Snowflakes & Thread Crochet
Blocking makes a huge difference in how good your snowflakes look in the end. You can be a very talented crocheter, but if your flake is lumpy, curly, or blocked lopsidedly, it's will have trouble competing with a well-blocked flake by the beginning crocheter across the bazaar. Blocking does wonders for flakes that don't work up quite flat, and improves ones that do. If you stiffen your flakes, good blocking is essential. As you might imagine, I check out crocheted snowflakes at every opportunity, and I've seen the work of only one crocheter ever whose work actually really truly didn't need any blocking at all (she worked tight, and her stitches were like clockwork -- absolutely identical. My work is pretty darn even, but hers was supernatural!!). Meanwhile I saw far too many snowflakes by crocheters who didn't feel that their work needed blocking (or didn't want to bother?), and the results just aren't impressive. So just try some good, careful blocking, and see the difference...
You may not have noticed, but your hand oils combine with household dust and grime, food, beverage or (horrors!) cigarette residue, not to mention afghan fuzz or pet hair -- all of these discolor your snowflakes as even you make them. If you wash some thoroughly, and compare them to unwashed ones, you'll see the difference very clearly. Washing makes white ones brilliant snowy white (and is a good idea for ecru and other colors too...).
What I do is crochet up a bunch, then let them sit all day or overnight in a strong solution of non-bleach detergent (bleach will weaken their thread if left for any length of time). I put mine in a lidded deli or tupperware container of water with about a tablespoon of laundry detergent, and leave it by the sink where I can shake it up whenever I go past doing other things. It helps to use quite a bit of detergent, since snowflakes are small enough that it's kind of hard to agitate them the way that a washing machine does, plus you wouldn't really want to, since rubbing them too much could make them get worn and fuzzy looking.
The Ultimate Snowflake Blocking Pattern
Most snowflake blocking patterns are pretty lame -- six lines that meet in the center. That gets the arms of the snowflake to go out straight, but that's about all. Many snowflakes have small points in between their long arms, and it's hard to get them just right without a pattern. It's also hard to make sure all the arms are stretched out to the same length, and small differences can make your snowflake look lopsided even if the arms are all perfectly straight. So one day I sat down with my drawing program, and created the ultimate snowflake blocking diagram. It has 12 arms (for both major and minor points to be blocked) and concentric circles to measure how much you've stretched each point of your snowflake. The circles make it easy to make sure that each point of your flake gets stretched to exactly the same length, so your snowflakes never get stiffened lopsidedly again.
Making The Ultimate Snowflake Blocking Board
Click on the link for the the snowflake blocking pattern so you see it in your browser. Save the image as "snowflake.gif" on your hard disk. Then try printing out a copy from your browser. If it looks good, you can use your browser to print more. But if your browser does something funky like giving it a grayish background, try opening "snowflake.gif" with a draw or paint program or the draw/paint section of a multipurpose program like MSWorks, AppleWorks, etc. See which program prints it best. Once you've got a good print, print out a whole bunch of copies of the page using whatever program printed it best (my board holds 11 copies), and trim off the excess paper to make them round with a bit of a border for taping.
Go to your local monster office supply warehouse-mart-extravaganza, and buy a large piece of foam core "presentation board". This stuff is poster-board sized (or larger), with paper on the outside and a foam core. Some places ask $5 each, but I've seen 3 for $5 at Staples. Tape the trimmed copies of "snowflake.gif" to the presentation board in a staggered pattern so you can fit the maximum number on, and finally cover the whole board with waxed paper so your stiffener won't stick to it.
To block a snowflake, first dip it in stiffener, squeeze it out and sprinkle with glitter if you want (do the glitter on a paper plate, not on your blocking board!). First center the snowflakes on the blocking pattern with a pin in the middle, then pull the arms out along the printed lines. Use the the concentric circles help make sure all the arms are the same length.
I've been using the same presentation board to block my snowflakes since 1995, so I think it was a few dollars well spent...
An Alternative Blocking Board
Sharon P. emailed me with a great suggestion she uses the cardboard cores of fabric bolts as blocking boards! Some fabric stores will give them to you for the asking. They're several layers thick and hold pins well She's used the same ones for more than six years, and they're still going strong.
Ordinary cardboard works OK too, but it helps to tape or glue several layers together so that the pins have more to stick into.
A Diversion Into Doilies
If you like the snowflake blocking diagram, try the doily blocking version. Print out four copies, line them up exactly, and poke a pin thru the center point of the circles, where all the lines intersect. Then poke the pin into the center of your blocking board, rotate out the sheets of paper so they make a full circle, and tape them all down, trimming off excess paper along the way. Cover with waxed paper or plastic, and you're ready to go.
After experimentation with various pin-type items, I've decided that my favorite pins are stainless steel T-pins. T-pins are thicker than sewing pins so they don't bend unless you really work hard at it, and they have this crossbar at the top so they're easy to pull out, even if your stiffener glues the snowflake to them. And stainless steel is no more able to rust than Farberware or a kitchen sink, so it's no surprise they haven't rusted in the 7 years I've been using them. Alas, this year I've had trouble finding stainless steel ones, everyplace seems to carry only nickel-plated ones. Do be cautious if all you can find are nickel-plated pins -- the plating eventually wears off, the water in the stiffener eventually makes the pins rust, and your snowflakes can get stained. So if you have nickel-plated pins, check them for rust before you reuse them, and throw away any that are getting discolored or lumpy. If, tragically, you get this warning too late, try Oxy-Clean to remove the rust stains.
Sewing pins are not as good as T-pins -- they bend too easily, so you can't stretch the snowflakes out as well as you could with stronger pins, and their tiny little heads make them hard to pull out if your stiffener glues them to your snowflakes. The sewing pins with big round heads are not the answer either -- their heads can pull off if you have to pull too hard on a stuck pin -- and then you need pliers to get it loose! If you have to use sewing pins, keep a bunch only for snowflakes. The stiffener gums them up permanently, so they won't slide into fabric anymore...
If you've been traumatized by rust, try toothpicks for blocking. Many snowflake makers swear by those round pointy-ended toothpicks.
I haven't had the best of luck with these, but as I understand it, you make 3 copies of the snowflake. One is blocked flat, and 2 are blocked on a 3-sided prism-shaped thing that one makes of cardboard,. To make the prism, you make 3 identical rectangles of stiff strong cardboard, twice as long as they are wide. The short side of the rectangles has to be slightly more than half the width of the widest snowflake you're going to block, and the long side should be at least twice that measurement. Tape the rectangles together long side to long side, which will make a triangular prism. Tape a copy of the ultimate snowflake blocking diagram to the prism, with the center line of the diagram running down the one of the joints where the rectangles were taped together. This pointy side of the prism which now has the diagram taped to it will stay on top. Cover the whole thing with something transparent and waterproof, like waxed paper or plastic.
Take one of the 2 snowflakes you have left (remember, you blocked the first one flat), and pin its center to the center of the blocking diagram, and stretch the arms out and pin them just as you would if the snowflake were flat. One set of arms will lie along the top pointy edge of the diagram, and the other 2 sets will hang down the sides. When the snowflake is completely dry, block the the last one on your prism, just like the one you just took off. You now have one flat snowflakes and 2 bent ones. Connect the center fold-line of each bent snowflakes to either side of the center line of the flat snowflake, and glue (sew?) them together. It should come out symmetrical...
I've given these their own separate page. You can turn snowflakes into ball ornaments too -- go there to find out how.
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions, complaints, links, patterns, reviews, etc.
© Copyright 1997, 2000 Noël V. Nevins