The Importance of Blocking, Earnestly

I’m a lazy knitter.  I like being finished when I cast off. I don’t like sewing pieces together, and will knit in the round just to avoid pesky finishing.

So when I started knitting lace, especially Estonian lace, I finally understood the importance of blocking.  Blocking converts a curled project into a piece I can be proud of. It brings out the pattern, showing off the hard work. In the case of the shawl pictured above, the three months of hard work.

Beginners don’t have to invest in fancy tools. I started by raiding my needle drawer, and stringing together my finest gauge needles to create a straight edge.  Pins with a beaded head help keep the needles in place, and foam blocks for infant play areas create a uniform flat surface.

Once I started knitting Haapsalu Shawls, I invested in a set of Handworks Northwest blocking wires. These make life so very much easier. I get nice straight edges, and good peaks for scalloped edges. The wires are rust-resistant, so they won’t stain the damp yarn.

Here’s another set of before- and after-pictures.

See how the pattern is more visible in the right photo. It’ll hold its shape until it’s washed.

My blocking techniques: I rinse the finished object in lukewarm water, and press out excess water. Then I fold it into a clean bath towel in the bathtub, and do my best impersonation of a grape stomper. After two or three minutes, I rearrange the towel and shawl assembly, exposing the shawl to fresh, dryer surfaces of the towel and stomp some more.

The finished object is almost dry at this point, and time to take to the blocking area. I use my living room floor, but any other large space will work. I put together the puzzle-piece foam squares (12 inches square each), and lay out the shawl.

I usually string through a wire on the shortest side(s) first, then tackle the longer ones. I try to string the wires through the salvage stitch — the outermost one. If it has a scallop, I string the wire through the peak of the scallop. Once the wires are in, I pin them to the foam squares, using long pins with a beaded head. I generally with opposite corners, and stretch them. After pinning the remaining corners, I usually have to adjust the initial corners.  Then I go along the edges, pinning every six inches (30 cm).

After all edges are pinned, and pins are adjusted, I walk away. With fine yarn, two or three hours will do. With a heavier weight (fingering, worsted, dk, etc), overnight is safer. I touch the surface of the finished object in a few spots, and when it doesn’t feel damp, it’s safe to take the wires out.

Once the wires are out, it’s time to figure out the best place to take a photo. Afterwards the finished object is ready to be worn or given to the intended recipient.