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Blocking: From Good to Great

Aug 8, 2014

Blocking takes knitting projects from good to great.

I've talked a lot about lace shawl knitting lately, and blocking is essential to bring out the beauty of lace patterns.

    
Weaving the string through the edges of the shawl

Marcy Smith, editor of Interweave Crochet, wrote a useful tutorial about how to block a shawl using string instead of blocking wires. Here's how you do it.

Blocking Without Wires

If you don't have blocking wires, you've come to the right place.

I also don't have blocking wires. But I did have a rumply lace shawl that needed blocking.

I found my solution at the Yarn Harlot, a.k.a. Stephanie Pearl McPhee. Stephanie developed a method of blocking without wires, which involves using string.

I added two boys and an exercise mat to the mix and here's how it shakes out:

Start by weaving a string through the edges of the shawl. This is a great shawl for this method, because all of its sides are straight; you don't have to do any fancy point-pinning (though you can do that too with this method). Leave a good amount of string at the ends -- the shawl will grow when it's wet.

Then you proceed with the wet part of the blocking:

  
1. Soak for about 20 minutes (I used lukewarm water and a bit of Eucalan, a no-rinse soap).
2. Gather up the shawl and place it on a towel.
     
3. Ask a boy to step on it to squeeze out the water.
(Do not ask the dog to help. Clearly, she's not in the mood.)
  
Place the shawl on the mat and spread it out. And here is where the boys come in: Place a boy at each end of the string and ask him to hold it. When each has a firm grasp, ask them to gently pull it. The edge will straighten out and you can place T-pins along the string to hold it in place while it dries. (Theoretically, you can do this by yourself by winding each end of the string around a T-pin. In reality, the pin pops out of the mat under the stress. It works for the Yarn Harlot because she blocks on a bed, which you can stick pins into really deeply. If you're using a foam mat, however much better to use boys (or girls!)
if you've got 'm on hand.)

Pin along the top edge, then have the boys tug the string on a side edge as you pin along it. See how the lace opens up? When your whole shawl is pinned, let it dry. All the way.

Don't get impatient and try to unpin it when it's still damp or all your lovely blocking will be lost.

    
My finished shawl is shown at left. It's the Moss Fern Wrap by Kimberly McAlindin, from Interweave Crochet Fall 2009. It's beautifully blocked and ready to wear!

—Marcy Smith, editor, Interweave Crochet

I have blocking wires, but I love options! For more about blocking, and knitting fabulous lace shawls, check out our new video, The Structure of Shawls with Andrea Tong!

Cheers,

P.S. To block or not to block? Leave us a comment and share your answer to this question.


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Comments

on Aug 11, 2014 4:54 PM

Do you need a big boy to help and an old dog?

on Aug 11, 2014 4:53 PM

Need quite a big boy to help?

M Lawrentz wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 4:38 PM

Where do you get those mats you use to block? how long do they last?

I have never blocked anything other than sweaters. I have never used pins or anything to hold them in place. Are the wires something special for knitted items? I really have no idea what anyone is talking about.

Juliest wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 1:04 PM

Yes, washing removes blocking, so they need to be reblocked every time.  Blocking is so worth it for lace.  Maybe not so necessary for other things. Even just patting things out flat to dry helps.

ronshobbit wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 1:02 PM

I love this method!..and have a son! though, I may have to use my hubby for the other end as my 3 daughters have left the roost. lol I see that no one has answered the question about re-blocking. Yes, you do have to re-block each time you wet the project. Sorry. lol

KathyF@42 wrote
on Aug 11, 2014 8:48 AM

Yes, this is a wonderful method, but we can't credit Stephanie with it. The women of the Orenburg region of Russia have been doing this with their beautiful shawls for centuries.

ddipsy wrote
on Aug 10, 2014 11:02 AM

I have never blocked any items, which I  knitted.  Not one recepient has complained that the item looked offset or didn't hang right on him/her.  I recall my grandmother blocking only one item; an heirloom quality christening gown.  She wanted the pleats to be crisp.  I have starched a few flowers.  This helped the petals to curl outward or upward.

