The most frequent question I get asked by new knitters is what they've done wrong. They pull a crumpled handful of knitting from their knitting bag and offer it for inspection. In every case, the knitter has carefully followed the instructions, and the piece of knitting they offer is as the pattern intended. The difference is that it doesn't look like the photo.
In knitting books and magazines the instructions end with some vague reference to follow the instructions on the ball band. There is little or no detail of the blocking required, and with British written instructions there is often a lack of a diagram with measurements to block to. At least charted patterns usually include a diagram with measurements.
My theory is that the knitter born since the 1970's lacked the inherited wisdom of watching parents knitting, washing, blockings and pressing knitting to create the finished fabric. The 'skipped generation' knitters often learn from magazines, videos, or knit-and-natter sessions. They see experienced knitters display their perfect finished garments that look just like the photo that accompanied the original pattern. The gap in knowledge of the unknown finishing tasks creates a gap in confidence.
There is a lack of experience witnessing the casting off a piece of knitting, and observing the following work required to turn a curled piece of knitting into garment fabric, and the sewing-up that turns the fabric into a garment. Most knitters think of these activities as rather dull and uninteresting. The space and steam required makes this an activity difficult to being along to a knitting club or social knitting session. Sewing up is often a tv-watching activity, as it is a slow and time-consuming to match up markers and patterns, and ease seam allowances around shoulders and necklines.
To try and mitigate the worry and concern, here are some photos that are all taken after various stages. The following photographs are of a gauge swatch, and the resulting cotton machine-knit t-shirt.
Straight off the knitting machine:
Some helpful videos demonstrating post cast-off activities:
Cheryl Brunette - Sweater Finishing 101: Easy Finishing for Pullover Sweaters (5-parts)
VeryPink Knits - Knitting Help - Steam Blocking