Bobbles and smart friends

This morning I finished the alpaca dental floss shawl.


We shall not speak of the length of the cast off edge, except to say that it consists of many hundreds of stitches, each of them determined in their own alpaca dental floss way to *not* be cast off, and that they are cast off in an exceedingly clever way that creates a very stretchy and beautiful edge…but doubles the work.

Add to that the fact that the edge also has bobbles and you have a perfect set up for unladylike swearing of the highest order.

(The most profound moment was when I took a break and went to get more coffee…discovering that the stitches waiting to be bound off had somehow leapt free of the needle and were lying, chinese noodle style, tangled and unravelling on the table. I won’t repeat what I said then, but it was creative, loud and unladylike. Something about the alpaca’s mother may have been said. My apologies.)

I am not a bobble fan. Or, to be more precise, I sometimes like the way that bobbles look on a piece of knitting but always hate knitting them. Always. This shawl wouldn’t be complete without them, so I knit them, but grudgingly. The only redeeming thing about knitting these bobbles is that part of the execution involves wrapping the yarn round their bases, thus allowing me to believe that I am strangling them. Very fulfilling tradeoff, plus it makes them look more perky.


(Tanya wanted to know what the fleece was. It’s a Carol Trotter Corriedale. She has the most beautiful fleeces. Jenn asked if I worried about matching fleeces for Joe’s Gansey. I would, but the gansey yarn is being spun all from this one enormous, hulking fleece currently residing in the basement. I wash and spin it a little at a time because….well. It’s huge. The shawl is resting on the second of two batches washed in the last 24 hours.)

When I was done the very long but totally worth it cast off, I set about blocking it. We have discussed my approach before. I am a full immersion, hard stretch, many pin blocker. A lot of pins. Like, a hundred or so. When I do a triangular shawl, most of the pins go along the top edge in a vain attempt to keep it straight. Failure to use a hundred pins in the top edge results in the shawl “swooping” between the pins. I hate that. I’ve often contemplated blocking wires for this purpose, but I’ve never got around to buying them.

I was complaining to my very smart friend Denny this morning that my top edge was swooping and that this was making me unhappy. (Mostly because I just kept adding more pins. I’d been at it for a while when I realized that I was going to end up pinning each stitch of the edge. Not clever.)


Denny (did I mention she’s clever?) suggested the solution you can sort of see above. (Sorry about that. A better blogger would block a white shawl on a dark surface for the purpose of superior blog images.) I took out all of the pins, basted a length of cotton through all of the stitches of the top, then pinned down each end of the string very tautly. Bingo. The edge is very straight, only took about 5 pins and (though I’m not sure this counts as a time saver, since I had already pinned the top of the shawl) was way, way faster than the hundred pin approach.

Clever. Denny is my smartest friend today.

42 thoughts on “Bobbles and smart friends

  1. Blocking Wires? Just head for your local welding supply place and ask for welding rod, in the thickness of your choice. It’s stainless steel, and very much cheaper – and longer, than the “made for knitters” product.
    I peeked at the cover of your new book. Does this mean that once you finish touring for Book One, you will begin again for Book Two?

  2. Chinese-noodle-like escaping stitches? Strangling bobbles? You are ON today, Harlot!
    Thanks for the laughs on a fairly ill-spent Thursday (cleaning!)

  3. What size needles did you use for the alpaca dental floss? I have some laceweight alpaca, and the 3,5 mm approach left the shawl-to-be looking like utter crap. I ripped it out and started again with the yarn doubled and 4,5 mm needles…
    Yes, I know blocking works magic for lace. Yes, I know a swatch would be handy.

  4. I hate blocking.
    I hate it so much I usually avoid making items I have to block.
    So why am I knitting a scarf that will have to be blocked? Because I’m a glutton for punishment.
    The shawl looks stunning.

  5. You with your finished projects! I can’t believe the rate with which you crank them out. I’m embarrassed to call myself a knitter. 🙂

  6. Lying on my desk, waiting for me to hurry and finish the kimono shawl I’ve been knitting (very intermittently), are several tubes of: 0.032 in. wire stock for flexible blocking wires and 1/16 in. brass rod for regular blocking wires. We’ll see how this works.
    At least my shawl’s just a rectangle…

  7. The shawl looks fantastic. Where is everyone seeing your new book cover? I have looked and have not found it. With all the time off from your current touring schedule you will be able to spin a bunch for Joe’s gansey. Have we guilty you enough about it yet?

  8. Blocking on white is the way to go. It can’t absorb any dyes from the fabric it’s on that way.
    Denny’s idea is fabulous! Though for me I already have wires, so it’s moot, but what a creative way out of your problem! Cool! And thanks for such a great laugh–again. And again. And again.

  9. What would we do without Denny’s wisdom? We would all be tangled up, with our ends hanging out, and short on fleece and wit. Definitely a very smart woman.

  10. Well, having seen the thing itself, in person, I can say that dental floss is a fair approximation but it doesn’t really do the stuff justice. The blocking looks awesome.
    Did someone tell you I just ordered blocking wires from Fiddlesticks? I’m sitting here contemplating the irony – you could probably walk there, and you circumvented the wire issue entirely.

