BT News

Keep up with our current projects, collections, ideas and announcements here

Blocking lace is one of the most transformative processes in knitting, one that surprises and delights us every time. After you’ve faithfully created a pool of open — and perhaps unruly — stitches in your favorite yarn, the moment you pull a crisply blocked sheet of wool off the board is satisfying for the soul. You may wish to call for an audience when you do the unpinning!

Today we outline our preferred lace-blocking process in hopes of helping you make the most of your knitting time and cross the finish line with a stunning piece of lace.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1.) Rust-proof T-pins (the rust-proof part is important, as the pins will be exposed to moisture during the drying process and rust stains would be permanently visible on your finished shawl).

2.) A set of stainless steel blocking wires. Wires come in a variety of weights: some are thin and flexible — perfect along shorter curved edges — while others are a bit more sturdy and work well along the straightaways of a scarf or stole.

3.) Rinseless wool wash or delicate dish detergent (optional, but recommended for best results).

If it’s your first time practicing these blocking techniques, we recommend trying them out on a swatch. It’s important to always block your swatch in the same manner you’ll block your finished project in order to ensure an accurate finished gauge.

Please note that our directions are specific to blocking pure wool. If you are knitting with a different fiber, please consult the manufacturer’s directions for proper handling.

First, wash your item

Our worsted-spun and woolen-spun wool yarns are dyed using different processes, so their care instructions vary slightly. Never place any wool item under running water as this motion may felt or full the wool.

For Arbor and Vale, our worsted-spun yarns dyed in the skein, fill a sink or basin with cool water and submerge the fabric, gently squeezing out any air bubbles so that the piece can remain under water without being held there.* Soak work for 10 minutes, allowing fabric to become completely saturated.

For our woolen-spun yarns that are dyed in the fleece, ShelterLoft and Quarry, submerge finished fabrics in warm water.* Gently squeeze the fabric to release air bubbles and soak fabric for 30 minutes or until well saturated.

*You may add a small amount of delicate dish soap or rinseless wool wash to the soaking water if you wish; if not rinseless, you will need to submerge the piece in clean water once or twice to remove the soap from your fabric.

Remove the lace from the sink or basin and squeeze out excess water from your work, taking care not to twist or wring fabric. Roll your fabric between clean, dry towels with light pressure to further remove moisture.

Shape and secure the lace

Find a location to block your lace item where it won’t be disturbed while it dries. Cover a clean area of carpet or mattress with a bedsheet, or pin into a fabric-covered board or matrix of foam tiles created especially for blocking. Cork wall boards can also keep the lace up and out of the way as it dries — plan on a second set of hands to help pin the item to a vertical surface.

Gently spread the damp item out into a rough approximation of the desired shape — square, rectangle, or triangle — by hand. Carefully run your blocking wires through the stitches at a short and regular interval along the edge. Be tender as you go; remember that wool is at its most vulnerable when wet. As you work, refer to the pattern’s schematic and measure from the center of the work if working on a symmetrical piece. If you are sizing up or down, keep the proportions in scale to the original. By practicing on a swatch, you can determine the best place to insert your wires to avoid unsightly gaps in the finished piece. In our example below, we skimmed the blocking wires through the right leg of each stitch in the row worked before the bind off to create the most even and straight finished edge.

Once you have inserted your blocking wires, place pins along the inside of each one at consistent intervals while stretching your item to the desired dimensions. It is helpful to insert each pin into the blocking surface at an angle — this will prevent the lace from popping off as it dries. When stretching and pinning your fabric to shape, use a tape measure to verify overall symmetry and finished dimensions of the project. Because wool will often spring back slightly from the blocked dimensions after unpinning, you may wish to block your finished shawl 5–10% larger than the listed finished dimensions to account for slight shrinkage after unpinning.

Alternatively, if you haven’t yet invested in blocking wires, you can run a thread through the the lace edging and hook the drawn thread over the pins. However, on an edge designed to be straight, do not simply pin without wires as this will create visible points at each pin.

For circular shawls, blocking wires are not suitable. Instead use pins along the outer perimeter, starting by blocking the four “compass points” (north, south, east, and west), then placing four additional pins, one each halfway between the four compass points. Continue in this manner, inserting pins at regularly spaced intervals around the shawl perimeter, to ensure symmetry in your final dimensions.

