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Knitting Lacey Shawls for Beginners – Part Quat

Okay kids, gather around.  Now, while you’ve been waiting for the fourth and final instalment of Knitting Lacey Shawls for Beginners, I trust that you’ve been steadily working away at your shawls.  Everyone hold them up, let’s have a look.  Mmm, lovely.  Now, I know we’re all tired, but we’re into the home stretch now.

Now, shawls are constructed in different ways: some are circular, some are triangular, worked from the point to the longest edge or maybe from the long edge to the point.  Some are square and some are rectangular.  All are beautiful.  All use thousands of stitches.  And if they need casting off, there’s a lot of stitches to attend to.  My own Mama Moth shawl required the very loose casting off of 363 stitches.  It was a lot.  Three hundred and

sixty-three stitches (seems like more when I write it out longhand).  I switched to a needle a full size bigger and, realistically, I could have gone another size up.  I still had to use a very loose cast off.  Really, really loose.

I must admit, immediately after casting off, it kinda looked like shit. That picture right there shows an extreme close up of the cast off, all loopy and saggy-lookin’, like it’s not wearing a bra.  So the overall completed piece kinda looked scrunchy and chewed.

So it’s time for blocking!

Into the bright yellow blocking bucket it goes.  If you don’t have a bright yellow blocking bucket, I strongly suggest you procure one.  For this job, it is normally recommended that you use a mild wool mix, especially a no-rinse one.  As my shawl was not wool, and I had no wool mix, I am using a fragrance-free, sensitive skin body wash.  It seems to work okay.  The important thing is the lukewarm water. Obviously, if you’re working with any feltable fibre, you have to be very careful not to use too-hot or too-cold water, as this makes the fibre cranky and it might felt. For the same reason, don’t agitate it too much.  Go and have a shower or do some jazzercise while your shawl soaks. It only needs ten to fifteen minutes or so.

The next step is to lift out the shawl and squeeze out all the excess water — you can do this any way you see fit, but I will make two cautions: the first is that you mustn’t wring it.  Fibres, as a rule, become weaker when wet (I think the exception is linen and flax, but I could be mistaken) and if you wring and twist them, they’ll get cranky and break.  With wool, this is particularly bad, because it ruins the memory that is one of wool’s great virtues.  The second caution is to support your wool from the bottom, as you would a kitten or bunny.  When wet, most fibres weigh a ton, and if you haul the whole thing out by its top edge, you’re looking at some serious warping.  At this point, I rolled my shawl up in a towel to make a big fat burrito, then wrapped it in another towel, and then spent some time jumping up and down on it to really force out all the water.  It’s odd that I should caution you against wringing and lifting your shawl and then advocate jumping up and down on it (I may or may not have been singing a song), but, like most geniuses, I go by contraries.

Pin time. If you’ve got some of those new-fangled blocking wires, you probably know how to use them and I suggest you do so.  If you don’t, you’re a pinner, like me.  Find a surface that is strong enough to keep the pins in place.  I used carpet because, well, that’s all I had (I’m starting to think I’m not qualified to write about knitting). Pin out the flat edges first.  If you have a circular shawl, you’ll need to mull that one over for a while.  Mine was triangular, so I pinned out the top flat edge, the longest edge of the triangle.  Then I pulled on its spine: the column of yo, k1, yo that ran right down the centre of the triangle to the point.  I pulled on that point, made sure the spine was perpendicular to the longest edge, and pinned it in place.  From there, it was a careful process of pinning out every point along the two shorter edges, making sure they were evenly-spaced and as symmetrical as possible.

Here’s mine, pinned out all nice and fresh. I did this before work yesterday morning, and I’m glad I did: it forced me out of the house. I don’t mind admitting that it was on my thoughts a little, during moments of quiet reflection, in the sense that I was tempted to phone home and leave a message on the answering machine just so the shawl could hear my voice. This is remarkably hard to explain to housemates when they come home and play the messages on the machine.

So I encourage you to find some other employment while you wait for your beloved shawl to dry.  Trust me: it is worth the suspense.

Take careful note of the above picture.  That’s the shawl pinned down.  Now this is what happened when I slipped the pins out:

Nothing happened.  It lay, peacefully tamed, on my carpet and awaited my next whim.  My next whim was to bounce up and down, cackling, and it provided a patient audience.

If you find that you haven’t quite bent your shawl to your will, then you can always redunk and repin, giving it even longer to dry if necessary.  And don’t forget that, if it is drying out as fast as you pin it out, you’ll need to spritz it with a water bottle every now and again to keep it malleable.

This is the last in the Knitting Lacey Shawls for Beginners series — because now, we’re not beginners!

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