Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Block Party!

Okay, so yesterday I mentioned that I finished my shawl, and that I needed to block it. And I have, it's done, and all I can say is OMG pins. God save us all from PINS.

And I am now going to give you the full story of CW's First Blocking Adventure.

The first thing you do when you block is decide that this is easy; you've done the hard part. You've knitted the garment. This, in book language, is like writing the first draft (aka "lace chart") editing it (knitting it) and then shipping it off to an agent according to all the submission guidelines. You think that the hard part is done. "All" that is left is the blocking.

I mean, Grandma used to do this. How hard can it be?

Serious lace knitters may want to break out the popcorn.

So first you gather your equiptment, which according to the internet are: Bedsheet, pins, sheet of plastic, pins, spray bottle, pins, wool wash or baby shampoo, pins, a place to do it, and while you're at it you might want to pick up another box of pins. You are (thank god) smart enough to know better than to do this in your little tiny trailer house because your bed is too small, you'll have to do this blocking thing on the  floor and whatever room you choose to do it in will be out of commission for the rest of the day. So when you go to Wal-mart to get items, you first stop at Maternal Unit's place of work and request the use of her king-sized bed for the day, because the king-sized bed should be more than enough room to block a shawl that is about four-and-a-half feet wide, unblocked.

If anyone reading this has ever blocked a piece of lace before, they are laughing at me.

Maternal unit gives Okay, so you go to walmart and buy one white cotton blanket, forgoing the pretty blue one only because you remember the words "color fast" in the internet instructions, one clear plastic shower curtain, one spritz bottle, one box of T-pins (40 count) and, instead of a second box of T-pins, about two hundred quilting pins. There is, of course, no way in hell you would EVER need that many pins, but hey, you might need to do this again and some of the pins might rust.

Pictured: shampoo, spritz bottle, small box of pins, large box of pins.
Not pictured: Sanity.

Like I said. Experianced lace knitters. Now laughing their ass off.

So you go home, strip bed of sheets, put down plastic sheet, put down cotton blanket, pin in place, and put lacy thing in sink for first washing.

And the learning begins.

Internet says to treat lace being washed very carefully. About five seconds after turning on the faucet I understood that "very carefully" means "treat as if any form of agitation will upset the capsule of radioactive nitro glycerine wrapped in the middle of the shawl". You might think this is an exaggeration. It is not. First, warm, wet wool + agitation=felt. Felt is not something you want to happen to your six-month project because this cannot be undone. Second, this six-month project is made out of relatively unstable handspun yarn that your mother usually refers to as "hair". And it has just absorbed about a gallon and a half of water that you cannot get back out. Because wringing? Agitation. Crumpling into ball and squeezing? Agitation. And the fiber? Gets very fragile when wet. So you now have a very fine lacy thing that is much more fragile now then when you put it in the sink, and is way, way, way heavier. 

So washing means fill sink with cold water. Submerge shawl. Spread baby shampoo over shawl and squeeze very, very gently (We're talking tomato-test squeeze) to get shampoo through everything. Drain sink, supporting shawl the entire time because you don't want fragile string getting sucked down the drain. Fill sink back up. Slosh shawl around carefully to get shampoo out. Drain sink. Realize there is still shampoo in shawl. Fill sink. Slosh. Drain. Realize there is still shampoo.  Repeat process until water is clean of suds, which is about three more fill-slosh-drain repeats than you want to preform.

Now you have to get heavy, wet, fragile shawl out of sink and to bed without breaking anything. You try pressing shawl against side of sink. You get about a cup full of water out. There is still a gallon or so in the shawl. Next best thing: lay towel out on floor, spread shawl on towel, roll it up and press on it. No wringing. We still cannot wring. Bodacious amounts of water will bleed through towel. Bring the whole thing, towel, shawl and all, to bed all rolled up like a wooly burrito. Lay on bed, unroll. breath sigh of releif because, hey, hard part's over, right?

Wet shawl about to be squished dry

Towel Burrito

Ha ha.

This shawl is a circle. And we want it to stay a circle, which means we have to pin it into a relatively round shape. Now, do any of you remember how hard it is to draw a perfectly round circle? Imagine having to draw that circle using six bazillion tiny dots. These dots being pins.

Logically, you'd think that the shawl, being a circle, would work kind of like a compass and you can use its natural diameter to trace the outline. This would be true, if washing it had not turned the shawl into elastic. You set the shawl on the bed, and because the first step is to pin the compass points, you grab one point of your pretty, pointy edging and pin it to the edge of the bed. You go to the other side, and start pulling. And keep pulling. And. Keep. Pulling. Until you find yourself holding about six inches of shawl that did not exist before you got it wet. Six inches that are much bigger than the king sized bed. Oh, well. Four more pins, and now you have the compass points pinned down, more or less where they ought to be.

Only you don't know about the "more or less" part. Yet.

Then you start pinning points in the middle. And then points in the middle of that. And then points in the middle of that, until you have touched the bottom of your forty-count T-pin pack and you are not nearly done pinning the points down. You realize that the pins, pins, pins internet list wasn't exaggerating at all, and your decision to buy a 200 pack instead of another 40 pack has probably just saved your bacon, if not your fingers.

 Not. exaggerating. At all.

And then you realize you've spent so much time pinning and are not even halfway done yet, the shawl is starting to dry out. So you spritz, and you keep pinning. You have one quarter all pinned up and you realize that the circle is looking more like well if you squint it kinda looks round. And that the line you're squinting at is made of about, oh, sixty pins (<---lowball estimate. Really low) that you now have to readjust. Spritz away, you've got another hundred and eighty pins to go.


So to fast-forward through pins, pins, pins, bleeding, pins pins pins, you've decided that since you don't have to squint quite so hard to see the circle, you're done. You go sit in the living room because it will only take about an hour for the nice, light lacy thing to dry.

I mean, it's not like we've underestimated anything else, right?

Three hours later you realize that the "be careful about it drying out" and the guesstimates on drying times were made by people who live up north in the middle of the country. Not in Coastal South Texas, where the air has the same humidity and viscosity as a deep water sponge in an oceanic trench, and that all the panicked spritzing you did has probably extended drying time by a couple more hours. Which you will have to sit patiently through, because you promised you'd have it all cleaned up by the time your stepfather got home, and barring that, you'll need to stop him from throwing clothing on top of the pretty light lacy thing taking up most of his bed. And dear god in heaven, DON'T TOUCH THE PINS.

And then you go back and carefully, cautiously pull the first couple of pins out of the bed. Nothing explodes or unravels, you find no dropped stitches. You continue, growing more and more excited. When it's done you take it outside and take pictures of it, because you know what? All the work, all the sore hands and bleeding bits and the pins pins pins?


I rock. Just sayin'.


  1. Hey Zeus key wrist! No wonder knitted or woven work used to cost so much. That's an incredible amount of work.

  2. Well, when you're doing it professionally (which almost no one is anymore, sob) you can set up equiptment to make this part easier. Blocking frames are squares in the general shape you want the garment to be in with nails down the side. You string cotton through the pointy bits (or the bits you want to be pointy after blocking) and loop the string around the nails. It takes less time and you can do it outside, or at least propped up on a wall.

    However, you have to block things often enough to justify keeping a four-foot-plus square of wood around the house all the time. Which I don't. Hobbiests, unless they are totally cracked, have to make do with beds.

  3. It's beautiful!!!! I found a pattern I want to try, but (lol) I have to learn how to knit first :P
    This is just so pretty...I'm sitting here trying to keep from drooling. O.O so gorgeous....