I didn't really block anything for many years. When I started knitting, everything was knit in pieces and the instructions were always to block them before sewing. Well, I wasn't convinced because I was quite capable of knitting to size and the curling edges didn't bother me much. I still don't block till the piece is finished unless I want to see what the item looks like vis a vis size after blocking.
But I have become a convert to the process. I wash and block swatches before measuring gauge and I block almost everything after washing. I think the difference in my thinking now vs back then is that I don't view blocking as stretching and forcing things any more. I view it more like ironing. It makes the item look good and gives it a finished look. Lace requires a lot of stretching and straightening to make it open up but any knitted item can use a little patting and straightening after it comes out of the wash.
Sweaters and socks just get a patting into shape as they are laid flat. I match up seams, make sure edges are straight, that the neck and the cuffs are shaped correctly and that there are no wrinkles in the garment. Stoles and shawls and scarves get the full detailing.
To block the stole I've been working on, I first inserted blocking wires into the two long sections of the center as I wanted to widen the center section. I use stainless steel tig welding rods as blocking wires as they are cheaper and locally available. I used the heavier wires on the sides as I wanted them straight. I then pinned out one side with quilting pins, stretched and measured the distance to the other side and pinned it out evenly. Then I inserted thinner wires into the two short edges of the shawl, measured the distance from the center section and pinned them out to be even. I didn't pin out the long sides of the side panels as those have a tendency to widen and I didn't need to stretch them out.
I work on the family room floor. I lay out a clean sheet on the carpet and block on top of that. I don't have cats or little kids so this works for me. There is plenty of room and it doesn't get in the way. If the pieces are smaller, I block them on the guest bed just so people don't step on them. The key to success is measuring precisely.
Items usually dry in a day or less. Lace dries very easily when stretched out like this. I also wash all the items before I block them. I know some people like to spritz them or steam them with an iron or steamer held a few inches above the item. But as Joan Schrouder (teacher extraordinaire) pointed out to me a number of years ago, heat sets stains. Also, our knitting gets dragged around a lot and sometimes stays in the knitting process for months. Who knows what dust and dirt gets into them as we knit? Washing them before blocking makes sure that one is starting out with a clean item. This logic made a lot of sense to me and now I wash everything before blocking. Sometimes I may just wet it or spritz it if I am in a hurry but that is always temporary.
Here is the finished stole.
Today was an interesting day: I went to the LYS to teach a sweater class. My students arrived but 75% had not finished their homework. So rather than waste their time and money, we postponed the class. I was hanging around trying to pick buttons for a sweater and chatting, eating lunch when we heard the sound of water running. When we went to the back of the store, we found a waterfall: from the ceiling right on the yarn. So we created a yarn bucket brigade to move the yarn out of the way but the water kept coming till the landlord turned it off. In the 20 mins or so that the water was coming in through the ceiling, two of us got drenched when ceiling tiles gave way and unleashed a torrent on us, a whole wall of yarn was soaked along with cubbyholes across from and adjacent to it. What a mess! Fortunately it was clean water, fortunately we were right there to get the water turned off, and fortunately the landlord was also right there to turn off the water.
Anyway, I also took the opportunity to photograph the sweater I made over the summer using Calmer. This is what the current lot of students is working on: