The other thing on my mind: When certain projects begin to get a little mysterious or slightly tiresome because it doesn't yet resemble what you picture will be the outcome and you begin to wonder how it's going to turn out, do what I do: Block it before it's time.
If you block it before its time, you can literally see into the future. Of course, this particular technique, if you can call it a technique, won't work for many things you knit in pieces like some sweaters or whatnot, but the thing is, you can certainly pre-block items like this table runner or scarves or lace items (unless you are a hard-core lace knitter and must use those teeny tiny lace blocker needle wires that I can't even begin to wrap my mind around), but if the item is relatively straightforward, I say, go for it.
But what is blocking, anyway, and are there certain rules we can follow, all of the time?
In a few words: Who knows? And Nope.
I knitted for a couple years before I finally could say to others: "Block as necessary or desired." Truth is, blocking for one person isn't necessarily what blocking is for the next person. Blocking is what you want it to be, really, and you need not be worried about what it is, unless you don't understand what the fiber you are working with can withstand and how it behaves under certain conditions.
Take, for example, this hemp that I'm using for Lisa Shobana Mason's Celebration Table Runner (see sidebar for more info). This is hemp, so really, the sky is the limit when it comes to blocking. If you are mid-project like I am at the moment and cannot wait to see how it will turn out, either keep it on the needles and pre-block like I did today with a mighty steamer or place it on a holder of some type and go for it. When I say "go for it, I mean go for it. Hemp can take just about any type of treatment, including a hot wash in the washer and even a nice tumble dry. But if your work is still on the needles, I'd take the high route and steam it like I did today just to be safe.
If you're using a 100 percent wool, washable or not, for your project, I'd let the semi-finished or finished item soak in some wool-friendly wash and some cool water for a few minutes and then roll it in a towel and lay it flat to dry. Or steam it lightly, instead, which is my preferred method for blocking (but not for laundering). If it's cotton, I'd give it the rough treatment, meaning go ahead and give it the full-on hot steamer or a warm bath and a spin in the washer and then some flat drying. Just make sure that whatever you do, you have it on needles that can withstand the treatment, too, or place the unfinished piece on a plastic holder or something like that. I will say, however, that you shouldn't tell any knitting mavens what you are doing. They might call you out, or worse, ban you from some sort of knitting circle. (And they will also tell you that the stitches on the holder will be looser than the other rows below it, etc., etc., but if you are careful not to get them wet and exclude them from the blocking, everything should turn out alright--but only if you are steaming it or wetting it lightly. Obviously, placing it in the washer will get everything wet.)
Just know that if you are working your knitted item in pieces, you'll have to give the same treatment to all the other pieces before seaming, because the blocking process might make it more difficult to piece the thing together when you're all done.
My Celebration Table Runner is coming along nicely, now that I've blocked my progress! It's so much fun to sneak a peek!