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To me, a lace shawl is not a finished object until it is fully blocked.

I know why some people do not like blocking — it’s a bit tedious. And on a big shawl, I have been known to crawl around the floor blocking for over an hour only to stand up with what seems like a permanent crouch (lesson here: as with anything else — move around/stretch every 20 minutes or so!!)….so contrary to popular belief, blocking is not one of my favorite activities.

But, as my friend Trish says, “Blocking is magic”. It is, I think, the single most transforming thing you can do to a knitted lace garment. The nasty spaghetti that comes off your needles suddenly transforms into a lacy, gossamer, beautiful thing.

Would you rather put this around your shoulders:

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Or this?

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It’s the same shawl, Red Rock Canyon by Romi Hill (knit out of Old Maiden Aunt Merino/Silk 4ply).

IMG_3298I’m not a blocking expert by any stretch of the imagination, but over the years, I have literally blocked hundreds of things. So, here are some thoughts (and opinions) about how I block a lace garment, using a sample shawl, shown here in the pre-blocked state (you cannot see the lace motif very well, the edges are not straight…)

Step One: Weave in ends, but do not cut the tails of ends. This is probably pretty obvious, but if the goal with blocking is stretching the heck out of it, then the ends that you’ve carefully hidden will likely pop out. (The ends will be trimmed after blocking).

Step Two: Soak the garment in wool wash (I like Soak, Kookaburra and Eucalan and have used all. If I had to pick one, I would pick Soak because the other two products have lanolin in them and I knit shawls out of 100% silk too) for 15-30 minutes. Why wool wash? Because your hands have been all over your lace shawl, and the shawl is dirty. Why 15-30 minutes? Because that allows the fibers to be completely saturated and become as malleable as possible. I have, by accident, left an item soaking overnight, without any apparent damage — but I really try not to do this!

Assemble your materials at this point: Blocking boards, covered bed, wires, pins, thread, measuring tape, spray bottle…whatever you are going to use.

Step Three: Gently squeeze the water out of the garment, and roll it up in a towel like a burrito. (At this point, if this were a sweater, I would stick the burrito and put it through a spin cycle. With a lace garment though, I do not — only because it dries fast enough without.)

Now the fun can begin.

First, a little about the surface to block on. It needs to be a flat surface that you can stick pins into. I have foam blocking boards which fit like puzzle pieces. I do recommend these if you plan on knitting many lace shawls because they are convenient, but it is not necessary. I am very curious about the roll-up blocking mat with a grid surface on it because I think it may make achieving exact measurements easier, but I have not yet tried one out. I have enough open surface and enough of the boards to block a relatively large garment in my apartment, but I know many people who have blocked on their beds. I have also supplemented edges which have eked out of the blocking surface with dog beds and rolled towels. And, for large square and circular shawls, I’ve made a square donut with a lone block in the center to secure the center of the shawl.

Once the blocking surface has been identified and pets shooed away (my dogs know that yarn and fiber are for humans and not for dogs — “leave it” is a very essential command in their repertoire as you can imagine having to walk through streets of NYC), the actual garment manipulation can begin!

IMG_3314Step Four: I like to start by laying out the piece in the approximate shape on the blocking surface first, to make sure that I have a plan of action (and that I’ve laid out enough foam blocks to accommodate the shawl). This example is pretty easy because it’s a triangular shawl — but even with a triangular shawl, you want to make sure that you know what dimension the shawl should be…i.e., the depth of the shawl vs. the width of the shawl. The sample here should block out to exactly half a square, which means that I should block the depth of the shawl at half the width of the shawl.

Step Five: Secure the “main” straight edges, if any. I like using blocking wires for squaring off any edge that should be straight on a shawl. This cuts down on the measuring, and makes holding a straight line easier. I have many different kinds of wires, from flexible wires to extra long wires, to extra thin wires, but the set I use the most are the cheapest, sturdiest set of wires that are about the diameter of the cable on a knitting needle. In the case of a triangular shawl, the “main” edge would be the top edge of the shawl. For a square, it would be the diagonals or the edges (I usually pick an edge to start from). And, of course, for a circular or a crescent shawl, there isn’t one.

IMG_3316The trick with using blocking wires is to make sure that it is threaded evenly and often through the edge of the garment. I generally weave through every stitch, because I put a tremendous amount of pull (I don’t say I block like a thug for no reason) on the garment and I want that force to be distributed evenly throughout a straight edge.

 

IMG_3317Secure the wire (and not the garment) onto the blocking board. I usually put the pins in at an angle away from the direction that you will be pulling on the shawl. I love using U-pins for this.

 

 

You can achieve a similar effect by threading a smooth thread (like crochet thread) through the stitches and pulling it very taught across the straight edge. I used to do this before getting wires, and if I ever knit a king bed sized lace thing, I can see myself using thread again — it works!