For a pointed or scalloped edging, use one pin per each point for a decorative effect as shown above.

A word to the wise

Fight the urge to overblock. Blocked wool has a memory and overblocking can permanently strain the wool fibers. If your unblocked gauge is significantly smaller than recommended, do not try to make that up in the blocking but rather block to an appropriate drape for the chosen yarn.

Let the lace dry completely before unpinning. Weave in ends after the item is completely dry. Over the next 24 hours you may find that your garment relaxes a bit, which is normal (see our tip above about blocking slightly larger than your target finished dimensions). Store your new treasure neatly folded to preserve the crispness of the blocked fabric (unless you are proudly wearing it, of course!). When properly stored and cared for, wool lace will hold a crisp blocking for months to come.

Feel free to share your questions or additional tips below in the comments. Happy lace blocking!

View Comments Leave a Comment
Share
Categories:

Once you’re feeling confident about your pattern choice, the fun begins: it’s time to gather your supplies and cast on a swatch!

Yarn 

Most regions of the world with strong lace-knitting traditions used a two-ply yarn for lace pieces because this balanced structure is the most receptive to opening up with blocking to reveal the openwork patterns. Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter, Loft, Vale, and Plains are all constructed on this principle. The worsted preparation of Vale and Plains lends extra strength to the yarn so it can better withstand a stiff blocking, and the smooth alignment of the fibers gives crisp definition to the stitches. Woolen-spun lace has a more rustic look and is perfect for projects with a cozy farmstead feel. We love Loft for Shetland-style haps in particular.

Needles

Most knitters find they prefer needles with sharper tips for knitting lace; it’s easier to insert such a needle tip through multiple stitches during complex decrease maneuvers. Many also like a bit of extra traction to help control their tension — wood or coated metal needles will grip the stitches more than slick aluminum. This isn’t to say you can’t knit lace on your usual needles with perfect success, but if you find yourself struggling to draw a loop through a k3tog or to keep your yarnovers consistent in size, trying a lace-specific needle may give you the extra control you need.

 

Extra Notions

When you’re establishing a lace pattern and can’t yet see the motifs taking shape, it can be helpful to place stitch markers at strategic points. Marking off every repetition of a large chart, or every few repetitions of a small one, can make it much easier to find a missed increase or decrease if your stitch count is off at the end of a long row. (If working in the round, don’t forget to use a visually distinctive marker at the beginning-of-round so you know when it’s time to progress to the next row of your chart.) Some lace knitters also like to use lifelines. A lifeline is a thin strand of non-sticky yarn, string, dental floss, or any other material you’ll easily be able to pull out later. It runs through all of the stitches in a single row so that you can rip back to that point without having to recapture hundreds of loose stitches in lace patterning. Some lace needles come with a little hole in the base of the needle above the cord so you can tie your lifeline through the hole and drag it through the stitches as you work. If your needle isn’t made this way, simply thread the lifeline on a darning needle and run it through the stitches while they hang on the needle cord. Whether and when to use lifelines is entirely a matter of personal preference and confidence. You can place one at regular intervals just to be safe; you can place one at a change in motifs when you’re sure the work is correct but feel anxious about the next section, or you can never use one at all and simply trust to your own skill and savvy.

Swatching & Blocking

Your pattern may call for multiple swatches in different fabrics, so give yourself plenty of time for the swatching phase. Counting stitches within a lace motif can be difficult. If your pattern reads, “25 stitches x 36 rows = 4” in lace pattern,” you can make your job easier by placing locking stitch markers on either side of 25 stitches and at the bottom and top of 36 rows while you’re working, then use these points to make your measurements when the swatch is finished. Proper blocking is essential for lace. Your work may look dishearteningly like a heap of ramen noodles when it’s fresh off the needles, but a good stretching will open up the motifs to reveal the beautiful design you’ve created.  Deciding how much to stretch your fabric is a matter of balancing your preferences, the designer’s intentions, and what the yarn is communicating about its needs. Using your stitch markers as a guide, you can judge whether to apply a little more or less tension. If the fabric is fighting back and you still can’t stretch your markers to 4” apart, you may need to try a new swatch on a larger needle. If you’re at 4” without stretching enough to really flatten out the fabric and open up the eyelets, you’ll need a smaller needle — or a sense of peace about having a shawl that’s larger than planned.

