Using Blocking Wires To Block A Lace Shawl

How to Block A Lace Shawl Using Blocking Wires

You can always use pins to block any lace project. But for generations, women have used thin wires, or even strong lengths of cotton thread, in place of pins to shape their lace shawls. This tutorial shows you how!

Why use wires? Some people find that using blocking wires gives them a more accurate result in a shorter period of time.

There are many ways to use wires to block lace shawls. Some knitters run the wires through the straight edges and pin out the points; this works very well. For the mini-shawl below, which has points on all three sides, I chose to run the wires only through the points to make sure all the points were even and the edging would lie flat on all sides. My method mimics that of the Estonian shawl knitters who would stretch the shawls on wooden frames, called blocking frames, with nails at intervals to hold the shawl points. Some Estonian knitters would simply thread wires through the points, and stretch the wires over the nails on the frame. (You can see photos of this in Nancy Bush’s Knitted Lace of Estonia, available in our online store.)

Note that you can also use wires to block almost any knitting or crochet project by slipping the wires into the selvedge stitches and using the wires to shape the garment pieces to the exact measurements provided in the pattern schematic.

1.  My mini lace shawl fresh off the needles…doesn’t look like much. Kind of a mess, in fact, unless you’re looking for lots of crumpled texture! Note the top edge measurement: about 21″ across.

2.  I’m soaking my shawl in a basin of lukewarm water and my favorite wool wash. Notice that I gently press the shawl down into the water…

3.  …And then I walk away and let it sit there, thinking its own woolly thoughts, for about twenty minutes until all the fibers have absorbed the water.

4.  After gently taking it out of the water and GENTLY squeezing out most of the wetness, I put it on one end of a towel…

5.  …fold the towel over the shawl (if you are blocking something big, use a second towel)–I’m making a shawl sandwich so the shawl does not touch itself, only the towel. This helps prevent felting.

6.  Roll the towel up into a sausage…or fold it into a package. Your choice.

7.  Gently press to help the towel soak up the moisture. (That’s Nicholas, my husband, providing modeling services.)

8.  Gather together the following materials on a large, flat space with an absorbent cover: Ruler, blocking wires, T-pins, and your damp shawl. (I keep it in the towel as long as possible because it dries fast and I want it damp when I am finished with the blocking.)

9.  Just for fun, I spread out the damp shawl to see how much it has grown just by being wet. Top measurement is now about 29″, 8″ more than when it came off the needles.

10.  Next step is to choose the right length wires for the job. I like to use wires that are longer than I think I am going to need them to be, because the shawl is going to grow bigger than I think it will! You need at least one wire for each edge. If your longest wire is shorter than one of your edges, it is OK to use two wires for that edge–you can overlap them in the middle, even tape them together, so they act as a single wire.

11.  Now, start to smooth your shawl out on the flat surface, starting from the center and working outwards. Make sure you open up all the lace motifs in the center of the shawl; try to start lining them up so they look somewhat straight.

12.  As you smooth out the border, center outwards, give a gentle little tug on each point to open it up. This will help you see where to insert the wires.

13.  Beginning with the first point along one side (not one of the corner points), insert the tip of your wire through the tip of the first point. Try to insert the wire under the bind-off stitches, in the middle of the final knit stitch, or perhaps in one of the final yarnovers, as close to the center of the tip of the point as possible.

14.  Continue to insert the wire into each point along that side. Insert the wire always the same way (under the edge or over it, for example), and into the same part of the stitches of each point.

15.  This is how it looks when you have inserted the wire into all the points along a single side of the shawl.

16.  Start inserting a second wire into the points of the second side of the shawl. Work from the same direction, inserting the wire into each point the same way as you did for the first side. Again, leave the corner points free.

17.  When you have inserted wires along all three sides of the shawl, start lining up the top wire with one of the guides on your blocking board or some other straight line on your blocking surface. Also line up the center line of the shawl, from bottom point upwards, with one of the perpendicular lines on your blocking surface. Place the first pin against the wire (not in the point of the shawl) at this center point along the top wire. (The charming red arrow is pointing to the spot in the photo.)

18.  Continue to place pins against the wire to hold it in place along your guide line at the top of the shawl. You won’t need many; three to five will work fine.

19.  Give the side wires a gentle tug to each side. On most blocking boards, there will be a diagonal guide on one side; use that to line up the wire for one side (at left in photo). Note that the corner points are left off all wires.

20.  Place pins against the wire on the side with the diagonal guides first.

21.  Then pin the last wire, gently pulling the shawl out into shape. NOTE: The side wires should ideally cross at the center guide line (circled in red).

22.  Now pin the center bottom point, using a T-pin. It should match up to the same center guide line where the two side wires cross at the bottom of the shawl.

23.  Next, pin the top two corner points, pulling them gently out from center and placing a single T-pin in the tip of each point.

24.  If your shawl seems to have dried out a bit, spray it with water until it is damp again. (I add a few drops of lavender oil to my water bottle.)

25.  You’re done! Now all you have to do is wait until it is completely dry (and I do mean COMPLETELY dry), then remove the pins and the wires, weave in ends (if you haven’t done so earlier), and enjoy your beautiful new shawl.Final dimensions: 32″ across top border; 24″ along each side; 22″ straight up and down along the center.


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