Well, I think the title just gave away my thoughts on blocking. In any case, I shawl forge ahead.
Blocking is loosely defined as just washing and laying a knitted or crocheted item out in the way you’d like it to dry. It generally helps even out the stitches all the way through and lets the work show a bit better. You can place items around balls (for hats) or pin them out so that they show more detail.
I have various levels of blocking for most things I make. Berets/tams go around a plate while they dry, socks and mittens/gloves are laid flat since my body parts do all the stretching when worn. These are just things I do, and I don’t find any true magic in them.
The real magic is in blocking a fully lace or mostly lace piece. Lace has the property of bunching up and not looking so pretty fresh off the needles. A lot of it is due to stitch manipulation–there are so many increases and decreases the entire fabric just pulls in on itself. You see bits and pieces of what it will become, but a lot of what keeps me going through the piece is the knowledge of how it will finish and enjoying the yarn I’m using. This is doubly critical in pieces that begin or end with 300+ stitches to a row, with hundreds of rows to go.
I always block my lace very firmly. I stretch until I think the yarn may snap. I make sure it stays damp for the whole process, pinning it as equally as possible so the tension is relatively the same. On smaller items, I can get it blocked in under an hour, and leave it to dry for the day. For larger lace things, I take a bit longer. I want the stitches to be both as crisp and clear as possible in my lace, and it shows in my preference for pinning instead of blocking wires.
As my main example, I’m using the Vernal Equinox Shawl I’ve been working on, with a reminder that it still isn’t nearly as blocked as I like since I was having to deal with what needle space I had. Here, I have a picture of the full thing, blocked out with the current radius.
The yardstick gives a good idea of the radius at that specific point. I’ll end up using it again when I do my final blocking.
With the blocking, each clue is a distinct section of the shawl, easily differentiated from the one prior.
Part of clue 4, the least distinct due to how I was trying to do this:
Even without being stretched to my satisfication, there is a clear difference when the pins are taken out.
Outer Edge pins:
Sure, you can still see some of the pattern, and clue 3 still sticks out–but clues 1 and 2, which are close in construction, have lost the line separating them, and 4 looks like it’s just a repetition of either 1 or 2.
It doesn’t really take too much in way of supplies–a tape measure or yardstick if you want, some space (I use my bed), and quilter or blocking pins. If you want to get fancy, you could use blocking wires, but I don’t much care for them. I suppose patience is involved, but for me there’s a certain joy in watching the piece slowly bloom as I pin it out. Two really nice tutorials on blocking lace are the Knit Purl Circular Lace Tutorial, which has some good advice even for those who aren’t making circles or semi-circles, and the following Knitting Daily video. (I”m usually not much a proponent for Knitting Daily, I get amazingly annoyed at their emails they send me, and rather despise one of their editors, but this tutorial is really quite good and knows its stuff)
Hopefully, if you’ve always disregarded blocking, I’ve shown you a little of why it’s so amazing.