A cautionary tale ahead. Sometime ago I had a run-in with some Danish knitters. They were asking questions on how to block a shawl and I replied with my usual answer (I include a longer version with all my lace shawl patterns, by the way):
Weave in the ends of your shawl, but do not trim off the ends. Then soak your shawl in lukewarm water for 15 minutes rinsing it gently afterwards. Wrap your shawl in a spare towel to blot out as much water as possible. Do not wring your shawl. Pin it out and leave it to dry for a few days. Unpin, weave in ends, then wear with love and pride.
I was told in no uncertain terms by a series of people that I was wrong. Instead of soaking shawls in lukewarm water and then patting them dry, I should put them into the washing machine to spin them before pinning them out. I don't mind being told that I am wrong, but this advice ran so counter to logic that I decided to experiment a bit.
In the name of knitting science I grabbed my Mosswell, my version of Elizabeth Freeman's fabulous Aeolian Shawl from Knitty, and I put it in my washing machine. I chose the absolutely lowest setting possible on my machine and the absolutely gentlest spinning cycle - and then I hoped for the best.
This was Mosswell before my experiment:
This is Mosswell now:
No, the photo is not blurry. My shawl felted quite dramatically and is now roughly the size of a bib.
So, what went wrong? I shall stick to my guns and say: "the washing machine is what went wrong". Unless you have a really state-of-the art washing machine (perhaps?), I would stick to soaking your shawl in the sink/tub and patting it dry with a towel. You have much greater control over the process than if you were to just stick it in a washing machine and hope for the best.
Also, if you have spent 2 weeks to 6 months on knitting a shawl, why not spend another 20 minutes (of which 15 minutes is the shawl soaking and you drinking coffee) on preparing it for blocking?
Have you any experiences with blocking that you would like to share? Leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you!