Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Swan Lake Stole, and Blocking Lace

Just about this time last week I finished my Mystery Stole, made in charcoal Zephyr lace yarn. About a week later than I had hoped, but still not so far behind that I was feeling too terribly guilty about all the other projects waiting in line. The official name for this pattern is Swan Lake, and it is based on the ballet of that name. I found the project very enjoyable, and it was interesting to work on something on complete faith - not having any idea what the outcome would be, but going with it anyway. For a control freak like myself, that was a big step, and also part of the fun. I love the finished shawl and look forward to using it as cooler weather descends upon us.

On Sunday morning I got everything I needed ready to block my stole. I should warn you: I am a BIG fan of blocking my finished pieces. I learned to sew at a very young age, and it was always emphasized to me that you have to constantly press your work as you sew if you want to have crisp, professional results. I made all my clothes for many years (and would still, if it wouldn't cut into precious knitting time) and always had the ironing board set up and the iron ready before I sat down at the sewing machine. The same idea applies to blocking your knitting. If you and I have ever had a conversation about making a gauge swatch, you know that I not only urge you to make a big swatch, I also tell you to wash and block your swatch before measuring for gauge. This is absolutely vital to success in a finished project. By the way, I also suggest that you measure for gauge before blocking and note those numbers down, so that you can see how much of a change occurs in your garment before and after blocking your work. I've seen many a finished piece grow a good bit after the blocking process, so in order to properly judge the fit of a finished piece, you have to block your swatch.

But blocking, you may think, isn't so important on projects where size is not an issue, such as scarves or shawls. Not so. Blocking always puts the finishing touch on a project, and is the difference between having it look hand-crafted, or look homemade. I always tell concerned first-time lace knitters not to worry about what their project looks like as they are knitting it, so long as they are accurately following the pattern. Lace, I always think, looks like a dog's dinner until after it is blocked. It looks like something you would reprimand the cat for doing. But take the time to block it and like the enchanted swans in Swan Lake, it transforms as if by magic into something of even greater beauty.

Blocking can be accomplished with as few or as many of the available blocking tools as you wish. But I have to tell you that the blocking wires I got last year for my birthday just changed my life. And that this year I have whispered into Santa's ear that I would love a blocking board. Next year it will probably be a woolly board, but we won't go there now...

You need a few basics for blocking lace-
- a flat surface to block on
- an absorbent material to put under the piece to be blocked
- a lot of pins
- a spray bottle with water
Much desired extras would include-
- blocking wires
- blocking board

There are also lace-blocking frames that allow you to string your project out between two parallel supports - kind of like the center of a snow-shoe - and then stand it up against a wall to dry. I imagine these would be wonderful to have, but I am not yet that dedicated to the idea of having one.

Flat Surface - I have heard many people say that they block their shawls either on the carpet or on a queen-sized or larger bed. I don't have spare floor space or a spare bed hanging around the house, but what I do have is a dining room table that has long served as a fabric-cutting table, a beading project table, and heaven knows what else that doesn't relate to food as often as it does to textiles and creativity.

Absorbent Layer - A couple of old bath towels will do here, I like to lay them out flat two layers deep. This way I can pin into them without scratching my table, and they absorb the moisture used in blocking.

Now for the blocking process. When blocking garments, I like to wash them according to the instructions on the ball-band before beginning to block. With lace, I don't wash them first, but start by pinning the piece out while it is still dry.

First I thread the wires through the long sides, and pin them carefully so that the selvedges are laying flat and smooth, and the parallel sides measure equidistant from each other at several points. This allows me to know that I am blocking my piece evenly. Don't spare the pins - the closer you pin, the more precise your blocking will be.

Next I thread wires through the work on any tricky areas - including points, and circles or semi-circles. The flexible wires are great for blocking out points on a curved edge, and getting them even without lots of painstaking pinning and measuring of each point.

If there are any strong design lines within the piece, I like to thread a blocking wire through them as well to make sure that they block into a nice, straight line.

Once I have everything thoroughly pinned out, I take my spray bottle and completely wet the knitting. Think of this as though you are setting hair - you have to wet the hair and put it into the form you want it to take, and then let it dry completely before you take it out of the forms. Same thing here, after all, we are working with animal hair. Once I have it all dampened, I gently pat it all flat with my hands, and then try to be very patient and let it dry in peace without me feeling it every time I go by (not successful there) and not taking it out of the blocking wires and pins before it has had time to really set well. I learned as a child that the sooner I went to bed on Christmas Eve, the sooner it seemed as though Santa came, instead of sitting up late waiting for him when he darned sure wasn't going to show up while I was still awake. Same principle applies here, I like to block things at the end of the day so that I can wake up the next morning and have my blocked piece all ready and waiting for me. Just a personal foible, but it may help you, too.

If you are thinking about starting your first lace project, know that we have several devoted lace-knitters at the shop who would LOVE to help you at every stage of your project. Just as I take great pleasure in turning normal people into knitters, I also love turning normal knitters into lace knitters. Lace knitting can open a whole new world to you, and if you already know how to work an SSK, a K2tog, a YO, and a double decrease, then you already know nearly everything you need to know in order to successfully knit lace. Try it, I promise you will become addicted.

1 comment:

Julie said...

It was hard to not read this post, since I haven't even started on my mystery shawl, and I want to keep it as mysterious as possible, even though I am totally late.