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A gansey isn’t finished until it’s been washed for the first time and laid out to dry in the correct shape and size. Even a plain gansey won’t be the correct size until its been washed and dried, and a patterned gansey with cables needs to be relaxed and stretched to fit. Washing also evens out the stitches and their tension (one of the reasons why the stitches on old ganseys look so even is because they’ve been washed so many times it all evens out).

You should always wash your completed gansey according to the instructions on the wool – the advice is usually to hand wash in cold water. Ganseys do have to be treated carefully, or they felt up. But we wash them in the washing machine on the wool cycle, with no adverse effects, so you may like to experiment – just be careful. And don’t put them through the clothes’ drier under any circumstances!

Ganseys come out of being washed damp and heavy. Now they have to be pinned out and dried into the correct shape.

One way of doing this is to lay out some large bath towels on the carpet to soak up the dampness, and then pin the gansey flat on the floor through them. Have a tape measure handy so you can ensure you’re blocking it to the correct length and breadth, and remember not to stretch the ribbing when you pin it or you’ll stretch all of the tension out of it (we don’t block the ribbing on the welt or the cuffs, so they remain taut and elastic).

One of the many advantages to blocking is that you can use it to correct any slight inaccuracies in sizing, particularly width. So, if it’s a little too narrow you can stretch it (ganseys are pretty flexible) and it will keep its shape once its dried.

Once it’s dried, remove the pins (all of them…) and wear your garment proudly to general acclamation and acclaim.

11 comments to Blocking

  • So wonderful!!!!
    Kindly from Germany. Anni

  • Sue Hyett

    Hello Gordon
    I have just finished my seventh gansey and (after reference to your advice on blocking) took the plunge for the first time. After hand washing the jumper was consigned to the rinse and spin cycle of my washing machine…..possibly a mistake as the jumper no longer has the “freshly shopped” look; it’s more like an old friend. Perhaps I should have turned it inside out? As for blocking….I have requisitioned an abandoned plastic road sign, cut it to shape with a fold down the middle and pushed it inside; seems to be working and no stray pins to worry about.
    Your blog has been such a great help…I have become obsessed by the whole process and now feel bereft when the needles are idle.
    All best

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue,

    Oh dear! All I can say is, it works for us, but maybe our washing machine is underpowered…

    I love the idea of a road sign as a woolly board! The problem with the traditional frames you see for Fair Isles is that it stretches out the welt so it loses that nice pleated effect. But pinning it like we’ve done has the downside that it tends to give knife-edge creases in the sleeves, which makes the gansey look like it’s been ironed—not the effect I’m aiming for at all!

    I know what you mean about obsessing—life without a gansey to work on seems strangely empty, doesn’t it? Like the old warrior heroes of old, I want to be buried with a pair of circular dpns and a couple of cones of yarn, so i can face the afterlife knowing I won’t be bored, and pretty warm…


  • Linda Morton

    In the past I have blocked garments by laying towels on my sewing cutting out board, pinning the garment to shape through to the board (not any ribbing though), then covered with very damp towels and left to dry for two or three days. Would this not work with my (almost finished) gansey?

    • Gordon

      Hi Linda,

      I’ve never tried that technique, so can’t comment from experience, but i don’t see any reason why not. The crucial elements in the process seem to be pinning to shape and an element of dampness.

      I think washing the jumper tends to even out the tension in the stitches, in effect evening out any lumps and bumps caused by larger or smaller stitches, but that’s the only advantage i can see.

      Go for it and let us know how it works out, I’d say!

      All the best,

  • Christine

    I am knitting my first gansey for a client and have been making it up as I go along With the help of your site, but I think it is too wide by a couple of inches. Will blocking help to correct the size and should the garment be washed with a gentle soap, or just wetted?

    • gordon

      Hello Christine,

      Thanks for your query. To the best of my knowledge, blocking won’t shrink the garment widthwise, though it can be stretched a little lengthways which has the effect of drawing in the width. Certainly Margaret’s used that technique with success when I’ve had the same experience as yourself, and it’s been slightly too wide.

      We usually wash our ganseys in a little detergent that is compatible with wool (e,g., for “silks and delicates”). We’ve never had a problem yet, though of course you’d have to be careful and make sure the detergent was appropriate.

      Hope this helps,

  • Christine

    I am thinking about the washing and blocking of my gansey with great trepidation as I’m knitting it for a friend. What pins do you use and how many would you recommend?

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Christine

      Margaret here, Gordon’s passed your message to me for answering.

      I currently use foam floor tiles and blocking wires (see Amazon to see what I’m talking about). The blocking wire system uses T-pins. Before I started using blocking wires, I used ordinary sewing pins with the foam tiles. Sometimes they’d bend, but only if put under alot of strain.

      I can’t say exactly or even approximately how many pins to use, as it depends on many factors. You’ll need enough to spread the tension (if any, for instance if the piece needs some stretching) and also to avoid scalloped edges.

      Block on,


  • Lois

    I also use the foam tiles and blocking wires. I’ve blocked a lot of sweaters and find this works best for me. The secret is to use plenty of pins so the edges are pinned out straight without scallops showing between each pin. The T pins are much more sturdy than regular sewing pins and hold better in the foam.

    You will be surprised how lovely and even the knitting looks after blocking. Yes, it takes a bit of time, but well worth it after all the effort put into the knitting.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, as far as I’m concerned, blocking is a magical process done by elves and pixies in the night, transferring a gnarled garment that looks like it was knit for Quuasimodo into something deep and crisp and even.

      Agree too about using lots of pins to avoid scalloping!

      Cheers, Gordon

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