Steam Blocking vs Killing

Everyone who has ever blocked a crochet project raise your hand.

I see you in the back sheepishly avoiding my gaze. Certainly you’ve at least thought about blocking though, right? Or at least wondered what all the fuss is about? Not every crochet project will benefit from blocking or even killing (which I’ll explain in a bit), but there are several reasons why you might want to consider taking this extra step to finish your project.

What is steam blocking?

Steam blocking is the application of steam to your crochet project in order to mold it into its final shape and size. While there is another method of blocking called wet blocking, my personal feeling is that it is not nearly as effective a technique, so I will only cover steam blocking here. Now then, why would you want to steam block?

  • To relax and uncurl the stitches. Have you ever worked on a project that is supposed to be flat only to have the edges curl up on you? Steam blocking would solve this problem. In essence, it irons the fabric without actually ironing it, so your stitches will lie nice and flat. It enhances stitch definition, too!
  • To soften the yarn. There are some yarns that are popular for low prices, but that are known to be somewhat scratchy (I’m of course referring to the craft store acrylics). While I’m a big fan of more expensive, softer yarns, I don’t think that acrylic fans have to feel doomed to scratchy yarn. Steam blocking changes the texture of acrylic and softens it up.
  • It’s a garment that may stretch with wear. Have you ever crocheted a garment that fit great the first time your wore it, only to end up stretched out and misshapen later? This has a lot to do with how much stretch your chosen yarn has. A fiber like cotton is more likely to stretch out than something like wool, which has more elasticity to it. But if you really want to guarantee your garment won’t stretch out of shape, block your gauge swatch before measuring it, and then block your garment. This will help you see what the stitches will look like in their “final” shape.

I’m going to go over the next level of blocking, which is killing the fabric, but stick around for our blocking tutorial at the end.

What is killing?

“Killing” the fabric is essentially the same technique as steam blocking, except it is permanent. When you “kill” the fabric, you “lock in” all those changes you did with steam blocking. But unlike steam blocking, which needs to be done again after washing, killing doesn’t wash away. Why would you want to kill your crochet project?

You would kill a project for all the same reasons as steam blocking, plus:

  • A commercial look is desired. Have you ever seen designer crochet clothes and wondered how they get the stitches to look so darn consistent? Clothing manufacturers use heavy duty steam presses to finish their crochet garments, which come pretty darn close if not completely killing the fabric. If you want the same look for your projects, I highly recommend killing. A lot of people are hesitant to recommend this technique, but I do it all the time.
  • A permanent finish is desired. As I stated above, killing the fabric permanently changes the yarn. There is no going back, so if you are not sure this is the look you want, kill your gauge swatch first to see how you like it.

Can I just leave my project alone?

Of course! There are lots of reasons why you might not want to bother with either of these finishing techniques (other than you just don’t wanna).

  • The unblocked texture is desired. Are you worried about losing texture with blocking? Then leave it alone! I highly doubt any freeform crochet art would benefit from blocking for this reason, either.
  • The “springiness” is desired. Some crochet projects just don’t need to be pressed flat, like fluffy baby blankets or cozy hats. This type of project can often be left alone.
  • The stitch pattern is unlikely to stretch. I’ve never heard of anyone blocking an amigurumi, and that’s because the stitches are so firmly woven together that you’re really not going to get much movement after stuffing it. This is another area in which blocking your gauge swatch would be helpful. If your gauge didn’t change between the unblocked and blocked swatch, you probably don’t need to block the finished product.

Now that I’ve (hopefully) gotten you excited about blocking and killing, would you like to know how to do it? Okay!

Unblocked crocheted wool
Blocked crocheted wool

How to Steam Block

To begin with, you’ll need a good steam iron. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on it, but I recommend one that is advertised as a fabric steamer, as you need those bursts of steam in order to block effectively. Bonus points if it has a ceramic soleplate, as it won’t scorch the fabric if you decide to kill it later.

  1. Lay your crochet on an ironing board or other flat surface covered with a towel.
  2. Set your iron for maximum steamage.
  3. Hold the iron about 1/2 inch above the fabric, and press the “steam” button to burst steam onto the fabric. Continue until all the stitches have been saturated with steam (and what ever you do, do not touch the iron to the fabric! That’s called killing it, and we haven’t gotten there yet).
  4. As you work your steam magic, stretch the fabric into the final size and shape you want. Continue steaming and stretching until you are satisfied.

Allow your crochet project to completely cool and dry before handling it. In some cases, you may want to pin it to the surface underneath to prevent it from shrinking as it dries. But once it dries, you’ll have a beautiful, flat piece to show off.

How to Kill

The technique for killing is exactly the same as steam blocking, but with one key difference: you touch the iron to the fabric. Yes, “killing” the fabric is essentially ironing it. You may have been told to never ever iron your crochet stuff, but there are exceptions to every rule and I went over the reasons for killing a crochet project above.

That said, you don’t just want to take your iron to your crochet willy nilly; you need to be smart about this. Acrylics will melt if touched with an iron, and I don’t want anyone to come at me with a scarf that is now one with the soleplate of their iron. And incidentally, irons with ceramic plates are the best for killing fabrics because they heat more evenly and are less likely to scorch.

Depending on the fiber content of your yarn, you may also want to put a pressing cloth (or scrap cotton or linen) between the iron and the crochet project. How do you know when a pressing cloth is necessary? Well look at the steam setting for your iron. What fibers does it recommend for steam? Those fibers probably don’t need a pressing cloth. Any fiber for which steam is not recommended should probably use a pressing cloth. If the fiber isn’t listed (like acrylic), use a pressing cloth. When in doubt, test it on your gauge swatch or use a pressing cloth.

And before you ask, yes, I have used this technique to successfully kill acrylic. See the mask below for an example. It was made with Red Heart Supersaver and Vanna’s Choice and killed beautifully.