In my last post, I showed off my Stormy-ish Sky shawl (so named because I sort of followed the pattern). As I do with each blog post I write, I cross posted to my personal Facebook page in hopes of getting more eyes on my blog. When I posted a picture of this shawl, a lot of people told me how beautiful it is. And it is, despite being riddled with mistakes. That is because I utilized my super power: “aggressively blocking.”

I never really blocked my work when I was making mittens and hats. Sure, I’d wash them (well, usually) and sort of shape them as they dried, but I didn’t much care for actually blocking with real blocking tools until I made my first lace piece. And if you’ve ever knitted anything with lace, you know what happened when I cast that shawl off. Yep, it looked like a tiny, ugly wrinkled piece of fabric. So I picked up some T-pins and foam core boards and pinned the heck out of that shawl (I think this was my first blocked piece). It was so neat to see the holes open up and the shawl take shape.

After researching online I realized I wanted to try blocking wires (from Knit Picks) and foam pads (flooring squares purchased from a local hardware store. If I purchase more, I’d get the solid color instead).

And then I discovered blocking aggressively.

Lace looks better when you block aggressively. The knitted piece will grow when those yarn overs are stretched out and stitches even themselves out. When you’re crossing and tugging and stretching stitches to make the pattern, they become uneven. I’m assuming that’s why lace looks like wrinkled paper when it comes off the needle. But when you pull tight in all directions, the stitches become uniform.

Before blocking my Stormy-ish Sky shawl. It was tiny and dense.

Here’s how I block aggressively.

  1. I let the knitted piece take a nice, cool bath with some unscented Soak (no rinsing required). I have a plastic bin that is only ever used for my knitting.
  2. I gently squeeze water from the piece and then lay it flat on a towel, roll it up and squish. This pulls out a lot of water without my having to handle the shawl too much by twisting and squeezing.
  3. I weave the blocking wires through edge stitches. This part I hate. It’s slow (the wires don’t slide easily through wet loops) and I never know where the best place to weave it through will be. Usually I put on a movie or work my way through a Netflix binge. Important: Unless your blocked piece is going to be tiny when blocked, you will want to have more than one wire per side. Remember, you’re stretching it out. I hate finding out 20 stitches fell off a wire during stretching and I need to weave in a new wire when half of it is already pinned down.
  4. Pin your item down. I pick one corner and one side then spread everything out and pin, pin, pin. I usually do the longest side, sliding the stitched along the wire as I pin to get the longest width. Then I pull the point pin it down and start to tug the other sides out keeping the wires as straight as I am able (without pulling so hard I bend the wires. Which I did once). This is why you want more than one wire per side. It gives you room to slide the stitches as wide as they go. Important: Watch out with those T pins. your stitches will slide up into the bend and be a pain in the behind to slide out. I need to research and see if there are similar pins without the loop.
  5. Let it dry and try to keep the pets from walking across it.

Usually I will do step 4 over as I discover the best way to block my item moving pins over and over. But I always pull it as tight as I can to get as big and open as I can. This is also how I learned that I have to watch my cast on/bind off edges as well as the sides. I tend to knit those tight which will limit how stretchy a side is. For this shawl, I started at the top left pinned the top down and then worked everything else out. As I pull the sides wider, the point become shallower. It’s about finding balance (hence pinning over and over).

After blocking. I might have pulled it a little too tight as the foam pads wanted to curl up. Hence the Bible and Cards Against Humanity Expansion pack weighing the top edge down. There must be some kind of theological statement in that.

I don’t aggressively block everything. Some things I gently block. Others I sternly block and some things don’t get pinned at all, but gently formed and allowed to dry (like socks and hats). But lace like the Stormy-ish Sky shawl, do get aggressively blocked (and the Hitchhiker for my mother-in-law to make it a little larger as I had limited yarn for the project).

Some notes:

  • I’ve read tips that say to place the pins in the direction of the fabric to keep from pulling loops out and get a straight line. That probably works without wires, but with the wires I found that tends to slide the pin into the stitches getting it all tangled. So I point them out and push in towards the knitting. With the wires, I don’t see any stitch stretching
  • This is how I block. I am not a professional and there are a million different directions online with someone’s best practices. You need to do what works for you and my process might not be right. Use common sense when blocking your own work.
  • Be careful not to damage your yarn or ruin the piece you’ve worked so hard on as your blocking. Don’t pull so hard you snap your yarn or lose detail. That would be tragic.

So there you go. Blocking is what made the Stormy-ish Sky shawl so lovely. It also made it a lighter, thinner shawl which allows me to use it as an all-weather shawl.

Do you block? Share any tips and tricks (or your favorite tools) in the comments.