Now, if you don’t have wires and just have pins, I would pin the garment as straight as possible, and use a straight edge in the final stages of blocking (not yet though, you’ll be moving these pins around at least once.)

Step Six: Work on the edges of the shawl. Many people use blocking wires through the points of the shawl, but I actually like the flexibility of using pins

IMG_3319First, I pull out the center point. I’m pulling the shawl taught, but not really hard (yet).

 

 

 

IMG_3322Then, I pull out the point on either side about half way from the top edge of the shawl to the point. I like to pin out several points equally on the left and the right of the center line first to get balance on the shawl.

Next, I pin out one side,

then the other.

All this I do with just eye and feel. The lace pattern should be very evident now, and now, you can start REALLY blocking.

Step Seven: Channel your inner thug. Adjust all the pins, pulling the shawl as taught as it will go in all directions.

IMG_3324When it feels like the shawl cannot be pulled any tighter — and this will be evidenced by either pins starting to pull out or the blocking board starting to curl off the ground — take out the tape measure and make sure things are pretty even. Then, make sure all the pins are secure, and if the blocking board is curling, weigh them down.. and let dry.

 

 

IMG_3325Sometimes, particularly with lace weight yarn, the shawl will almost dry during this process. A spray bottle filled with water is handy to wet down the garment if this happens. (Happens to me all the time with large shawls).

 

 

 

IMG_3326Let dry completely. When you unpin and take the wire out, it’s likely that the shawl will rebound a bit.

 

 

 

Trim the woven in ends, and voila!

 

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Strategies for different shapes: It would be impossible to cover all shapes, but there are some things I like to do with certain shapes.

  • Circular shawls. Once the first series of pinning is completed, I like to have a length of string or yarn that is secured at the center of the shawl, and use it as a guide to make sure each point that is pinned out is equidistant from the center. I used to put the metal loop at the end of my tape measure though the central T-pin, but I find that a piece of string is a lot easier to manage.
  • Crescent shawls. Usually, if you pull the points out hard enough, the spine of the shawl does not need much stretching/pinning. This is the shape that I probably do the most free-form blocking on, and depending on how the edges of the shawl is knit.

I hope this helps!

 

I’ve always loved mohair — it is a strange love since I’m usually not attracted to fluffy and lacy things. (My excuse is “it’s so warm” but really, I honestly think it’s the fluffy that I love.)

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My addiction to kidsilk lace went up a notch early last fall when I knit BooKnits’ Almost Autumn in French Market Fibers Mohair Lace in Spanish Moss.

To be honest, I did it because I wanted to knit this shawl on large needles. I really didn’t expect the resulting mound of fluffy loveliness. This shawl sort of sits around the shoulders like spun sugar. It’s incredibly pretty.

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Earlier this year, you saw me tap my mohair lace stash again to knit Heavenly by Romi Hill out of French Market Fibers Mohair Lace in Brandymilk Punch. Knitting this shawl made me go on a total mohair buying bender, and I grew my mohair lace collection by adding several yummy selections from Hedgehog Fibres (and did I ever) and Neighborhood Fiber Co.

It wasn’t going to take long for me to dive into that mound of mohair to come up with a selection for a shawl.

One of the colorways in kidsilk lace that I purchased from Hedgehog, Tremble, needed to be made into the latest Romi Hill Pins & Lace Club pattern, Winter’s Moon.

The club yarn for this design was a more sheepy yarn (and don’t get me wrong, I love what Brooke from Sincere Sheep does and her Equity Fingering is absolutely gorgeous), but I thought the design with the double yarn over mesh at the top ending in a set of chevrons (which were screaming to be beaded — so I obliged) was just perfect for some mohair action.

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Just look at how subtly variegated this yarn is. I used square glass beads in “oil slick”, which I thought mirrored the yarn color.

Here’s the latest addition to my mohair shawl collection!

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Trust me. Everyone needs a cloud of gorgeous mohair to wrap around themselves!

 

I purchased my first skein of Old Maiden Aunt yarn when I was in London for a business trip. I’ve always loved Lilith’s really cool colors.

I was tooling around Ravelry (if Ravelry made a nickel per skein for all the yarn that is sold because of it…..), and saw that Lilith does a preview club at the beginning of the year, January, February and March, where 50 people get their hands on the new colorways.

When I got a slot, I was so happy!! And vowed to not let these skeins sit around in stash.

I also decided that the skeins will be used in 2 color projects, assuming that the skeins that come are meant to go together. Right? I think that’s a good assumption.

