Walk around the block

Yesterday Mairi asked about blocking. How I do it, where I do it, what pins I have…how I manage the big stuff. There’s lots of opinions on this, and many clever people have written about it.

There’s a knitty article here, and if you want to see it done by someone who really, really is not screwing around, check out Judy Gibson’s pages. (Note: Judy’s knitting often inspires waves of jealous nausea in the unprepared. Sit quietly and let the wonder of her sweep over you until you feel a sense of respectful awe instead. This may take some time if you have recently had your arse kicked by some lace knitting.)

I am a really big fan of full-immersion multi pin blocking. I have no interest in laying damp cloths over things or lightly steaming them into shape. I want the big swish. It is the act of bending knitting to my will that I love, and I have the most control when the piece is properly wet. Usually, the blocking bath is also the first wash and since I knit all over the place, the item can usually use it. After the wash I use a simple system of strings and pins to get the shape I want and leave it to dry. This takes very little time and effort with sweater pieces or stuff like that…but can be involved with lace.

Here’s the Harlot Lace blocking method…such as it is.

1. I assess the piece and come up with a plan. Any straight edges?


I take a darning needle and smooth yarn (a piece much longer than I think the knitting will block out to) and thread it through the edge I would like to keep straight. The example here is the top edge of a triangular shawl. I hear tell of knitters who use blocking wires for this part, but I don’t have any.

2. I soak the piece in a room temperature bath with wool wash for about 10-20 minutes. Shorter for alpaca and silk….longer for stretchy wool (like merino) that is difficult to persuade.

3. Gather the knitting into a ball while it is still in the water, you don’t want to lift it out so that it gets stretched or pulled out of shape while you are moving it. Lift it up, plop it onto a clean towel and wrap it in the towel. Step on it a couple of times to squish out the worst of the dripping sodden-ness. You want the thing somewhere between damp and wet.

4. I take it to my bed, which I have stripped of duvet and pillows, just leaving the clean bedsheet. I use my bed because it is big, because you can jam a million pins into it without it mattering, and because lace dries really fast. If you block in the morning it will be dry by bedtime. (If you are worried about ending up sleeping on the couch, use a fan. It speeds it up a lot.) I’m sure I don’t have to warn you that if you have a waterbed or a bed covered in an electric cover that it’s a really bad idea to stick pins into it, no matter how careful you intend to be.

5. I spread the wet thing out and give it a little shove into shape to make sure it’s going to fit on the bed the way it is. Then I stab a collection of pins into the bed and stretch the string for the top edge tightly between them.


The string is a brilliant thing. If you don’t use it, you will spend hours and hours trying to eliminate little scallops along the edge…


You don’t want that. It’s crazy making. If you have any sort of perfectionist tendencies at all, save yourself the anguish trying to get a straight edge with pins. It leads to this….


Speaking of pins, I use the dressmakers rustproof pins (that rustproof is important. You want that.) and I get the ones with the little coloured balls on the ends to reduce the odds that I will miss a pin in our bed and end up giving Joe a surprise that will also give him an opinion about blocking on the bed. (Also, whenever possible, in the interests of marital politeness, I block on my side. That way, if I miss a pin or the bed is a wee bit damp at bedtime…I’m not annoying someone who really doesn’t think that properly blocked lace is worth sleeping in a wet bed.)

6. Using your trusty tape measure, measure out from the centre of the piece and pin the two points (or edges or whatever your thing has).

7. Follow down a centre line and pin the point (or bottom edge, or whatever your thing has.)


Don’t worry about how lame it looks right now. Give it some room.

8. Pin out any points…..


Working back and forth, side to side. Pinning the centre of one side then the other, then a point between those, then the matching one on the other side. Pull the knitting firmly, but not alarmingly, since it is possible to break a thread if your knitting is fine, and you really will have to go lie in the road if that happens.


(Note: any spots you see on the sheets are water from the shawl, not anything on my bed that you don’t want to know about. I can’t believe I typed that, but Rams would never let it go if I didn’t cut her off at the pass.)

9. When the whole thing is pinned out, take a look. Do the sides look even? Are your slopes straight? Is there any pins or strings you can move? If it is very stretchy (like merino) you may find that once the lace has been pinned out and “rested” for a few minutes, that it can be further pinned out, moving the pins further outward, stretching the lace more.


