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by Laura Chau April 01, 2021 4 min read

After putting hours of work into a shawl, it can be tempting to start wearing it immediately! But learning how to block a shawl will take your project to the next level. Although it might sound involved, blocking boils down to just washing your project and laying it out to air dry in the shape you want it to be.

Blocking is to knitting what ironing is to sewing - it flattens and smooths tight crinkly fabric and sets the stitches. In the case of lace shawls, blocking allows the yarn overs to relax and open, and shaping lines become more prominent, allowing the stitch pattern to truly shine. Gently stretching the fabric open while damp and holding it with pins can make a huge difference to how your finished shawl looks and drapes. Blocking is magic!

Before Blocking

You can see that straight off the needles, the stitches aren’t very well defined and the edge curls in. You can’t really see the lines of the lace patterns, and the shawl might also seem a bit small! Blocking will stretch out the stitches so you can really see the pattern, and the finished shawl will be bigger than it appears right after you bind off.

One important note: if the bind-off edge of your shawl feels tight and inelastic on the shawl, it won’t be able to stretch out more when blocked. Make sure you use an elastic bind-off method and don’t worry too much if your bind-off appears loose before blocking.

Weave in your ends before blocking, making sure you don’t pull them in too tightly, and don’t trim the end of the yarn too closely - it will need to stretch during blocking. Leave a couple inches of tail to be trimmed off after it’s dry.

How to block

Gather your supplies: You’ll need something to soak your shawl in (a big bowl, basin, or clean sink), some wool wash, T-pins and blocking wires, something to block on (we used blocking mats, but the floor or a table is fine too!), and a couple of towels.

A silver metal pan, a stack of blocking mats and a some blocking wires curled up together are arranged on a flat grey surface.

Fill your basin with lukewarm water - not too hot or cold to the touch. Swish in some wool wash. Then submerge your shawl in the water, holding it down until bubbles stop coming up and the piece is completely wet. Let it soak for 10-30 minutes (it’s okay if you forget about it for awhile!).

Two white-skinned hands hold a pink lace shawl in a basin. The shawl and the fingertips are submerged in water.

Gather the knitting into a ball and use both hands to lift it, squeezing out as much water as you can with your hands without wringing.

Two white-skinned hands hold a wet shawl, above a pot of water.

To take out more of the water, lay out the shawl on a towel and roll it up. Then press or step on the roll to squeeze it out.

A pink shawl has been laid out on a white towel, on a grey floor. The towel is being rolled up from the bottom with the shawl enclosed inside by a white woman at the bottom of the picture. She has dark curly hair and wears a white sweater.
A white towel has been rolled up and lays on a grey floor. A woman with white-skinned hands is kneeling on the floor beside it and is pushing down on the towel.

Can I use the washing machine?

Yes! A top-loading machine can act as your basin - fill it with water, add wool wash, let soak, and then use the machine’s spin cycle to spin out the water.

You can also use front-loading machines, with caution - use a delicate or speed cycle with cold water, and set the spin to medium or low.

Laying it out

Once you’ve spun most of the water out of your shawl, it’s time to lay it out. Prepare your blocking surface - here we’re using Cocoknits blocking mats, which interlock to create a perfect shape to block on. You can also use a spare bed, carpet, or just dry towels on the floor - it should be somewhere that the shawl can dry undisturbed for a few hours or a day.

White blocking mats are arranged on a flat grey surface in a pyramid shape, with 7 on the lower level, 5 above that, then 3, then 1. A spare blocking mat lies to the right side.

Blocking wires

Blocking wires are thin, flexible metal rods that are amazing for helping you block straight lines without using a million pins. The wires are threaded in and out of the fabric along an edge, and then the whole side can be stretched and pinned as one. Here we’re using wires along all three edges: the top straight edge, and the pointed lower edges. The wires are threaded into the very tip of each point, and they’ll be straight and even.

Two white-skinned hands hold a piece of a pink shawl, stretching out the edge.
The edge of a pink shawl is stretched out, and a blocking wire is being threaded through the scalloped points along the edge of the shawl.

Pin it out

Whether you’re using blocking wires or not, follow the major design lines as a guide for blocking. 

Anchor the centre of the top edge with T-pins, and then working out from here, stretch and pin the top edge straight.

The straight edge of a pink shawl is pinned onto blocking mats.
The straight edge of shawl is held with blocking wires and being pinned to the blocking mats.

Then begin working downwards - here we want the centre spine to run straight down the middle of the shawl, so smooth that out and pin it down.

A photo taken from above of an entire triangular pink shawl, partially pinned out on a blocking mat. A white woman with curly brown hair is leaning over the shawl as the remainder is pinned out.

Finally, gently stretch the remainder of the fabric out evenly between the top edge and the centre point and pin in place. Make sure you take a step back for a look, and adjust and re-position until you’re happy with the final shape! If you’re using blocking wires, you can anchor just the wire with pins. If you’re not using blocking wires, you’ll need to pin out each point separately.

A close up of the scalloped edges of a pink shawl, being held by blocking wires and pinned to a blocking mat.

After blocking

Once your shawl is completely dry (it won’t take as long as a sweater would!), carefully remove the pins and wires. Check that your woven-in ends are still where you left them, and trim any remaining ends.

Ta-da! Stand back and admire those beautiful stitches! Your lace shawl is now perfectly defined, with crisp stitches and a lovely openness. It truly is amazing what blocking can do to make your knitting look complete!

A large pink triangular shawl is pinned out using blocking wires on a blocking mat.
Laura Chau
Laura Chau



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