Stretched Thin – How To Create Stunning Lace By Blocking

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Have you ever finished a project and thought, “Bah…I don’t need to block this”, or perhaps “I don’t know how to block, can I just skip it?”

In the beginning this described me perfectly. Now I block nearly everything. I’ll admit to not blocking a few things, a stretchy baby hat that takes it’s shape once on said baby’s head doesn’t need blocking in my opinion. Now if I’m giving that hat as a gift I will block it, so it has a pretty shape sans baby head.

When it comes to lace, the knitted piece absolutely must be blocked. Lace changes dramatically post blocking. Let me show you:

I just finished knitting a shawl pattern by Deborah Frank called Memoria. It was a lovely pattern, perfect for a lace beginner with striking results.

Straight off the needles it hardly looks like anything special. In fact it doesn’t even really hold a triangular shape, the edges buckle and wave. At this point my shawl measures 95cm/ 38.5” across the top edge, 51.5cm/20.5” tip to top along the center and the lace edging measures 11cm/4.5”

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The lace itself is condensed, and has more of a textured stitch look than what we imagine as lace. (front – left, back – right)

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Do not weave in your ends yet, as the tension of the whole piece is going to change. Weaving in before blocking can cause puckers where the fabric can not stretch out properly.

Lace needs to be stretched out while fairly damp. Steam blocking, or stretching it out dry and misting it, isn’t going to open it up to its full potential.

DSC_0028-001So into the bath it goes. I’m lucky enough to have 2 double kitchen sinks, so I can soak mine for hours in there without running into the problem of needing the sink. Lots of people use a bucket or a plastic tub to avoid that problem. Using soap is optional, but please do yourself a favour and do NOT use dish soap. Dish soap is made to strip oils from your pots and pans in a very harsh way. Wool especially, but most other fibres too, are dried out by the stripping of these oils. After a few washes in dish soap your lovely drapey soft shawl is going to feel crunchy. I know, I know, some of you are going to say I always use dish soap, and I never have a problem, wool wash is just a money grab. I disagree, feel free to use what you like, but know wool wash is made for wool and other fibres, so that they maintain a moisture balance and to prolong the life of your knits that you spent hours/days/weeks knitting. After all, you don’t use Ajax in your washing machine right? Sometimes it’s worth using a specialty item.

After soaking, rinse under running water for a minute or so. Gently squeeze out your project, but don’t wring, you don’t want to stretch out your stitches in awkward ways. Wringing too hard can also cause some of your yarn to snap by pulling the stitches further than they can stretch, leaving it in need of darning before you ever wear it.  Next lay your project out on a towel (you can bunch it a bit, so it will fit) and then roll it up like a jelly roll. Press down on the towel to blot out the water ( I like to walk across it). Unroll and begin to pin block it.

You can buy blocking mats, but I picked up some garage floor foam mats from the hardware store, they are made from the same material. Some people pin on a mattress, or a couch if the project is small enough. A word of caution: some yarns leach dye when wet, something to consider when laying out on a fabric surface.

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When pinning a triangular shawl I like to start by pinning the top edge. I use the edge of the foam mats to get a nice straight edge. Stretch as you pin. I pin it in about 10 places, and then go back and pin it about every second yarn over to keep it nice and straight. Then I start to pull down the the points on the two side edges, starting from the top edge. I do about 10 on the left, and then 10 on the right, until both sides are done. This keeps the stretch fairly even on both sides. Pull quite firmly and keep the points in-line with the rows above it, so that your points follow nice diagonal rows of knitting.

When blocking a rectangle keep crisp vertical and horizontal lines.

Circular knit blocking requires you to keep a nice round shape with rows of knitting that make nice straight lines from the edge to the center, and from the center straight to the opposite edge cutting the circle in half.

Take your time pinning, it can be a bit of a process. I think the first shawl I blocked took me a few hours. It gets quicker with practice.

When choosing pins, choose pins with a large head or T pins. Stretching can cause the yarn to creep up and slip over the top, if the pin head is too small. It is also important since you are wet blocking to choose rust-proof pins.

Some people block “harder” (stretch further) than others. Open your lace up until it has the look you want, but be sure you really open up your yarn overs quite a bit, so the lace pattern really shines.  Stretched lace won’t keep the same dimensions once it is done. When you remove the pins it will relax some since the pins aren’t holding it taught.  My pinned shawl measured 171cm/68.5” (top) X 73cm/29” (center) with the lace edging measuring 21cm/8.5”.

Do not unpin until the the yarn is completely dry. Best to leave it overnight if you can. Take the pins out one at a time.

Once it is unpinned weave in any ends you may have.

There you have it – How to wet block a lace shawl.

As you can see the lace opens up dramatically.  I love the look of a flower in the center of each  diamond.

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Unpinned my shawl measures 160 cm/64” across by 73cm/29” tall with the lace edge opening to 17.5cm/7” that’s quite the stretch from 95cm/ 38.5” across by 51.5cm/20.5” tall it was pre-blocking.

Mine is all set now to be bundled up and gifted. I’m excited for the recipient to receive it.

Happy lace knitting and blocking!


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7 comments


  1. Great, detailed instructions and a gorgeous shawl! I was wondering what type of “care instructions” might be good to give the recipient of the shawl.

    • Erron@KnitLove

      Great question. I actually had on my check list to mention reblocking with every wash, but I missed it.

      So here it is: Lace should be washed only when it gets dirty or when it is no longer holding its shape, no need to wash it with every wear.

      Wash gently with fiber wash and repeat the blocking instructions each time. Once you wet the lace it won’t hold that taught shape without another blocking.

      If you are giving a lace shawl to a non-knitter (or non-lace-knitter) you may want to either recommend they return it to you to be washed, or to send them a link to a good tutorial, like this one ;)

      All of that said, don’t be afraid to wear it. It does no good hanging in your closet where no one can see it, waiting for something “special” enough. At my house grocery shopping is special enough for lace!

      A lace shawl can be worn as a traditional shawl, or wrapped around ones neck in a variety of ways as a scarf.

  2. Jenn

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial. I used it to block a lace scarf last night. I am unhappy with the finished product–can I still rip it out and reuse the wool after blocking?
    Thanks.

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