(That picture is totally crooked because I was too short to get the whole thing in the frame. I was also too lazy to go get a chair to stand on, so I just held the camera over my head. Sorry. I’ll try to be a better blogger from now on.)

10. Wait. Ken finds it helpful to admire the knitting every so often, but I stay away. I’m a little on the obsessive side and I find a pin to move every time, so it’s better for me to go out.


When the lace is thoroughly dry (and not one second before.) you may unpin and dance around with the it held aloft. Show the cat. Show your neighbours.

Party hard on the thrill of blocking.

59 thoughts on “Walk around the block

  1. Being someone who is about to embark on her first lact project, I had been wondering about all this lace blocking business. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the tip about the string. I have done that avoiding scallops attempt before. Luckily I don’t really have a perfectionist bone in my body but a string will save a bit of frustration.

  3. I consider myself a fairly smart woman, but lately, sorely lacking in creativity. I see a piece of lace and think that I MUST have blocking wires to block this piece of lace. Nothing will do besides wire.
    So the string? PURE GENIUS. Ingenious, even. I bow to your ability to see the unexpected in the expected.

  4. Wow. This couldn’t have come at a better time. Definitely going to make blocking my recently finished scarf a lot easier. Thanks! 🙂

  5. The bed! Of course! (Smacks forhead with heel of hand) The string is, as has been pointed out, genius. Can you tell I don’t block much? Thanks!!

  6. What a beautiful shawl! Thanks for the info on blocking how-to. What is the name of that shawl pattern?

  7. Wonderful tutorial. Unfortunately with a little one in the house, a bed full of straight pins is not an option for me. 🙁 Oh well I’ll just be the knitter with the lousy blocking job…My fbs was “blocked on the clothesline with a series of closepins that weighed down the points.

  8. I love the string idea its great! I used to block on the bed as well until I discovered that the baby foam blocks that the alphabets come on that interlock and the babies crawl on as a mat works just as great. Better I think as you can have your bed at night! OH and the best part about the blocks is that they are able to be staning upright to save precious space!!

  9. That lace is so pretty! Thank you for the tips. I have never blocked before and I am working on a couple of shawls so it is good to know about!

  10. you (as we all know) are bloody brilliant! I could have just saved myself tons of time with that extra yarn trick. I would think that a cotton yarn would actually work the best because of it’s smoothness.

  11. Oooh! Oooh! We are SO in synchronicity this week, Steph. Except I’m not cycling. But I also blocked a shawl last night. Pics on the blog (click my name to see) Triangular as well, to boot. I use blocking wires instead of thread and a foam pad that was a cast off from Miss Lily when she upgraded. I planned the edge with small loops that are perfect for blocking with wires. The big table in my father’s office is used for surreptitious after-hours blocking.
    I have had lace spring a leak under the tension of blocking. It is horrifying. When blocking, have a needle and spare yarn handy. You may need to do some fast duplicate stitch.

  12. Harlot to the resuce! I am just finishing up my biggest lace project to date, so this is timely info. You are a better woman than I am, because I am so totally going to pin that sucker over on my husband’s side. He is terrified that an ant, earwig, spider-anything with more legs than him is laying in wait for him. It is so fun to watch him jump around when he does lay on something (rubberband, bobbypin, the occasional dpn). I don’t get out much-I gotta get some entertainment when I can, karma be damned.

  13. Who needs a chair? Just stand right on the bed. Just be careful not to get your feet in the picture (and not to fall off – I did, but heck, I got a good picture). It is beautiful. Isn’t blocking amazing?

  14. Thanks so much for all the blocking info. I will make some good use of it! Is that the FBS! I love that color for it. Beautiful! 🙂

  15. Thank you! This will come in very useful for my next shawl (but not the one I blocked last night, which taught me about the scallop phenomeneon…)

  16. Thanks for the lesson! I have been getting lazy in my blocking lately…. but you have helped see the error of my ways. I am humbled.

  17. Thanks for the lesson! I have been getting lazy in my blocking lately…. but you have helped see the error of my ways. I am humbled.

  18. Colleen, we’ll have you be a lact-ation expert in no time. You could be a doula like Stephanie.
    If you’re blocking something like fingering weight and want it to dry faster, one thing you can do is spin it out in the washing machine IF the water is turned off and won’t spray during the spin cycle.

