Oh, hey there, Blog. Seems I’ve been neglecting you a wee bit. Oops. In my defense, I’ve been knitting up a storm the last while, trying to get a few designs under my belt because I know I’ll have less time to knit during the summer. Hopefully, I’ll get the website up to date in the next few days!
But, one thing I’ve been meaning to address for a while is how to blocking a crescent-shaped shawl – or, at least, how I do it. See, it seems many people have trouble with the crescent-shaped shawl bump, which marrs that nice straight edge all shawls should have. I’ve been actively trying to find a cast-on that prevents that hump, and it seems that I’ve got it sussed out, more or less. But, I’ve noticed that blocking is a huge part of getting a nicely shaped crescent-shaped shawl, and it just doesn’t seem like many people talk about the how-tos of blocking. Most knitting patterns say “block”, but they don’t state how to block in a manner that will help a knitter arrive at a nicely shaped finished object. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways of doing this, but since I seem to be able to get a nice straight edge on my crescent-shaped shawls on a regular basis, I thought I’d share my process in case it helps others.
Warning: this is an image heavy post! But, I figure that’s the best way of doing things, since blocking can take an hour or more to do!
For this little tutorial, I’m using a lace weight version of my Sap Moon shawl. This is what it looked like once I had bound-off:
The lower edge of the shawl will become the curved border, and the curved edge, at the back of the frame, will become the straight edge. So, basically, when you bind off a crescent-shaped shawl, it’s an inverted triangle (and a bit ugly looking). Blocking will reverse that, along with opening up all those lovely lace stitches.
Before you block, you’ll need a couple of things. First of all, you’ll need something thin and straight that you can weave into the stitches along the straight edge. I purchased a wire blocking kit from my LYS about a year ago, and it has been wonderful. It came with 4 long straight wires, 2 long flexible wires, 6 shorter straight wires, and a set of t-pins. The set cost me about $25, and I consider this money very well spent! The second thing you’ll need is more t-pins. T-pins are used for quilting, and therefore also called quilting pins. I’m not sure how many I currently have, but I think it’s always better to have too many than not enough (that’s the general rule with blocking and pins!). I purchased mine at my local Michael’s, but they’re also availabe at most sewing and quilting stores. They do come in various weights and lengths – try to get heavy ones, as I find the finer pins bend too easily. And, I also have a spray bottle on hand in case my knitting begins to dry out as I’m blocking – oh, and my handy dandy blocking mat. It was a Christmas gift from my husband, and what I really like about it is that it’s got a grid, which makes it easy to line things up. However, the mat is a luxury, not a necessity. Many people use the interlocking rubber mats used for children’s playrooms, although it’s possible to block on any surface that will hold a pin. I use to block directly onto our carpet – probably not good for the underlay, but it needs to be replaced, so…
Anyhow! If you don’t have a thin, straight wire, bamboo BBQ skewers work in a pinch. You’ll need more of them, but they’re a cheap alternative (but do consider a blocking kit – you’ll be glad you did!).
The next thing you’ll need is a curved wire – I’ve actually take one of the straight wires from my blocking kit and curved it into the approximate shawl of the outer edge of a crescent-shaped shawl. I found the flexible wires a bit too flexible, so the firmer gauge wire works for me. Now, this isn’t absolutely necessary – it is entirely possible to pin out the edge of a shawl without a shaped wire, but I’ve found it gives me a lot more control over how I stretch out my lace. Plus, it saves time and pins, so that’s a win-win!
So, now that you have your supplies handy, give your lacework a wash and a soak. I usually soak mine for about 30 minutes or so in a sink full of lukewarm water. However, when it’s time to take the shawl out of the water, I don’t try to get all of the water out. I simply wrap my shawl in a towel, give it a light squeeze, and then, leave it fairly wet. This seems to work for me, but it’s important to make sure you support the lace at all times – don’t let it hang, or your lace will distort. I simply set the lace, still wrapped in the towel, on my blocking mat, unwrap it, and then shape the shawl a little.
