I wrote this little article for my local textile guild newsletter, and I thought it might be of interest to some of the fibery community.
Blocking and Starching Doilies:
1. ALWAYS wash the doily. I use mild dish soap and lukewarm water. Gently squeeze the suds through then let it soak, like washing a sweater. Don't twist or rub the doily. Rinse thoroughly, at least twice. Squeeze it out, then roll in a towel to remove as much water as possible.
2. Prepare the blocking board. A double layer of corrugated cardboard works well, just tape them together so they don't slip. You need something thick enough to hold the pins securely, and at least as big as the finished size of your doily plus a few inches extra all around. Tape a blocking guide on top of the cardboard and cover it with plastic wrap. The blocking guide is just a series of concentric circles (or rectangles or squares or whatever) or radial lines marked with measured tick-marks, that you use as a guide to ensure that your doily ends up perfectly round or with even corners. Draw the guide using a permanent pen or a pencil so that the ink doesn't run and stain the doily.
3. Using T-pins (stainless steel if you can find them), pin the doily to the board, using the lines on the blocking guide to make sure all the sides are even. Cotton doilies are quite sturdy, and can be pulled very tight. The doily will probably have shrunk a bit and tightened during the wash, so stretch it in stages. Pin it out as far as you can without overdoing it, let it rest 10-15 minutes, then stretch it again and repin. It will usually grow a bit after the rest. Starting at the center and working your way out can be helpful when blocking large doilies, as this ensures that all areas of the doily are evenly stretched.
4. Use a lot of pins. How the doily looks on the board is how it will look when it is finished, so pin out each picot, shell, chain loop, etc. This includes the interior of the doily as well as the outside edge, if there are areas that do not automatically settle into place as you stretch the doily.
5. When the doily is completely pinned, you can spray it with starch. This is not always necessary, depending on the thread used and if the doily is densely crocheted. Use your own judgement based on the look you want. Doilies with a lot of chain loops usually need more starch to maintain their structure. If a heavy starch is desired, spray lightly once, let it soak into the thread, then spray it again. After spraying, blot up the excess (especially around the pins) to prevent the cardboard from getting soggy and to speed drying. The plastic wrap will help prevent soggy cardboard for the most part, but the starch solution can still run down through the pin holes, so multiple light sprays with blotting are better than one heavy one.
6. Let the doily dry thoroughly, completely, entirely, before unpinning. At least overnight is best. If it's not completely dry when you remove it, it can lose its shape and all your careful pinning will be for nothing.
7. To store a doily, wrap it in acid-free tissue paper and if possible store it flat or rolled around a tube, not folded.
This method gives a non-permanent stiffening that is still flexible, and will have to be repeated if you wash the doily. If you're blocking something, like a snowflake or a basket, that needs to be very stiff, you can dip it in a solution of slightly diluted white glue before pinning it out (squeeze it out and blot it before pinning, to get rid of the excess glue). This method is hard, permanent, and will not wash out. Sugar solutions, boiled starch, and commercial fabric stiffeners can also be used, but I like the white glue.
This sounds like a lot of work, but the result is worth it. Taking the time to properly block a doily makes all the difference in the world in how the finished piece looks.