Lesson: Blocking Lace

Everyone wants to know how to block lace, as if it’s some deep, dark secret or incredibly difficult like rocket science. Actually, it’s quite easy. If you’ve never blocked lace before, you can try this on a swatch if you’re a little nervous.

Blocking Wool or Other Natural Fibers

You need:

Blocking wires and/or rust proof pins. I use both, depending on the project and my mood. You need hundreds of pins if you are using them exclusively. You need about ten or so if you are using them to secure blocking wires in place.

A blocking board or flat surface with straight lines. I use a cutting board made for sewing. It is cardboard, folds up neatly for storage, and has a 1″ grid printed on it, making it easy to get straight edges.

To block a lace scarf or shawl:

1) Soak the finished item in tepid water until it is thoroughly wet. This could take a half-hour or more, so be patient. When you first put the item in the water, you’ll notice that it floats. That’s because so much air is trapped inside the fibers. When it gets saturated, it will sink below the surface of the water and become a darker color.

2) Place the item on the blocking surface, and stretch it into shape. Use the pins to secure the knitting in place, or put the blocking wires in the edges and use the pins to secure the wires in place.

  • If you’re using pins, start by pinning the corners, then place pins at the center of each side. Then, keep dividing each section in half and adding more pins until the edge is straight and even.
  • If you’re using blocking wires, run the wires through the stitches at the very edge of the piece.
  • If your item has a scalloped edge, secure each point with the pins or wires. If your item has a straight edge, you need to pin or run the wires through almost every other row. Basically, you need to secure the item in enough places so the edge is smooth and straight, instead of jagged and sloppy looking.

3) Leave the item to dry thoroughly–overnight in dry areas and for at least 24 hours in wet climates. Even though it might seem like it dries faster, leaving it for a longer amount of time ensures that it is completely dry and helps to set the block so the item won’t shrink up after you unpin it.

Here’s a picture of a scarf being blocked by the Oomingmak knitters in Alaska. You can see that it has been stretched a good deal to open up the lace pattern and to help the fabric drape softly. You can also see how many pins it takes to make a straight edge!



Blocking Acrylic

You need:

Blocking wires and/or rust proof pins, a cotton dish towel or a piece of cotton fabric, and an iron.

In Arctic Lace, I mentioned that you can’t knit lace with acrylic yarns because they won’t keep their shape when blocked. This is true if you follow the procedure above.

However, when I went to the Boise Lace Knitting retreat a couple of months ago, one of the other attendees, Pat Stevens, proved me wrong. Here’s her technique for “killing” acrylic yarn to give it a gorgeous drape.

Wet your knitting, spin it out in a washer. Lay a sheet on the carpet. Pin the piece exactly the size you want. (I stretch my lace shoulder warmers pretty hard.) Lay a wet cotton dish towel or piece of fabric over it. With a hot iron press down all over the thing. Don’t iron just press. I press until the top cloth is very dry. Then I leave it overnight to finish drying. It’s that easy. I really press it a lot, it’s the steam heat that makes the acrylic look and drape like rayon. You may want to knit a large swatch and test it out.

Edited to add this note in response to a question a reader sent me in email: Acrylic yarn gets “killed” by the application of the heat and it will remain dead after future washings and retain its new shape. You should only have to do this treatment once, as far as I can tell, whereas you normally have to reblock lace knitted in wool or other natural fibers after each washing.

Here’s another tip that just arrived in my email from Renee’ Wells, whom I also met at the Boise Lace Knitting Retreat (Renee’ teaches some great classes on Japanese knitting and if you ever have a chance to take one of them, don’t miss it!):

This can also be done dry. Sometimes I place the item on a towel with a wet cloth above. Press and then gently stretch the item into the new shape. You can pick up the cloth between wettings and see where more pressing is needed to even it out. The advantage to this method is greater stretch. You must be careful not to let the item hang over the ironing board it you are trying it there. The weight will skew the shape. I often kill acrylic baby blankets, they morph into lovely exotic feeling fibers! No longer just acrylic! And the mums that receive them use them over and over because they do hold their new drape. 

Blocking Fitted Garments

To block lace for a garment, pin the pieces out to the specified dimensions. Do not stretch or pin ribbing, or it will loose its elasticity.

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