Blocking lace is a magical experience. You take a small, gnarly heap of knitting (that often resembles a loofah) and turn it into an elegant, smooth garment. This transformation is even more evident in circular lace shawls, like Jared Flood’s Girasole, because they don’t even remotely resemble the finished product before blocking.
As Sandy Kay just finished our Girasole shop sample, we decided to take the opportunity and shoot a little tutorial on blocking circular lace. Blocking circular lace is different from lace garments that have straight edges. If you want the shawl (or blanket, hat, etc) to come out as a circle and not an oval, some preparations must be made.
The following tutorial can be applied to other lace pieces, but is truly aimed at circular shawls. In the future, we’ll be adding other lace blocking tutorials as we have the chance to make them. For now, we hope this particular endeavor will help all you Girasole KAL participants who still haven’t blocked your shawls.
A couple of notes before starting:
- We used a homemade blocking board, a pencil, a tape measure, and over 200 pins for the actual blocking.
- The board was made by duct-taping two 40″ x 60″ pieces of 1/2″-thick foam core boards together, along the 40″ wide side (creating a 60″ x 80″ blocking board). If you do not possess a blocking board (bought or homemade), lace can be blocked on carpeting or mattresses. The surface used must be study enough to be pinned under tension (without curling or tearing), but not impossible to penetrate.
- Be sure to place a white sheet or large piece of paper between the blocking surface and lace piece, if the surface cannot be marked by a pencil.
- A combination of quilt pins and T-pins were used for the points of the shawl. Either can be used alone.
- For the purpose of this tutorial, the blocking surface will be referred to as the “board”.
- Three geometric terms (diameter, radius, and circumference) are used for reference in this tutorial. If you a need a quick refresher, Wikipedia has a great article on Circles.
Text Instructions (each step has a corresponding photo):
- Determine the center of your blocking board, mark it, and pin the tape measure to this point, starting at the ‘0’ or first mark on the tape. Consult your pattern to determine the finished diameter of the shawl you are blocking (54″ in our case). If you are blocking a shawl you yourself designed, measure the current diameter and add 30 – 40% for the finished size (the growth will depend on the stitch patterns and yarn used).
- Divide the finished diameter in half to determine the radius of the shawl (27″ in our case). Holding the tape measure taught, measure to your radius on the foam core and mark the location with your pencil.
- Continue to move the tape measure around the board, keeping the tape measure taught, marking the circumference of the finished shawl. Place a mark every 2 – 4″.
- Be sure to check, as you move around the blocking board, that the end of the tape measure hasn’t moved or unpinned from the center. When you have completed a circle around the board, check to make sure there are enough marks to follow. If necessary, go around again, filling in any gaps. Once the circumference of the shawl has been marked, unpin and remove the tape measure from the board.
- If you haven’t already pre-soaked your lace garment, now’s the time (place it in a bowl with cool water and a dollop of no-rinse wool wash for 15 – 30 minutes, or until thoroughly soaked). Gently wring out your piece and place it on the board.
- Begin by pinning the center of the shawl to the center mark on your board. Smooth the shawl out around this center pin, laying it as flat as possible. (In most cases, the shawl will not want to lie flat, which is fine.)
- Take a point and draw it out to the marked circumference. It may fight you a bit.
- Pin it in place, angling the pin at a 45-degree angle, so it won’t pull out easily.
- Continue to pin the shawl in this manner (Steps 7 & 8) in 4″ increments, pulling it out to the marker circumference line from Steps 2 – 4. In most cases, you’re going to have to be quite mean to the lace and manhandle it into place. If, however, at any point it feels like the lace is going to snap or rip, ease up the tension and decrease your intended diameter.
- Do not attempt to pin each point of the shawl border. We skipped five or six points before pinning another. As we had two people working on the shawl, a constant tension was maintained. If you are blocking by yourself, be sure to try and balance your pinning. An example of how to do this would be to pin 6 o’clock after pinning 12 o’clock, then 2 o’clock after 8 o’clock, etc. By working the shawl in a mirrored fashion, it will keep the tension even around the entire surface of the shawl.
- Once every sixth point (or so) has been pinned, begin to work on pinning each point by carefully drawing it out to the marked circumference line and pinning it in place (remember, be aggressive!). If you prefer, you can make this task easier by starting with the center point from each section pinned in Step 10. (see the lower right corner of photo #11)
- Work around the entire circumference of the shawl, pinning each point into place. Remember to angle each pin so it will be less likely to succumb to the mounting pressure of the blocking lace.
- Once you’ve completed pinning, step back and admire. Leave the lace blocking until either (a) it dries or (b) for 24 hours (my recommended time frame). When the shawl has finished blocking, unpin it and wear in style!
Not too bad, right? Sandy Kay certainly thought so (it was her first lace project, yay!). But, to make this tutorial a little more accessible, here are some options for adaptation:
- If your shawl pattern doesn’t have a pointed or ruffled edge (unlikely but entirely possible), you’re going to need to place the pins more closely together so the edge doesn’t warp. Even better, if you can get your hands on flexible blocking wires, thread them through the edge and pin the wire to the circumference marked in Steps 2 – 4.
- If you are blocking a semi-circular shawl, or Faroese shawl, complete Steps 2 – 4 and then adapt the shape to suit your needs. Consult a schematic of the finished piece and (strongly recommended) use a yardstick or rule to marker the straight edge(s) of the piece.
And, with that, we leave you (hopefully) with some new & helpful information. Check back next week for what will (again, hopefully) be the long-awaited Duplicate Stitch tutorial. Until then, as always, we love to hear feedback or suggestions for future tutorials. Happy knitting!
~ Sara M (and Sandy Kay)