  19. I think this is probably a stupid question, but here goes:
    I have blocking wires, but have never used them. I have just finished a very basic, lacy scarf whose edges are all scalloped in the un-blocked form…once I stick the wires (or yarn as Stephanie recommends) up the sides, how do I then attach the sides to a surface to keep them from skootching in to meet each other? Does that make sense? Do I still use pins?
    I guess it’s obvious that I’ve never blocked anything other than a sweater…
    Thanks for the great step-by-step tutorial, Stephanie!

  20. You just gave me a completely Duh! moment. I will toot my own horn and say I did think of the string trick for straight edges too but I’ve been trying to thread the stupid things through AFTER soaking. Let me tell you that is really hard struggling with wet wool. NOW I see it would be much better to do it before soaking. The light bulb has now gone off. I just can’t believe it took me this long.

  21. I’ve saved this in my special “crafts” folder, the entire internet file because I think you are brilliant.
    You’ve also made me ponder getting a queen-size bed rather than this twin I’ve slept in for the past 20+ years. Hmm. I think it’s time for a change.

  22. Wow. Wow. I just learned more in the past 5 minutes than I found scrounging in books for instructions on blocking for hours. Thank you so much.

  23. The blocking info is great, but Libby’s suggestion of using baby’s interlocking foam blocks (pad) is brilliant!! My little one isn’t so little any more, but that foam stuff is easily found, often on sale and can be disassembled and stored in your yarn closet (we all have at least one of those, right?). Thank you ladies! I have been collecting lace patterns waiting for just the right one to try for the first time (those Sivia Harding patterns are nice and often use fingering weight yarn – a bit less intimidating), now I have the blocking instructions, too!

  24. Thank you! My current infatuation with Birch has been punctuated by twinges of “Erm, I’m really gonna have to block this thing, huh?” so this was very helpful.

  25. Yeah, the challenge for me and the bed is keeping the dogs off. But now I’m thinking I should have a “wall o’ foam” for my knitting room. When I have one someday…
    A girl can dream can’t she?

  26. Judy –
    I’ll cc this to you via email. I would thread the blocking wires gently through the point of each scallop. You will need pins, but fewer than with waste yarn, to secure the scarf in place. If the scarf is stretched fully by the wires the scallops shouldn’t be in danger of compressing together.

  27. You know, this post is the first time that you managed to capture my husband’s attention. The picture following #7. He got all excited. From where he was sitting he thought it was a thong. He thought you were sharing a super-secret thong pattern. MEN. Good grief.
    The string for the straight edge could have saved my sanity a while back. Thanks for sharing.

  28. You always put a big smile on my face when I read your posts. Love the various socks story. Great tips on blocking too.

  29. I love an aggressive blocker. There is nothing sweeter than plunking an adoring little lace shawl into a wet bath and teaching it the joy of a good stretch.

  30. Do I really have to block a sweater? If it looks all right the way it is? And assuming it’s yes, shall I put the buttons on before or after blocking?

  31. You know, Judy knits balls of lace that look like planets. I have been asked by someone who shall remain nameless (but thinks spinning wheels are archaic) to knit a solar system. It is a sign of my inability to say no as well as my absolute awe of Judy’s talents that I’ve thought this was a BRILLIANT idea…

  32. What a great tutorial. I could ‘a used it Monday when blocking my first ever lace project – but now I have the info for my next! You’re the best and I hope you’re having a lovely bike outing. Thanks for the pre-postings 🙂

  33. Brilliant! Since it’s finally starting to cool off here in New York, I’m knitting again and moving onto bigger projects, so the blocking technique is going to be essential.
    Seriously though, how do you keep the cat off the bed? I’ve got two, I can only imagine the kitty glee when they find yarn on what they think is *their* bed.

  34. a STRING! well, color me embarassed. My father uses string for EVERYTHING…. but I couldn’t think of this alternative to blocking wires…. sigh…
    So, could you also run a string through each of the points on a side to help encourage them to be even???
    Helen, who will soon be faced with blocking a faroese shawl, and has no clue how to get that shape on a flat surface….

  35. Thank you kindly for the tutorial, which will come in mighty handy as I begin to tackle the lace shawl i’ve been contemplating. I hope you and yours are enjoying your bike journey.
    again, huge thanks for your generosity.

