May 2008: Blocking lace
By popular demand: A newsletter on how to block lace!
So, what is blocking?
To block a piece of crochet means to wet it (we’ll see how), give it the shape you like, and let it dry.
When your piece is worked in a solid stitch pattern blocking is optional. It will get rid of some curling at corners, it will give your piece that beautiful, finished look – but it is not strictly necessary.
When it comes to lace, though, blocking is, in my maybe-not-so-humble opinion, an absolute necessity. Blocking will open up your stitch pattern, even out your fabric and make your work shine. It might seem daunting (though I hope it won’t seem as scary once you’ve read this newsletter), but it’s an effort that’s really, really worth the while.
What do you need?
Well, obviously, a crocheted piece to block. I used a pure wool in the swatches I made for this newsletter, because wool blocks beautifully. Please note that synthetics don’t block the way natural materials do. But if your yarn is a blend, it will most often block nicely.
Beyond that, you will need a flat, firm surface you can stick pins into. A big carpet, wall-to-wall carpeting or an unused bed all work fine. I have thick boards in a dense, styrofoam-like material, which I bought at a building store (I think they are used for insulation). They are cheap and light, and when I don’t use them, I can store them vertically against the wall behind a door.
You will need terry towels to cover your blocking area. You could use any soft and absorbent textile, of course, but I do like terry towels. The surface has a little « grip » which makes it very easy to smooth out the fabric and have it stay reasonably put during the time it will take you to pin it.
Pins, yes, are needed too. I know that at least in the United States, rust-resistant T-pins are often used for blocking. I use pins with a spherical coloured glass or plastic head, which are commonly found in France and Sweden. I prefer to work with pins that have a more substantial head so I don’t hurt my fingers too much when I push them into the blocking area. And I really like it that the coloured heads are easy to see when you need to pull out all the pins once the blocking is finished. (Don’t look for these pins in the pictures below, though. I’ve put them away in a safe place – so safe I can’t find them at the moment!). You can use any pins you like or have – as long as they don’t rust.
You also need a means to apply moisture to your work. More on that below.
How to do it
This step may come before or after you’ve applied moisture to the fabric. Read to the end to choose your preferred method before you start!
Smooth out the fabric with your hands. I often place my first pin in a corner. If the piece is fairly small, I place the second pin in the opposite corner, and pin out all the corners before I work on the sides.
If the piece is big, like a large shawl, this is not practical. I start pinning at one edge, or at the tip of a triangular shawl. If you’re following a pattern, and if you have used a yarn of the same weight and a hook of the same size as those specified in the pattern, the measurements given in the pattern can work as a guide. If not, stretch out the fabric as much as you need to until you like the look of it. Be careful, though. Yarn is strong, but depending on the material and the way it’s spun, too-vigorous pulling may make it break. Be especially careful if your yarn is a single (i.e. not composed of several strands, or plies).
On long, straight edges, you can use blocking wires. I don’t have any blocking wires, so I use my old, straight knitting needles instead. Just make sure the needle or the wire is relatively thin, so it doesn’t open up holes in the fabric where there should be none. Weave the needle through the fabric edge in places you deem appropriate. It looks something like this:
You use pins with this method too, to hold the needles in place, but you need far fewer pins. On this swatch, I used a knitting needle and two pins to hold it in place at the left edge. At the right edge, I needed seven pins to achieve a reasonably straight edge:
This is a just small swatch. You can easily understand why this is helpful on a larger piece. It’s faster, it takes fewer pins, and it’s much easier to adjust as you go.
Because adjustments will be needed. You will not put your pins in exactly the right place at first. You might stretch the fabric too much in one spot and not enough somewhere else. Your edges might not be straight to start with, or maybe you’ll discover that the whole piece is askew. Be patient, move your pins and think of the beautiful result you will get.
Don’t be too much of a perfectionist either. We’re talking about yarn here, a soft and squishy material. Small mistakes won’t show.
You need to apply moisture to your crocheted piece, or you will have done all the pinning for nothing. The piece will shrink back and crunch up to its initial state as soon as you pull out the pins.
I know of three methods to do this.
The first method I learned (because it was the one my mother used) was to spray water on the crocheted fabric and let it dry. It was the method I used on this swatch:
It works perfectly fine, but I rarely block this way today. I would tend to wet the fabric quite heavily with my spray bottle, to make sure it’s saturated enough. It takes a long time to dry, especially on thicker pieces. I’m not that patient.
The second method is the one I almost always use when I make crocheted garments: steaming. This method was applied to this swatch:
I use my steam iron, the one I iron clothes with. I fill it with water, put it on the highest temperature possible, and let it heat up. I then hold it over the surface of the fabric, as if I were ironing it. I’m not, though. The iron never touches the fabric; the steam does it all.
I like this method, but you must be careful not to burn either yourself, the fabric or your blocking surface. Steam is very, very hot!
Because of the heat, the fabric dries relatively quickly. Good for impatient people like me!
The third method is the one I prefer when blocking lace, and the one I used on this swatch:
Let the crocheted piece soak in tepid water for around 20 minutes. Make sure all the fabric is immersed.
Lift it out of the water carefully – it is now completely soaked, and heavy. Use both hands, and avoid letting large bits of fabric hang down. Lay your work on a dry terry towel and spread it out. You can double the crochet fabric if your work is bigger than the towel.
Put another terry towel on top, and roll both towels up, with the crocheted piece between them. Do not wring – this can distort the crocheted fabric – but apply pressure on the roll of towels to squeeze out water. A very efficient way to do this is actually to stand on the towels.
Roll up the towels and marvel at how much water they’ve absorbed – the crocheted fabric is perfectly moist to the core (since you’ve soaked it for a long time), but not wet at all (thanks to the towels).
Now you can pin your work out on the blocking board. This will be easier than with the two previous methods. The fabric is already damp and relaxed, and will not spring back as easily when you smooth it out.
End of the process
Just let your work dry. Make sure your kids or your pets can’t get to your beautiful work during this time.
When everything is perfectly dry, pull out all the pins. Lift the fabric carefully from the blocking area. Don’t move too fast – if you’re anything like me, more often than not you will have forgotten a pin somewhere.
Weave in your ends and admire the beauty you’ve created.
And if you need any more motivation to do your blocking, look at these pictures before blocking:
See you soon!