Straight lace

That’s a piece of lace, straight off the needles. Looks pretty unimpressive, doesn’t it? It’s nothing like the beautiful delicate lace creations that you see on people’s Ravelry project pages, and it’s easy to think that something must have gone wrong. It hasn’t, and there’s one magic word that will reveal the loveliness.

Blocking.

Blocking is the yarn equivalent of styling your hair. Sometimes you just want to give it a quick brush and tie it back, sometimes you want to do a bit more. Lace needs that bit more: it takes a little time, it needs a little care, but the results are oh! so worth it. This post illustrates the entire process of blocking a triangular shawl for you, because we’ve been asked several times to cover the topic (and because it was an excuse to knit some lace specially!).

The materials you need are simple: a basin of cool water, a towel, some string, some rustproof pins, a measuring tape and something you can stick the pins into. That can be a carpet, a mattress, or blocking mats. (If you use your own bed first thing in the morning, your lace will be dry by bedtime. NB: do not use your bed if it’s a waterbed; trust us on this.) If you’ve got blocking wires, you won’t need the string, and the whole process will go faster, as we’ll see below. A spray bottle filled with plain water is useful if you’ve got warm conditions, so you can give your lace a nice misting to stop it drying too fast as you block it out.

Before you start, weave in your ends, but don’t clip them short just yet.

Next, thread some string through the long side of your shawl, using a piece at least one and a half times the length of the side. (You can expect lace to grow by 30%, so longer is better than shorter here.) Tie a loop in each end of the string so you can pin it to your blocking surface.

Give your lace a nice long soak in a cool bath. If you want, you can put some wool wash in there, and some people swear by a drop of hair conditioner (after all, most yarn’s hair too). Leave it for at least twenty minutes, because you want to make sure the fibre is all evenly saturated (an hour’s even better, and overnight won’t hurt).

You want your lace to be evenly damp but not dripping, so blot it in a towel so remove excess water after you rinse. Leaving the rolled-up towel for a couple of hours will ensure that you’ve got nice damp lace, but if you’re in a hurry, standing on the rolled-up towel will hasten the process.

Pin the string, well stretched out, to your blocking surface, and then pin down the point of the shawl.

Now you can start pinning out the sides. The measuring tape comes in useful here to make sure you’re getting an even size.

Keep on pinning until you have the points all pinned out and the long side straight – pinning out the string rather than the lace on the latter helps to keep your edge nice and even.

If you’re using blocking wires, then the procedure is even simpler – just thread one wire through the long edge of the shawl and another through each of the short sides:

Then pin out the wires. A few pins on each side will be enough, rather than a wee forest of them for the string-and-pin option:

When you’ve got your lace all blocked out, leave it to dry completely. Overnight will do nicely, or overday if you’re using your own bed. It goes without saying that you should exclude your beloved pets from the area (though this won’t always work, as this Ravelry thread demonstrates). Other humans, large and small, should be dissuaded as well.

Then unpin your lace and prepare to be amazed.

Magic!

5 comments

  1. MweaG’s avatar

    Blocking is amazing, my favourite part of lace knitting, I think! :o )

    Just a quick ‘budget’ tip for those who have occupied beds and think blocking mats ridiculously pricey – those kiddie ‘play-mat’ thingies that are kinda foamy and fit together like jigsaw pieces? Absolutely ideal. And really cheap (€10 for a large pack in the toystores).

    Added advantage of being wipe-cleanable. Also you can adjust the size and shap of the board (once you’re done pinning out), courtesy of the removeable bits so that the board is taking up the absolute minimum of floorspace.

    Just don’t photograph your lace on this background, as the multicoloured letters and numbers kinda detract from your fantabulous lace! :o )

  2. Eibhlin’s avatar

    Great post; I’m just wondering why you say not to clip the ends after weaving in? Is it to do with the stretchiness of the blocking?

  3. thisisknit’s avatar

    Leaving the ends a bit longer means that the yarn tail has plenty of room to bed in and block with the rest of the fabric. You then don’t have the end of the yarn poking out because it’s failed to stretch with the rest, and you can trim it neatly when the whole thing’s done. Thanks for letting us clarify, Eibhlín.

  4. Angela’s avatar

    Thanks for this super post, love the clear instructions and wonderful photos. I was curious, is there is any rule of thumb for the intervals at which you thread the string, or wire, through the top edge of a shawl when blocking it? Every third stitch, every fifth, every something else? I haven’t tried this yet and just wonder how you’d get that bit right.

  5. thisisknit’s avatar

    Thanks for the question, Angela. Assuming you want a straight edge, the shorter you make those intervals the less chance there is of scalloping along the top. Every second or third stitch will probably give you the best result. If you don’t like how your blocking turns out, though, you can just soak your work again and start from scratch. The yarn won’t remember (and there’s no need to remind it!).

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