You’ve come to the end of your crewel project! Congratulations! You probably feel like celebrating. Your crewel piece, however, isn’t exactly ready to put into a frame, though, is it? Manipulating the fabric and yarns has left it looking sort of bedraggled. At this point, you may not feel personally competent to proceed with the blocking process. Once you have blocked several crewel pieces, however, you will be perfectly at home with the idea, and it will no longer seem daunting to you. And after buying your basic blocking board supplies, you can block your own pieces for virtually no expense at all.
Blocking is the process of straightening the crewel background fabric, eliminating wrinkles, and getting the warp and weft threads at right angles again. A piece of crewel work must be blocked for several important reasons. First of all, part of the beauty of crewel done well is that the stitches can rise above the plane of the background fabric and stand out in sharp relief. This effect begins with the way the stitches are put in place, but it definitely ends with a good job of blocking the finished piece. Secondly, the threads of the background fabric must be realigned so that the weft threads are perfectly horizontal and the warp threads are perfectly vertical. This perfect thread alignment is the perfect finishing touch for your piece. But one very important and yet overlooked reason for blocking a linen fabric is that this process will release the natural starch within the fabric and bring a beautiful crispness to the finished piece.
Let me just say: NEVER, BUT NEVER iron your finished piece of crewel! Doing so will flatten the stitches, create puckers where the background fabric meets the stitches, possibly mark the linen fabric with shiny areas, and perhaps lead to a scorching disaster. There is no need to ever touch an iron to a crewel piece. The first time you block a piece of crewelwork, you may think that you are just about to ruin your project, but don’t worry—everything will be fine!
Most reputable crewel elements of yarn and linen will be quite colorfast when wet. Since wetting the piece is part of the blocking process, check the materials for colorfastness if you have any doubts on this subject. However, I have never had any color bleeding when using standard wool yarns and good quality linen fabrics.
It is possible that you may see different instructions for blocking a piece of needlework. Each needleworker will find a method that works. All of the methods will have the common idea that you are going to stretch the fabric tight on some rigid surface and then wet the fabric thoroughly. So do not think that there is only one way to accomplish this!
You will need a few basic tools in order to perform the blocking process:
A basic blocking board will hold your piece securely. Some blocking boards are wooden. However, I use a thick piece of styrofoam so that I can pin into it at any point. The blocking board must be large enough to accommodate the size of your project. My board is 20 inches by 24 inches and accommodates most pieces that I stitch.
I have taken a piece of gingham fabric large enough to cover the board and have wrapped it over the edges, securing the edges with T-pins. T-pins are usually available at hobby, craft, and fabric stores. Make sure that the gingham that you have chosen is colorfast, and make sure that it is straight and taut. The lines of the gingham pattern will become the natural straight lines that you need in order to lay out the edge of the needlework and make it straight.
Take your finished crewel piece and place it right side down on the gingham on the blocking board. Start in the upper left corner and pin the top edge along a straight line of the gingham pattern. When the top is pinned straight, pull tautly on the needlework linen and place the bottom edge along a straight line; pin it in place with T-pins. When the bottom and the top are securely pinned, pull one side taut and pin it in place; continue then by pinning the opposite side into place. When you are done, be sure that the piece is pulled tight so that all wrinkles and puckers have been eliminated but that the warp and weft threads of the linen are lying straight. Use as many pins as it takes to accomplish straight threads. Once you wet the piece, it will dry as it has been put on the blocking board, so the threads must be nice and straight.
When the piece has been pinned to your satisfaction, take distilled water in a clean spray bottle and thoroughly wet the piece. Make sure that the fabric is evenly saturated; any areas that do not get as wet as the others will show watermarks. Put the blocking board aside and let the piece dry for 24 hours. It must be thoroughly dry when you unpin it. If your environment is humid, you may need to put the blocking board in a place that has good air circulation so that the piece can dry as quickly as possible.
When the piece is thoroughly dry, unpin it; turn it over, and you will see your beautiful, straight piece that looks as though it has been starched. The stitches should stand out proudly against the linen background, and there should be no wrinkles or puckers. If you still have a minor problem like that somewhere on the piece, repeat the blocking process. Remember, though, to thoroughly wet the entire piece in order to avoid watermarks.
Congratulations! Your piece should now be ready to finish out as a pillow or hanging. Proceed with any sewing or framing steps that you need in order to finish your piece. Well done!
Written by Tana Dixon
Blocking piece use is Phillipa Turnbull's 'Glamis Rose.'