Machar wrote
on Aug 9, 2014 5:33 PM

I too wondered whether blocking lasts after an item has been washed.  Does anyone know?  Does hand-washing differ from machine-washing as far as "keeping the blocking" goes?

peggyb121 wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 11:52 PM

I find that there are items I do not want to try because blocking is so tedious.  If you block do you have to re-block whenever you wash the item?  I'm thinking that you do which would make it a chore to wash.  Does that go for all blocked items or only the ones with fancy edging?  Do sweaters have to be blocked after every washing?

LoveCorgis wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 11:13 PM

Oh, Kathleen, you have a Corgi!  :)  I have a Corgi too!  I love them!  They are great dogs!

Okay, back to blocking...I use wires and T pins.  I block my projects on mesh drying racks.  I think I will invest in those foam pieces as well, and use T pins with those too.

zspun wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 5:07 PM

Thanks for this!

I use 'tiger tail' jewelry wire - plastic coated steel.  It comes in various thicknesses and is quite firm but flexible.  Great for blocking curves!

Machar wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 3:32 PM

Good idea, but I still think my method is easier:  I use old hardback encyclopedias! Place them end-to-end all along the edge of the garment, so only about 1/2" of each book is pressing on the wet garment and the rest is lying harmlessly on the floor/bed/wherever. It takes about two minutes, and a few days later, voila -- put away your encyclopedias and put on your beautifully blocked shawl!

I do wonder how long any method of blocking lasts, though: After you've put your garment through the washing machine, or even hand-washed it, doesn't it shrink back?

Tink@7 wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 2:40 PM

My mother blocked her knitting using string back in the 70s, pinned out on a quilt top dining room table pad.It's a great method and in some cases, better than wires.

Tink@7 wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 2:40 PM

My mother blocked her knitting using string back in the 70s, pinned out on a quilt top dining room table pad.It's a great method and in some cases, better than wires.

Lorna55 wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 1:41 PM

This is a unique way to block a shawl - I will give it a try!  Thank you!

MichelleL wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 1:00 PM

BTW, my etsy shop is

www.etsy.com/.../MingoHandknits

If you'd like to take a look and give me feedback, I would love it!

MichelleL wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 12:58 PM

I ALWAYS block my garments from sweaters to lace shawls.  Blocking takes the item to a whole other level - from homemade to handmade.  I have blocking wires - both lace and worsted - and I very happy with the way that the items turn out.  I have an etsy shop so it's very important that my items look good...

on Aug 8, 2014 12:48 PM

I block. Although I have to say that the cobweb lace I'm doing as a wedding veil  is so pretty right off the needles, I almost hate to be blocking it when it's done. As to this essay, this: I think it's one of the best I've read on the subject, and a lot of that is because she makes it a family occasion. So cool that she invites the boys to walk on the towel-wrapped shawl to remove as much water as possible! And also so cool that she directs them to each take an end and draw the shawl out as far as it goes so she can pin it! Thank you for describing this technique so well. Now I need to borrow a couple of kids to help me block my next shawl! (just kidding. Still...)

on Aug 8, 2014 12:47 PM

I block. Although I have to say that the cobweb lace I'm doing as a wedding veil  is so pretty right off the needles, I almost hate to be blocking it when it's done. As to this essay, this: I think it's one of the best I've read on the subject, and a lot of that is because she makes it a family occasion. So cool that she invites the boys to walk on the towel-wrapped shawl to remove as much water as possible! And also so cool that she directs them to each take an end and draw the shawl out as far as it goes so she can pin it! Thank you for describing this technique so well. Now I need to borrow a couple of kids to help me block my next shawl! (just kidding. Still...)

Sewroute wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 12:38 PM

I always like to block everything, it makes such a difference.  Usually I use pins on my bed, but like your idea of using string on the long sides.   Thank you! for all your help.

Ronieaa wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 12:24 PM

This is a great article I think the subject of blocking comes up a lot!  Most don't have the wires or some of us have blocking wires but make shawls with unusual shapes and this string idea is perfect for that! I also have always done the wires after I wet my piece.. this is good to know we should put our string in before!!  so much easier working with dry yarn :)

DJ Hendricks wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 11:17 AM

This was a great article! I had never thought of using a string to block. Thanks!!

stitcherfe wrote
on Aug 8, 2014 11:16 AM

Thank you!!!   I love to knit shawls, and don't have wires.....this is a solution to my problem.  I always have string (or spare yarn) that I can use for blocking.  

Thank you again