Here is my project with the January yarn, which was in the 4-ply 100% merino base in the colors Famous Blue Raincoat and Green’s Last Gasp: Zephyr Cove by Romi Hill. I have to admit, I wasn’t 100% sold on this shawl when it first came out, mostly because I just didn’t want to knit miles of garter. But I saw some of the gorgeous shawls that were knitted like Blunckie’s knit out of hand-spun, Teresat2t’s out of one of my favorite yarns ever (Tanis Fiber Arts Red Label), and lindsaykohler’s bold colored one (among many many others),  and how EVERYONE said that it was a very wearable shawl….and I was sold. I should not have doubted Romi to begin with.

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It was a perfect commute project. And as a bonus, the knitting starts with this really cute little leaf:

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And Lilith’s colors? I really love them together in this shawl. (Of course she’s good. She’s got a dog named Finn!!)

Next up, the February yarn, all caked to go.

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Hmmmmmm. What should I knit!? I am extra excited about the red yarn, inspired by a Barenaked Ladies song!!

IMG_8610Sometimes, a designer publishes a pattern and you know exactly which yarn in your collection wants to become it. (This is EXACTLY the reason why a knitter must have the well curated collection of yarn!)  And when that designer is one of your all time favorites, and the perfect yarn is from one of your favorite indie dyers….well, it’s a match made in Knitter’s heaven and in those cases, it’s as if there’s a magic jet attached to your knitting needles.

At least, that is what happens to me. The knitting flies. I’m a woman obsessed, eking out every free second to return to my version of crack.

This exact thing happened to me when Romi Hill gave us a New Year’s present. She took parts of all the shawls we knit as part of her Pins & Laces club during 2012 and put it together into a stole. Out of mohair/silk lace.

Heavenly is the pattern, and my crack yarn of choice for this stole, French Market Fibers Mohair Lace in Brandy Milk Punch colorway.

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The one great thing about Ravelry is that when a pattern like Heavenly comes out, there is mass excitement, and there’s usually a group of other knitters that you can do a virtual knit-along with. Romi has a great group on Ravelry, and it wasn’t long until there was a group of us who convinced each other to abandon other knitting commitments (remember those Christmas presents that got wrapped with needles in them!?) to dive head first into the new project.

This is a bit of a dangerous venture for me, because getting excited with other people just throws fuel to the fire. I think we all whipped each other up into a frenzy, into a buying frenzy — to a point where I really thought that we may have, collectively, cornered the mohair lace market!!!

Of course, in the middle of this mass group enabling time, another one of my all time favorite yarn dyers, Beata at Hedgehog Fibres did an amazing update….with lots of kidsilk lace.

Needless to say, this is not the only kidsilk beauty that ended up in my collection, waiting for the next design inspiration. I’m good at enabling others, but I am super good at enabling myself!

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It’s Beata’s Concrete colorway, which is a very complex grey. I LOVE this color, and I think it is especially pretty in this base.

IMG_1432I am actually surprised at my ridiculous enthusiasm for mohair silk. It’s a relatively recent love. I’ve always assumed that the fuzzy would bug me, and because my taste tend more toward the sleek and tailored, a mohair anything seemed a bit too girly for me. But what can I say? A shawl knit out of mohair silk is so light and so warm, I can really channel my inner-girly and wear the shawl with aplomb.

It has been windy and chilly here in NYC. And Heavenly has become a total mainstay of my wardrobe since I’ve finished knitting. It’s warm, it’s light, and it goes with my black and grey work wardrobe!

What should I knit with my Hedghog yarn?

Happy New Year!

One of the things that many Knitters (yes, that is with a capital “K”) do, apparently, is to cast on a new project at the stroke of midnight. It is actually not a tradition for me (I am usually cursing myself as I am running a 3 mile race in Central Park if I am in town), but in the spirit of Knitters the world over, I have cast on a new project at 5am UST/GMT/Zulu time (that’s midnight EST).

IMG_8569In fact, in the spirit of my 12 sweaters, 12 shawls and 12 socks in 2013 goal, I have cast on….a hat. (But it’s a really pretty lace hat, Gothic Tam by Romi HIll.)

Perhaps it is in reaction to my Christmas debacle (gave presents with knitting needles sticking out of them, I am furiously knitting on them still but these “Christmas” presents are quickly becoming Chinese New Year presents!!), I feel that it may be necessary to build a “gift chest” of sorts throughout the year.

I give away much of my knitting. In a way, this may be why I decided that I love knitting shawls. They are very easy to give away — and you don’t have to worry about the size of anything. Luck would have it that any knitted item that I’ve made for myself fits my females relatives fine (on the large side but not uncomfortably so), so I’ve always had willing takers (and stealers) of all my knitted projects. But knitting specifically with anonymous giving in mind? I’ve not really done that.

