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Using Blocking Wires to Block Lace Shawls

May 6, 2009

For years, I have used pins to block my lace shawls--dozens and dozens of T-pins, painstakingly placed and then adjusted one by one until every single point was just right, and every single motif was shown off to its best advantage.

I'd heard of blocking wires, but never given them much thought, until a friend at knit night said, "Oh, you really ought to try them if you do a lot of shawls--they make blocking the shawl go so much faster, and you can get all the points even fairly quickly."

That got my attention. I'm pretty meticulous when I pin out my shawls, and it can take me a really long time to get a large shawl with lots of points pinned out to my liking. So I bought a set of blocking wires, and tried it out on the next shawl...and Oh. My. Goodness. What a difference the wires made! All the points, exactly the same length, all even, without me pinning and unpinning and re-pinning them over and over again.

I will say, however, that the obsessive in me misses that deep connection that is formed between a knitter and her shawl during the process of pinning and adjusting a gadzillion pins. I'd lovingly pat out every motif, every point, and pin everything Just So. The blocking wires do a lot of this work for I do sort of miss that precise, detailed, pin-every-yarnover-into-submission-for-an-entire-morning sort of experience. However, for speed, and overall consistency, blocking wires cannot be beat.

You can get the general idea of how to use blocking wires from the photos here; but I've also put together a step-by-step photo tutorial just in case you'd like the whole glamorous process shown in living color.


About the green shawl: I needed a shawl to use for this tutorial, and I did not have one available; so I knit a mini-shawl in the Estonian style, using patterns and techniques from Knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush. The inner triangle is the Leaf Motif from Nancy's Triangular Leaf Scarf seen here, and the border is the Modern 16-Round Lace Edge from the stitch dictionary at the back of the book. I had a lot of fun choosing the stitch patterns for this little shawl--and it took me only four evenings to knit!

If you'd like to knit your own Estonian lace shawl, Knitted Lace of Estonia is a great resource for techniques and patterns.
It has 14 stunning shawl patterns, plus a library of traditional stitch patterns at the back of the book that you can use to customize your own creations. Look for Knitted Lace of Estonia at your local yarn shop, or order it here


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.