  36. Perfect timing..
    I have just finished the Leaf Lace Shawl from Fiber Trends in Cherry Tree Hill Merino fingering weight colour: Cabin Fever.. Steamblock it – God with Evian Brumisateur!!! ah! ah! – as i did not have a proper steam bottle.. Blocked everything on my 2″ pink isolation board.. to find myself having to block it again as Merino is so stretchy it came back into initial “just finished knitting shape”! Well that will learn me: this shawl is getting a good soak an on to the blocking board again !

  37. One further refinement which I got from Myrna Stahman’s excellent (and very intimidating) book, Stahman’s Shawls and Scarves. Put a gingham or plaid sheet on the bed so you can follow the straight lines. She uses a piece of 4’x8′ insulating styrofoam with the sheet stretched over it. I tried this too, and it worked just beautifully–I lined the plaid lines up with the edge of the foam sheet and stapled it in all around. The only problem with this method, as I found out to my sorrow, is that you have to actually have a place to store a 4×8 sheet of styrofoam! For some reason my family wasn’t keen on the idea of keeping it in the front hallway where it completely obscured the full-length mirror. My husband reluctantly allowed me to put it in his workshop to keep him from having to explain its presence to his parents, who were coming for a visit. However, I have a feeling that after a few weeks in the shop, it will no longer be quite so ideal for blocking a brand-new and very clean shawl on–so maybe I will try the bed method next time!

  38. You’re Brilliant! I’ve been a devoted reader/lurker for at least a year now and want to say thank you for your incredible blog. And, of course thank you so much for taking the time to give us all this tutorial.

  39. Perfect timing! I’m at the last row of my Leaf Lace shawl and have never blocked anything before. Thanks!

  40. Thank you thank you! This is one of the best descriptions of blocking I’ve seen in a long time! I love the tip about threading the yarn through the edge…

  41. Seems like I’m a day late and a dollar short on a few things today. Just AFTER blocking Kiri this morning I log on to your site and good hints. The next one is worse – we returned from a European trip of a lifetime yesterday and I realized I missed meeting you here in North Vancouver while we were gone 🙁

  42. Thank you, merci, and xie xie for the tip about using string like a blocking wire. Brilliant, indeed!
    I always want the big swish, too.

  43. Top secret tip – use mason’s line. It’s polyester or something that doesn’t absorb water. It’s shiny and slippery. You can get it in different weights at your local hardware store or Walmart. I used loops for the points on flower basket. Worked great.

  44. WOW. Thanks for that. Great description, pictures, everything. I have a question… Do you do that *every* time you wash a shawl??? I have yet to finish my first shawl, so I’m a little wary of what it might take to own one, LOL. OR, once blocked, does it sort of retain any “memory” of it’s shape? thanks – again!

  45. That’s some serious blocking!
    I just blocked a scarf 2 days ago, steam ironed it to death so it wouldn’t curl up in pain!

  46. I just finished my first shawl/scarf project and all I did is wash it, wring it, fold it on a plastic hanger so it drooped the right way. After it dried, I pressed it with a steam iron. It looks beautiful. Was that cheating?

  47. Keeping the insulating styrofoam in the shop shouldn’t be a problem. It’ll be covered with the clean plaid sheet when you’re going to use it, right? It just has to be dry and not greasy. Also, it could be neatly cut in half and duct-taped back together when needed, so it’ll fit into smaller spaces. 2×8 might fit into a closet. 4×4 might fit behind a piece of furniture next to the wall (maybe one that could use some insulation…), or flat on the floor under a double bed.

  48. You couldn’t possibly know how timely this post was for me. I love ya, Harlot. Hope you are having a great bicycle ride!

  49. I have knitted – and thus dressed – a few lace shawls. I am spoiled and do have dressing wires which are wonderful but I still use nylon thread through the points of a shawl when those points need to be aligned. I then loop the nylon thread through the dressing wires for a nice, even edge. I use rustproof pins to set the wires to the correct size.
    A note for those dressing a farose shawl: I first dressed it with the nylon thread and wires as if it were a triangular shawl on a flat surface. Then I put it on my dressmaker’s mannequin, after padding the shoulders with some hand towels to make then round. Then I pulled the shawl to an even length all around and pinned the points (to the mannequin’s hips!). Since it had already been washed for the original dressing, I just sprayed the shoulder areas with water to ‘re-set’ the shape there. Worked for me! Carol in Alabama.

Comments are closed.