Most knitters use either T-pins or blocking wires to stretch their lace. Pins are perfect for designs with toothed edges, but will leave points where you don’t want them along a straight edge.  Blocking wires can be woven through the fabric all along the edge and then secured with pins to put the stitches under even tension everywhere, forming a perfectly even perimeter around your shawl. We’ll post a tutorial on our preferred blocking practices later in the KAL, but your swatch is a good place to get a feel for what you’ll be doing to the final piece.

Are you ready to cast on? We are! Only 5 more days until the KAL begins…

View Comments Leave a Comment
Share
Categories:

By now you may have selected your pattern for the knitalong, or you may still be mulling over a few final contenders. We’ll provide you with some additional pattern suggestions throughout this blog post, in case you are searching for some inspiration.

Getting to know your pattern is an important first step toward lace knitting success. Take the time to read through the instructions and flag anything that seems potentially confusing or complicated at the outset. Once you’ve covered basics like necessary yardage and recommended needle size, here are some further points we recommend investigating before you even reach for your yarn and needles.

A lace shawl is a flat piece of knitting, usually in a geometric shape, but there are a surprising number of ways to build those triangles, circles and rectangles. Will you be casting on from a center point and working in the round with concentric increases? Knitting from one end to the other? Knitting from both ends toward the middle and grafting? Beginning with just a few stitches at the spine and increasing, or casting on the full length of one or more sides and increasing or decreasing to shape the shawl? Picking up stitches to work in another direction? Take a look at the schematic, if your pattern has one, to make sure you understand how your piece is going to take shape. At BT we use arrows to indicate the direction in which the fabric grows. Our Construction Notes section thoroughly describes how the work will proceed, too.

If your pattern is a garment, you’ll also want to study the construction. If there is shaping within the lace portions, now is a good time to check whether the designer has given instructions on taking added stitches into the lace pattern or what to do when you’ve worked a decrease and no longer have enough stitches to complete a repetition of the lace motif.

Left to Right: Shale Baby Blanket, Tetrapods, Lunette

Some lace patterns are easier to work than others. If you’re a lace beginner, you may want to stick with a small and
regular motif that requires lace maneuvers only on right-side (RS) rows.

Pi shawls can be a good way to start out; the work is in the round and you’re always looking at the right side, so it’s easier to read your knitting and notice if something has gone awry. Garments with shaping that interrupts the lace require a strong ability to “read” your knitting and make sure the motifs are continuing to align correctly as the stitch count changes.

Are the instructions written or charted? Make sure you’re comfortable reading the charts. If the work is flat, you’ll be reading from right to left on right-side rows and from left to right on wrong-side rows, just the way you knit. If your fabric is stockinette based, you’ll probably see that the chart legend includes symbols that mean something different on the RS and on the WS. If your lace includes anything but plain knitting or purling on the WS rows, make sure you understand the maneuvers the chart requires. A yarnover worked from the wrong side needs to be handled differently than one on the right side. WS decreases have to be worked to match the slant on the right side; don’t be surprised if you see an instruction like p2tog tbl. (NB: To purl stitches together through the back loop, you’ll need to swing your right needle around parallel to the left so you can go into the second stitch first.) If the piece is circular, you’ll always read the charts right to left, in the direction of your knitting.

Left to Right: Carpino, Stonecrop, Terra

If you will need to work from multiple charts simultaneously, this is a good moment to make photocopies or print out the relevant pages so you can cut and paste those charts into an alignment that won’t require you to leaf back and forth through the pattern. Many knitters like to tape the legend onto the same sheet as the charts if the page layout hasn’t allowed the designer to do so. Others like to enlarge the chart for easier reading; break out the highlighters to color code various maneuvers; or write marginalia that will help them track anything else that’s happening in the pattern, such as shaping in a sweater pattern. If you know you’ll be decreasing every 8th row for waist shaping, writing a note about that on Rows 8, 16, 24, etc. on the chart may help you remember. It’s easy to get caught up in the lace action and blow past additional instructions… and not much fun to rip back in order to fix errors.

We hope that covers all you’ll need to consider about your pattern before you begin, but leave questions in the Comments field and join our conversation in the Brooklyn Tweed Ravelry group if you need some immediate answers! Our next post on tools and swatching will cover the rest of the preparation you’ll want to do before the KAL kicks off.

View Comments Leave a Comment
Share
Categories: