I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but knitting lace is a lot like football – at least in one way. You’ll do a lot better when you block. In football, a coach will tell you the success of his running game lives and dies with the blocks – just ask Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s the smallest rusher ever yet holds the records for most yards in a career for that position. He regularly credited his blockers in front of him for his success. Yeah, okay, it’s a stretch but I just wanted to get a little football in there and pay homage to my man Emmitt. What does this have to do with knitting lace? Well, knitting lace is just the first part of it. In order for your work to blossom and look like you really want it to, you almost always have to block it out. Just like with regular knitting, blocking lace allows you to increase its size and really show off the pattern – but with lace knitting that increase can be considerably more than with regular knitting. If you have the two swatches from the previous posts, we can have a look at just what blocking can do for it.
Just to jog your memory, here is a picture of the swatches I made in the two posts before being blocked.
As you can see, while you are able to make out the pattern it is not really that remarkable. The yarn I used for the swatches is Rowan Purelife Organic Wool – a DK weight organic wool with natural dyes. Being a natural fibre, it should take to blocking quite well. There are numerous procedures for blocking, but below is the one I tend to use the most and I am quite satisfied with the results I get. You will need a blocking board (I use a dense piece of foam about 3″ thick and quite large although a smaller one for swatches is a good idea as well), stainless steel t-pins (you can get these in craft stores, quilting supply stores, and sometimes stationery stores), a water mister, a towel or absorbent cloth, and your object to be blocked. If you have the ability to print or draw a grid on your blocking board it will be a big help in getting the right size for the blocked piece.
I take the piece to be blocked and pin down one corner on the blocking board. I then start placing subsequent pins along the piece stretching it comfortably as I do so. The object here is to open up the work enough so that the pattern is clearly visible as the knitting tend to curl in on itself or tighten up after it is knitted. Once you find the right amount of stretch (you’re only working on a little bit of it at a time), pin it down to the blocking board using the “t’s” of the pin to hold the work down. Use as many pins as you have in order to make it secure and even. This is where a grid comes in handy to make sure the project is sized right.
Continue pinning the piece until you have worked from one side to the other. For a rectangular piece you want to work from r – l (or l – r ) and up and down. Once the pieces is fully pinned down and you are happy with the way it looks, take your mister and thoroughly dampen it with water. Some people will say lightly dampen it but I find I get better results when it is thoroughly wet. Now cover it with an absorbent cloth or rag (terry cloth towels work quite well) and allow it to dry.
Once the piece is dry, remove the pins and marvel at your work. As I said before, the size difference can be quite substantial. It is not unusual to have an increase of 25% or more – it all depends on how much the holes in the lace open up and how good the pattern looks accordingly. In the swatches here, the unblocked pieces were approximately 8″ x 4.5″ and the blocked pieces were 10″ X 6″. That’s an increase of 25% right there.
Here is a picture showing an unblocked swatch (design#2) on top of a pinned down swatch. You can see the difference in the size of the two swatches even though they were made using the same needles and there is only a difference of 2 stitches in the pattern. Here is a picture of swatches made by my friend Antoinette from France who has been following along with the KAL. Thanks for the pictures Antoinette! I love your yarn choices – especially the variegated one.
As you can see in her diamond pattern, the design stands out much better than in the unblocked version of mine above. Pinning down the swatch gives you a great idea of what it will look like when it’s blocked. Okay, tomorrow is Tuesday’s Tips so on Wednesday we will return to lace knitting with a more complex design in order to introduce you to lifelines. Then we will have a short survey to see which pattern you would like to make as a lace project. We will also be discussing yarns, so start thinking about what you would like to use.