So, now the shawl’s on your blocking surface. The next set is to determine which edge will become your straight edge, and also, determine where your cast-on tail is. I don’t weave my tails in until the blocking process is complete to make it a little easier, because the cast-on tail will help you determine the center of your shawl. Then, take your straight edge wire, and begin weaving it through the straight edge of the shawl, beginning about 1/3 of the way in from the left hand tip (or the right hand tip, if that’s more comfortable for you). Basically, you want that wire centered on the straight edge. I then use two shorter wires and weave them into the “wing tips” of the shawl – or, the bits on the right and left hand side that aren’t covered by that first wire. Some people might think it easier to weave the wires through the eyelets of a shawl (if the shawl has them), but I find, once I block the rest of the shawl, the eyelets get too big for my taste, but your mileage may vary!
So, the straight edge now has a wire all the way along it. Next come the pins! To begin with, I take two pins and use them to secure the center of the straight edge wire, one on either side of the wire. I always insert my pins at a 45 degree angle, as they seem to anchor the wires better this way, and I push them all the way down until they, well, pin the wire in place. I also have one pin angling to the left, and one to the right, just to make sure the center is nice and secure. Then, I begin to stretch the lace to the right, pinning as I go. Once that’s done, I pin down the left, taking care to make sure the left and right sides of my shawl are more or less the same length. Remember, more pins are better than less, especially since we’ll be putting a lot of pressure on that straight edge wire in the next step.
Now that the straight edge is nicely secure, take the shaped wire (if you’re using one) and insert it along the center of the curved edge. Then, move that wire away from the straight edge until you’re happy with how your lace looks. Pin it in place, using lots of pins, as the center will be under the most pressure. I usually insert my curved wire one repeat back from the edge of my shawls, leaving the edge free. This allows me a lot more control over how I finish my edges, as you’ll see in a bit.
Then, once the center of the curved wire is in place, begin to stretch and pin the sides. I use straight wires for the remaining of the curved edge, and generally don’t stretch the edges of the shawl as much as the center, as I find this gives the shawl a more pleasing shape.
Then, once the curved edge is nice and secure and I’m happy with how my lace looks, I go back to the center of the curve and begin to pin out the edge. When a shawl has a border, I usually pin out the repeats first – this is especially useful when I’m planning to pin the edge into points, but I also do it with scallops, as it’s much easier to get the scallops uniform this way. Plus, it’s a lot easier to take out one pin and adjust a point or a scallop than to have to unpin the entire edge and readjust.
I pinned this shawl into points, but if I were pinning it into scallops, I’d insert the pins into the row of knitted stitches on either side of an eyelet, but not the eyelet itself. Pinning into an eyelet will make the eyelet look pointed, not rounded, but pinning into either side of the eyelet allows the eyelet to round, which is how I like my eyelets. Also, more pins are better than less pins, and insert these, too, at a forty-five degree angle. That might seem like a small thing, but it not only gives a better anchor, but it also helps prevent points where you don’t want points (unless, of course, you want points, in which case, put the pins in vertically).
So, that’s it! At the end, I often adjust things a little, and then, give the shawl a light spritz just to make sure everything sets properly. Then, all that’s left is to let it dry. Once I’m sure my shawl is completely dry, I carefully remove the pins and the wires, and then give it a little flap just to make sure I’ve gotten all the pins out. I’ve made the mistake of missing a pin and picking up a shawl, only to find a hidden pin has ripped a hole in my work, which is just heartbreaking! Then, let your shawl sit for a bit, just so it can adjust to its tension-free state. At this point, I’ll often reblock anything I’m not entirely happy with – after all, I’ve spent HOURS knitting my project. Having to wait a little longer isn’t much of a price to have something blocked just so.
Hopefully this will help others get a finished crescent-shaped shawl with a beautiful straight edge and no dreaded hump! But, one last tip: if that dreaded hump makes an appearance, I’ve found that a light reblock into an inverted crescent shape, with the center of the straight edge hollowing towards the curved edge, can really do wonders. Hopefully that’s not necessary, but it can help.
And, so you can see what the finish object looks like, my Sap Moon shawl in lace weight, with a lovely straight edge and a pointy curved edge!
I’m sure others have more great advice, so feel free to share in the comments!