Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Out of the cocoon

 Or How to Block Your Shawl
The process of blocking a garment resembles the butterfly emerging from the cocoon: It is a wonder that the ugly little shriveled creature transforms in a creature of such beauty.
And now you can see it all happen here, at the Pond :)

One finished 2010 KAL scarf such as the one shown above
Eucalan or a similar wool wash (plain water if the garment is quite clean)
A couple of dry towels
Your favorite blocking surface. Until I bought some kiddy foam floor tiles, I was using the floor carpeting or the guest bedroom bed.
Blocking wires. Not necessary but they are really handy for pointy edges
A box, or two, or three of stainless steel T-pins
A free afternoon. No kids or pets around. Even better, no husband so you may cuss freely
Another knitting project to work during the waiting periods
Lots of chocolate to fortify yourself.

First is a beauty bath in Eucalan and tepid water. Let soak for an hour or two
Lay flat in a dry towel, or two towels if it is a big project
Roll the towels with the shawl inside like a big shawl burrito.
so now we have an appropriately wet, but not dripping wet, garment. In humid climates you won't have a problem, in dry Arizona you have to be a VERY quick blocker or the lace will almost dry before you are done pinning it!
While you wait, shoo the family away, lay your materials and break open the chocolate

Blocking wires are handy with pointy edges
Once the extra water is soaked out into the towels, lie the shawl flat on your blocking surface. If you have blocking pins, thread them through the tips of the peaks that the edge forms. If you don't, well, I may have to make another tutorial. A variety of materials, such as washed piano wires and heavy fishing lines, will work out well.
Do not thread the wires all the way to the edges, which tend to be rounded and not sharply square
You can use marker lines, tape, or plain old eye to make your edges straight
Now is the fun part: once you have threaded all the edge, start pinning it down using the T-pins to hold the wire in place. Place just a few pins far apart and pull each side to open the lace. The right amount of tension is that which opens the lace well without damaging the yarn. Usually, the yarn can take a lot more tension than you think, and a lace piece typically grows 30% of its unblocked size during the blocking process
Last pin the edges in a rounded fashion with T-pins
The cycle of  stretching, pinning, stepping back to admire the effect, cussing, unpinning and stretching again can be repeated several times until you are happy with the results.
You may now leave the shawl to dry and either finish the chocolate or pour yourself a stiff drink, if your hands don't shake.
And next morning (or in a couple of days if you don't live in Arizona), your hard work will be rewarded. Unpin and admire your gorgeous new shawl.
Can you believe how much larger it is?

How gossamer...

A detail of the corner. The bunching of the joins is smoothed

The wide edge

I loathe the process, but I never get tired of the results!

A postcard from the Middle Ages
For those that are not from Around Here, the Americans call Renaissance Fair to a vaguely medieval festival that travels around the country. It is an excuse to get dressed in clothes that encompass medieval wenches, knights, witches, kings and queens, faeries, jugglers as well as not-so-medieval pirates and even some actual Renaissance folks. There are themed craft stalls, deep friend foods, giant turkey legs, low key rides, tomato throwing at insult spewing folk, knit jousting, fire eating and belly dancers. You can buy anything from love potions to faerie wings to real swords and halberds.
We were there last weekend.
Pots and cauldrons, I am happy there are dishwashers nowadays
Decidedly un-medieval kiddie rides. You know I am saving this picture for when he has his first girlfriend

Calvin had to be rescued from the piggy pen
Lookie here! Medieval lace knitting!!!
Medieval spinning! Tatting! Crocheting!
Yes, it was as hard to pull me away from the craft booth as it was to pull my son away from the bunnies and piggies. It was all in good fun.

Blast from the Past
My mom never asks me to knit her anything, though she seems to enjoy my knitted gifts. So when she recently asked me to knit her a coat she had seen in a magazine, I was happy to oblige. However...
The magazine is a 1964 issue of Labores del Hogar, a venerable Spanish publication. And the coat is this cabled coat in the front. I have to admit it is a great vintage look!
One quick glance to the instructions and I had a new found admiration for the knitters of way back when. The instructions are a mash of tiny letters in a centerfold page that opens as big as a tablecloth. There are no charts, no schematics, no sizes. No yardage estimates. Some of the instructions are pretty cryptic and assume you will guess what they mean  (such as "cross 2 stitches" for a cable - without mentioning direction). Thank God, there was a gauge.
After laboring all morning, I have primitive schematics, I have charted the stitches and figured out the yardage very roughly.

I am willing to do all this, except for one thing: I will not knit the thing in white or grey as she requested. If this is going to take me this long, it better be a statement piece.
I briefly considered using Malabrigo Worsted but after seeing how hard it is to get this much yardage of the same color together, I discarded the idea I really would have loved to use Stonechat, but it seems to pool horribly!. After much yarn surfing, my choice is Madelinetosh Vintage. Subtle tonal color, great stitch definition, we will see how the gauge goes. I love MadTosh yarns, but they tend to be on the thin side. The color? I went for Bark - lovely dimensional brown and gold, I just loved the pictures of finished projects in Ravelry, but still quite wearable.
Anybody cares to join?
See you soon in Egypt
The Egypt section of the shawl is divided between two clues. The first one is due on 4/9, the second one two weeks later. I am going to guess that it is not going to be as well loved as clue 3 and 4, but it is a short and manageable clue that introduces some interesting skill for newbies and some room for personalization. It does not seem like much, but once clue 6 is added, the effect is just gorgeous.
So saddle your camels, tie your sandals, and see you there.


  1. That coat will be epic! Love it too!

  2. The coat will be gorgeous - however I would caution you to buy all your yardage at the same time - I have a lovely sweater started in Madtosh light in the amber trinket colorway and had to work on the cowl neck from a separate skein as the 5 skeins I have are almost all the same ( except for 1!) - I do have to say that the colors are gorgeous though...can't wait for the next clues on the KAL - good teaser...cheers!

  3. The blocking tutorial is great. I am jealous over the amount of space you have to lay out the shawl! The jacket is awesome - I love to reinvent patterns from vintage pictures.