Sunday, 26 May 2013

Blocking Board Blueprint

Over the last year or so I've been making a concerted effort to improve my knitting skills. I learned to knit as a child and once I got to a certain skill level as a teenager, I just stayed there. I thought I was an expert knitter because I could easily make patterns designated as expert level, but I wasn't. My projects did turn out quite well, but there was room for improvement, especially in the finishing details. I only knew one way to cast on and one way to cast off, there were a lot of techniques I had never tried at all, I didn't know how to seam a garment properly, and I'd never blocked a sweater (I did press the seams). Besides improving in all these areas, I'd also like to acquire some design skills. I do freely alter patterns to suit my needs and tastes, and I have made sweaters without patterns, but it was all pretty basic stuff and I've never written a pattern. I'd like to learn to design more complex knitwear to a professional standard so some of the designs I have in my head can become a reality.

Towards all these ends, I recently decided I would get myself a blocking board and start blocking my work. An ironing board can be used for blocking, but it isn't big enough to work for anything but small projects. You can use a mattress, but who wants the bother of unmaking and remaking the bed before and after, to say nothing of having the bed out of commission for a few days at a time? You can use towels on a table, but those towels are going to shift about and make the task difficult, and again you won't be able to use the table for a day. A special purpose blocking board was what I wanted.

I priced blocking boards and found one of the size I wanted would cost something like $90(USD) plus shipping and probably duty, so I decided to make one for much less, and did. In case anyone would like a tutorial on how to make one for themselves, here's how I did it.

Items required for this project:

• a sheet of plywood in whatever size you like
• enough 1/2"–1" thick foam padding to cover the surface area of the plywood
• a piece of gingham fabric six inches longer and six inches wider than the plywood
• glue
• scissors
• a tape measure
• an upholstery stapler and staples
• a hammer, screwdriver and pair of grips to deal with the staples that won't cooperate
• a sewing machine and thread (optional)

I bought this 30" x 48" sheet of plywood from Home Depot for $12.42 (CDN). I would have preferred it to be about 30" x 60" but I would have had to buy a huge sheet of plywood and had it cut down, which meant it would be much more expensive with a lot of wastage, and so I settled for this size. It will do. I should be able to fit the pieces for a sweater for me on it, or do a dress or a coat if I want to, though I'll have to block those pieces separately.

Then I went to Fabricland and bought foam padding and a 1.25 metre length of green gingham. It would probably be better to get a sheet of foam for this project, but the day I was at Fabricland they had packages of four 1" chair seat foam squares on sale, while the sheet foam would have cost quite a bit more. It being spring, the gingham was also on sale. A gingham or checked fabric is the best thing for a homemade blocking board, because it gives you a grid to work on and does a lot of the measuring for you. Total cost of the foam and gingham was $16.22 (CDN).

I placed the foam squares on the board and cut two of them to fit, then I glued them down and left them to dry for a day or so.

I cut my gingham fabric to size, leaving a 3" margin all around. I also took an extra five minutes to overcast the edges of the fabric on my sewing machine to be sure there would be no fraying, but that's not necessary. As you can see here I've folded the edges under to make the back look neater, and that should prevent and/or hide any fraying.

I placed the fabric on the board as straight as I could, stapled the four corners from underneath, and then flipped the board over to staple the rest securely. Some of the staples were cantankerous things that wouldn't go in properly, so that's when I either pulled them out with vice grips and tried again with new staples, or hammered them the rest of the way in.

The finished board. You can see the lines where the foam squares meet — they weren't exactly precision cut to 1" — even though I tried mixing and matching them to get them to be level. But it won't affect the efficacy of the board, so whatever. The gingham isn't lined up to be perfectly straight either, but there's no need for architectural precision as we're not exactly designing a basilica here.

I'll be placing the board across the stair railing like this whenever I want to use it. It's the perfect place for it: it's at a good height to work on and it won't be in my way while the pieces dry.

The blocking board put to use for the first time. I invested in three packs of 40 rust-proof stainless steel pins for the purpose, but ran out when I blocked this child's sweater, so looks like I could use another two or three packs. When the board isn't in use, I store it on its edge behind the cupboard you see in the background.

The total cost of the board was $28.64(CDN), though I am not counting the cost of the glue, thread, staples and other equipment I already owned. The gingham and fabric should last a fairly long time, and when they do wear out can be replaced and the plywood reused. With an hour's work I saved myself close to $100, so I'm pleased.

This seemed rather too easy a project to really require a tutorial, but given that I'm running a knitting blog it seemed too on point not to share, so I wrote it up in the hope that it'll be of use and interest to some people.


  1. Those foam click together squares they sell for kids at the dollar store work brilliantly as a blocking mat. Some knitting stores sell them in less kiddy colors, but they're cheaper if you just buy them at the dollar store. I like them because you just pull them apart and put them away when you're not using them, so you don't have door-sized thing you need to store.

  2. Great idea! Although you'd have to put the foam square either on the floor or a table. I do like that my board doesn't require my working on the floor or take up floor or table space, so I think I still might have gone with the blocking board idea.

  3. I got my foam squares at a discount home improvement place calld harbor Freight. They sell them as anti-fatigue floor mats, I think. They are a dark grey. What is great about them is you can make different configurations for a sweater, or a shawl, or blanket, or whatever.


  4. My go-to was grid printed interfacing stapled to my (inside) garage wall as I have a cat that likes to pull pins. I say 'was' as we are moving & between houses. I hope to be able to do the same at the new house, but if not, THIS is a fabulous idea! Thanks!!!