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JuliaD wrote
on May 17, 2009 3:53 PM
What a great tutorial! I've missed your comments lately on the KD posts. I love the look of lace--one day I'll try doing a shawl or stole. . . Thanks again!
Jennifer@3 wrote
on May 17, 2009 2:43 PM
i'm just finishing up the "wrapped in tradition" lace poncho which is knit in the round. i'm assuming in order to block it I need to block it in two layers, lining up the edges, top and bottom by repeat. does anyone have any suggestions or feedback for me on tips and tricks to make this easier? thank you!
TraceyA wrote
on May 9, 2009 7:54 AM
must get on board by saying ... THAT IS A FABULOUS TUTORIAL !! I am slowly finding my way to lace ....and have often wondered just how the blocking looks ! thank you so much !!
JenniferS@2 wrote
on May 8, 2009 10:40 AM
Thank you for the tutorial! What is the beautiful green yarn that you used in the shawl?? I just love it!
Lesley NZ wrote
on May 7, 2009 2:09 PM
Just wanted to say I treasured your little reverie about the joys of blocking with pins. I didn't know anybody else communed and crooned with their shawls like me. But yes - I'll be wire blocking too - at least some of the time. Thanks.
angela wrote
on May 7, 2009 1:09 PM
Thank you for the tutorial on blocking. I was always apprehensive on blocking my sweaters. Two tutorials that I would like to see is on KNITTING GAUGE and when casting on knitting stitches the direction MULTIPLE OF # . How is it determined the number of stitches when there is an intricate or simple pattern? Thank you for your response . Angela C
RebeccaP@2 wrote
on May 7, 2009 9:13 AM
Sandi - what do you use for "blocking wires"? I bought unbent coat hanger wire at home depot - is this pretty much what people typically use for the wires? Thanks~
JayelF wrote
on May 7, 2009 6:43 AM
VERY instructive tutorial, Sandi! Thank you! Now, how would you wear your shawlette? In fact, I would love a posting on shawl-wearing ideas (w/ & w/o pins and tying). I would definitely knit more shawls if I could wear them with confidence.
Lise wrote
on May 7, 2009 5:43 AM
Har - I love lace but find it mystifying and infuriating to knit. I laughed at your mini lace shawl that you knocked off in four evenings. How I aspire to that!
on May 7, 2009 5:38 AM
Thanks for the great illustrations of the blocking wires through lace points. V. Helpful. If you guys ever wanted to run a competition on blocking, why not ask for readers' funniest stories on blocking lace. I can contribute immediately : )
nitta wrote
on May 7, 2009 5:34 AM
Love the tutorial. I havent tried this yet, but always wondered if this process has to be repeated everytime you clean the shawl/item?
DottiF wrote
on May 7, 2009 5:34 AM
Great tutorial. Two questions? Who sells blocking wire and the blocking board you used? This is the first time I've heard of blocking wires and they sound soooo useful. Thanks for the info.
NancyF wrote
on May 7, 2009 5:00 AM
not to undermine our enterprising vendors, but it's possible to use piano wire and foam insulation board from your local hardware store and lumber yards. the foam board comes in interlocking 2ftx8-ft sections, so 4 of them will accommodate a 96-inch square shawl - if you have the floor space. the piano wire comes in all thicknesses. if your hardware store doesn't carry it, call a piano tuner to find a source. my problem is finding a quick way to block the slipped stitch edges of the stoles. wire is too inflexible and nerve-wracking. every row needs to be blocked.
eleonor wrote
on May 7, 2009 2:53 AM
Thank you so much for that very useful tutorial. As a beginner I am especially thankful for every hint and good advice. Best wishes from Austria eleonor
ElizabethS wrote
on May 7, 2009 2:52 AM
sandi another lover of your tutorial I need to know not so much where to get the wires as i dont seem able to get any in australia but what dimension are the wires and what type of wire are they. then might be able to find somehting similar at the hardware, so far have not been in luck. also I cant find t pins anywhere lately any help anyone in australia elizabeth
on May 6, 2009 11:03 PM
Great tutorial -- now what we want to know is where did you find the blocking board with all the neat reference marks on it! (And how big it is.) I've been using styrofoam insulation -- the kind that is about 1/4" thick and comes in accordion pleats (I unfold it and pin through a number of layers) -- but it's not wide enough for a really big shawl, and only has markings along the edges . . .
GinaD wrote
on May 6, 2009 10:10 PM
Sandi, don't worry about not getting to spend quality time with your shawl during the pinning process! You get to the best part faster with them....the throwing it around your shoulders and petting it part.
KellyS@2 wrote
on May 6, 2009 7:34 PM
Sandi, Thank you!! I have been wanting to try this for a while now. Your shawl is beautiful! I love the green yarn. Would you mind sharing the name of the yarn you used? You have inspired me to explore a new area of knitting, fearlessly!! Thank you!!
SandyR@2 wrote
on May 6, 2009 5:30 PM
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!! What a wonderful tutorial! Had I known this before, my life would have been a great deal easier. I usually put a bed sheet on the livingroom floor and crawl around the piece I am blocking, again and again and again, in my efforts to get the knitted pieces all lined up. Now I am going to invest in some gingham fabric and raid my husband's workshop for suitable wire. Greetings from New Zealand where lovely, cooler knitting weather is setting in.
MargaretS wrote
on May 6, 2009 5:30 PM
I often find that it is easier to insert the blocking wires prior to soaking the finished product. Bath tubs are handy for soaking.
Stephanie D wrote
on May 6, 2009 4:30 PM
What a great tutorial! Lovely color as well. How do you get such a stretchy bind off? I've knitted for years and it's always been an issue. Going up a few needle sizes doesn't always work. Thanks.
evelyn wrote
on May 6, 2009 3:42 PM
Are the blocking wires very sucessful on knitted sweaters? Evelyn
evelyn wrote
on May 6, 2009 3:42 PM
Are the blocking wires very sucessful on knitted sweaters? Evelyn
pt6356 wrote
on May 6, 2009 3:40 PM
Great tutorial! One hint I have heard is to weave in your ends before you block your piece but don't clip the tails, block the piece and let it dry, THEN clip the tails (either before or after removing it from the blocking place, whichever is easier for you). This allows the ends to find a "final resting place" (and be "set" into that place) before the tails are clipped and can "pop" out when you don't want them to. I have used this method on at least two shawls so far, and - no ends popping out! Just wanted to mention another school of thought...
Heather T wrote
on May 6, 2009 3:38 PM
Oooh, oooh, model it for us! Great article!
Annie@2 wrote
on May 6, 2009 3:05 PM
Using Blocking Wires This article was well written, easy to understand and I love the mini-shawl. My question is; where can I find blocking wires? Any shops that I have access to don't carry them.
PatK wrote
on May 6, 2009 2:19 PM
Blocking wires aren't just for lace, either - since buying mine two years ago, I've used them to block everything bigger than a sock. They're terrific for getting rid of the stockinette curl on sweater pieces before assembly, too.
on May 6, 2009 2:18 PM
Love the tutorial, thank you! What yarn did you use for the shawl?
SharonV wrote
on May 6, 2009 2:16 PM
I purchased blocking wires about 6 months ago and used them to block a feather and fan scarf. Let me just say, the blocking wires prevented the accidental points that show up when you're not careful blocking the sides with T-pins, they saved me time and energy since I didn't have to measure and re-pin every 6". I just put 'em in, line 'em up, let it dry and I'm off! I love them.
on May 6, 2009 2:11 PM
Now that was nice. Informative and therapeutic to know that I am not the only one who is so careful about blocking.
VirginiaC wrote
on May 6, 2009 9:47 AM
The color is wonderful, the pattern is beautiful, and the tutorial is beyond useful. I'm sold!
Bonnie wrote
on May 6, 2009 9:25 AM
EXCELLENT step-by-step tutorial! That's a really lovely shawl, too.
JK_in_KCMO wrote
on May 6, 2009 6:57 AM
Now THIS is a helpful blocking tutorial! Thank you, Sandi, for showing us how to do it from start to finish. I have used blocking wires before, but I never knew you should pin out the corner points last. Great tutorial.