The hat that I cast on? I finished it and it is blocking right now. Even if I were to dedicate a few hours a week on building this war/gift chest….I’m not sure it would materially slow down my “normal” knitting. I am thinking that hats with matching mitts/mittens (and a cowl if I’m feeling generous) should be in my regular knitting repertoire this year….especially as I generate odd balls of DK/worsted weight yarns as I knit sweaters.

I did also cast on a sweater 🙂

What did you cast on for New Year’s and are YOU a Knitter?

If you can believe it, I am a relative newbie to shawl knitting.

It really wasn’t until early last year, when I started to listen to Knitting Pipeline, my very first knitting podcast. (See, this is what happens if you’ve been knitting for a very long time like me — you have missed the last 5 years of knitting boom. It has been simply amazing!) She spoke about the Kaellingesjal shawl, which is a recreation of a 1897 shawl from the Vendsyssel Museum in Denmark. It’s a working woman’s shawl, with a tie that wraps around the body. I was so enthralled by Paula  — but was a bit reticent to cast on a big project. So I cast on Summer Flies as a “test” (I highly recommend, if you’ve never knit a shawl, to try this free pattern. It’s an amazingly fun knit), and I finished it in ….a DAY. I cast on for Kaellingesjal the next day. You can check it out on my Ravelry project page. I started the shawl on 2/14/11 (Happy Valentine’s Day!!) and finished it on 3/20/11.

I kept on listening to Paula, and the next shawl she mentioned was Brandywine. This was my first Romi Hill shawl. I put this shawl on my needles on 3/20/11 (sense the start of what may be happening here already!?!?), and finished it in a couple of weeks. And I was hooked. Since then, I have knit 43 shawls (so 47 in total), of which 15 are Romi’s designs.

OK. These numbers are scaring me a little. I sound like a woman obsessed.

Oh well. I guess I will just own the fact that I love to knit shawls. You don’t have to worry about sizing, they are wonderful gifts, and you just can’t have too many. So….the reason why I’m posting today. My Shawl Number Twenty Six for 2012. Meet Romi Hill’s Carson, knit out of stash Rowan tweedy wooly yarn!

When it comes to yarn, I’m pretty fickle.

My love for Sanguine Gryphon Gaia Lace has been pretty well documented. I still love it, and happily bring this yarn out of my stash for deserving patterns. In fact, I recently finished the Romi Hill shawl that I wrote about, in Gaia Lace in Owlets, which is a beautiful silver grey. I was a good girl — only modified the pattern slightly by beading the bind off. I have yet to wear this shawl, since the yarn and the beading combination makes this shawl pretty dressy.

My first foray into blogging about knitting was about Wollmeise so my partiality to Claudia’s beautiful colors is also no secret. I am about to cast on a project in Lacegarn, which I will talk about at some point…and I have Cookie A’s Conic on my needles right now in 100% Merino in Ruby Thursday, which is a really pretty red.

I think I may have a new favorite indie dyer. French Market Fibers. Of course, it appears that I have fallen in love with another dyer whose yarn is tough to get. I have two finished objects out of Margaret’s lovely yarn that I wanted to talk about…

First, the secret test knit I wrote about last time. You can see the shawl all crumpled up in the group photo. It’s BooKnits Almost Autumn. It’s a wonderful pattern, slightly different from Bev’s usual designs and it is lace all over. I made mine out of French Market Fibers Mohair Lace in Spanish Moss.  I was a bit of a rogue test knitter (!) and omitted the beads. I wanted this shawl to be ethereal and…well.. look like Spanish Moss. The photo doesn’t quite do justice to the beautiful and subtle colors in the yarn (look really closely — there are hints of pink, green, grey…) The shawl is about to board a transatlantic flight, to be worn by a friend at a wedding, in which she is a guest. I hope I get the shawl back!

The second project is a sweater that I just finished knitting and is currently being blocked. It’s Levenwick by Gudrun Johnston. It was part of Brooklyntweed’s Wool People I, and has been in my queue since it first came out. I made mine out of French Market Fibers Merino Worsted in Wrought Iron. I cannot wait to get this sweater off the blocking boards. I had originally ordered this yarn from Margaret with thoughts of making something else, but as soon as I opened my package, I knew that it would be perfect for this sweater. The body of the sweater is knit in reverse stockinette — which makes the fabric look woven. It’s really perfect for a subtly variegated yarn, I think. The color is sort of purply and grey and black and lovely. I ran out of yarn so I couldn’t make the pocket for this, but I think it keeps the lines simple and very work worthy. I plan on wearing this with a shawl pin to close at the neck until I see Jennie at Rhinebeck so she can make me the perfect buttons for the sweater.

What’s new on your needles, now that the weather is turning a bit more sweater-worthy?