhances the stitch pattern to make details more visible
  • Evens-out the texture and eliminates inconsistencies in stitches
  • Rinses debris and excess dye/residue
  • Softens (especially if you use a wool wash with softening properties)

(Bad) Excuses for Not Blocking

  1. But I like how it looks un-blocked.

Do you really? Have you seen what a blocked version looks like? Often when someone tells me that they like how their project looks un-blocked, I secretly assume they’re just in a hurry to wear it and don’t want to wait for it to dry. It’s worth the wait, trust me. And when you get used to blocking as the last step of every project, it won’t feel like a delay. Personally, I LOVE blocking. I get excited for it. It’s the moment of truth when I get to see all my hard work come together.

  1. I’m afraid if I block it, the colors will bleed.

AHA! Remember how I said that our conversation about blocking would brush right up against the subject of swatching? Here’s where swatching comes in handy – even for something as simple as a cowl. If you’re knitting with more than one color, swatching and blocking in both colors allows you to test the potential for color transfer. The best time to find out that your colors bleed is in the swatch, NOT the finished project. Take my word for this. If the colors stay put in your blocked swatch, then they’ll stay put in the finished cowl, as well. Win/win.

hand knit rectangle with lace pattern in three colors
Blocked swatch with multiple colors.
  1. I like the size where it is. I’m afraid if I block it, the cowl will grow too much.

If I had a nickel for every knitter that told me they don’t want to block their project because they don’t want it to grow, I could take myself and my fella out to a fancy dinner (and even pay for the gas to get there). Once again, we’ve brushed up against the purpose of swatching. If you swatch for your cowl – and block your swatch – then you can compare your gauge to the gauge of the pattern and get a pretty solid idea of what your finished measurements will be at the end. Measuring your gauge in a blocked swatch is what will help you predict the results of your blocked cowl. So if your gauge is a little big or small, you can adjust your needle size ahead of time so that your finished cowl can be blocked and still fit the way it’s meant to.

Sure, blocking requires an extra day (or two, or three) before your project is ready to gift or wear, but the rewards are worth it. So yes, Virginia, please block your cowls.

Blocked stitch detail, up close

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