  11. Am probably too late to suggest that instead of knitting bobbles, they could be felted into existence.
    That is not an orginal idea of mine. I’ve seen in in the past couple of days or so on a knitting blog – somewhere.
    (I’ll keep my eyes open for it again to pass on the website.)
    Your alpaca dental floss shawl *almost* inspires me to try my hand at lace knitting!

  12. Thank you Laurie for the link to Steph’s next book! The cover IS a hoot.
    You can buy fine gauge wire from a place like H*me Dep*t and use that instead of succumbing to blocking wires. Actually that string is pretty clever.

  13. Oh my. The shawl looks amazing–and also I am re-tempted into spinning by the concept that I could obtain a full fleece and turn it into a full sweater.
    I am seriously excited about all the “not-blocking-wire” ways to block long edges suggested in this post!

  14. Three cheers for Denny! 🙂
    BEEEEEYUUUUTIFULLLLLL! I am stunned. Lace is magic, is it not?
    I miss you, you author.

  15. Smashingly lovely!
    I like that your friends are clever, and your clever in posting about your cleaver freinds. It makes this great circle knowledge thng that totally makes sense and helps out others with that 100 pin issue. Thanks.

  16. Thanks for putting a smile on my face this rainy, chilly Thursday. Denny=genius. And I love, LOVE, the cover of the book. I want to hang it on my wall (or at least put it on a t-shirt).

  17. Denny gave you great hints and the alpaca dental floss shawl is looking gorgeous. I will really love to see it after’s it done blocking. I’m not a fan of bobbles either, but it sure does look nice on the shawl.

  18. Here’s another version of that string method … Loosely run the string all the way around a square or rectangular shawl (just through the points if your pattern has them), leaving loops of string at each corners. With another person’s help, pull the four loops to stretch out the knitting and pin as needed. In addition to the welding wire, I’ve read about bass guitar stings for cap sleeves. Harlot, you should be able to get a hold of some of those � ask your sock to ask his musician friends.

  19. Sorry, that was a cold comment — all tech and no gush. Gorgeous shawl and it looks so comfy and soft. Could you blog the pattern source please? Strangling bobbles sounds amusing.

  20. I am living for this. I cast on for Peacock Feathers last night.
    At the risk of offending someone (everyone?), can I just say that your Alpaca and Corry picture looks like a movie still from Mandingo?

  21. don’t you feel so happy with the great job you did?I love that feeling,maybe thats why I like blocking so much

  22. I am so glad you posted about the thread… I have almost finished my wedding flower basket shawl and this will save me so much time! (I am a little overwhelmed with the wire idea.)

  23. it’s amazing. i have yet to try my hand at lace, although i’m contemplating a christmas project which i had better start soon, lol. just need to get the yarn from martheme (it’s gonna be silk, the giftee is allergic to wool). the cover of your new book is a riot! are you ever gonna make it anywhere near omaha, ne? i would love it!

  24. Ooh the shawl looks great, the new book looks great. Just on little problem, looks like I will have to wait a while to read it It’s not released in the UK ’til September!

  25. The dental floss shawl looks great. Re Blocking, I tried fishing line (0.35mm “ideal for feeder and big fish”) thinking if it didn’t work I could always catch a sea bass with it. Worked a treat. The chap’s face in the fishing tackle shop was a picture as I tried to explain what I wanted.

  26. Kate, I agree with the fishing line choice. The Forest Path stole pattern from Interweave Knits suggests this and it does work well. I use a high-strength line and heat the ends to make a smooth “ball-point” so it will thread through the knitting without a needle. My last shawl blocked out so big I would have had to use two of the Zonta wires on each side. So big I ran out of bed surface or it would have been even bigger!

  27. Unladylike comments and the alpaca’s mother…
    My husband often says “I thought knitting was supposed to be a RELAXING hobby?” when I’m on my third chorus of “God-effing-dammit!”
    Cursed With Curses,

  28. From book2book2book2 editorial review on Amazon:
    ‘Since the upsurge in knitting began in the early ’90s, the number of women under 45 who knit has doubled. Knitting is no longer a hobby for just grandmothers’
    Does this mean that if I’m over 45 I fall into the category of ‘just grandmothers’?
    What a difference that blocking made!!! From a shriveled pile of floss to a beauty of a shawl. You just may convince me that blocking is not a pain in the arse not worth doing – but is actually a pain in the arse that should be done!

  29. Galina emphatically recommends nylon string, not cotton–it’s much smoother and won’t weld itself to the item being blocked–I don’t know that cotton would do that, but given Murphy’s law and the perversity of inanimate ojects, why take a chance?

  30. Thanks to Denny for the great blocking tip, and to you for publishing it. I am making a small shawl right now, so will get to try it out soon.

  31. i have to say that i’ve been reading your blog for a little while now, and love it. just recently i got your book and love it too! your too funny! just letting you know you have one more faithful reader:)

  32. Ah. What breathtaking gossamer. Truly the work of Great Spider Woman. It is beautiful enough to make ME want to wear a white lace shawl, and I am not by any means a demure, dainty, or soft-spoken white lace sort of person. For me to wear lace it has to be bouncy and psychedelic and ready to pack up and follow the Grateful Dead around, or at least pretend to be doing so.
    Nonetheless, I imagine wrapping myself in this white and fragile web and actually looking like a girl for a change.
    ‘Tis a garment fit for a Faerie Queene and makes me want to make a wish.

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