How to knit lace without having a breakdown…

14 May

If you’ve been knitting a little while, you probably know about the trend for knitting shawls. Ooo look, here’s one I made…

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Shawls might seem like an old-fashioned thing to make. But think again. Wear a triangle shawl back to front and you’ve got an on trend neckerchief. Zany! Plus lace knitting is interesting, challenging, and you get a lot of knitting out of an 800m skein of cashmere for not much dollar. Mmmmm, cashmere.

But lace knitting isn’t exactly a piece of cake. If you’re a lace virgin you need help. So here are my top tips. I’ll share some of my favourite patterns at the end, so read on!

(1) Stitch markers are your best friend

Chances are your lace pattern is a multiple repeat of a motif, plus other bits and pieces. The Damask shawl I recently knitted has a 261 st cast on, with pattern repeats of 18 stitches, plus some garter stitch edging, a border, and a central stitch. That’s a lot to keep track of. Stitch markers, which you place between sections, or to mark special stitches, save you from having to count more than a few stitches to check you’re on the right path.

They’re also great if you think you’ve gone wrong – it’s much easier to identify a mistake within a marked section than to work out if you’ve made a blunder by counting yarnovers and decreases over a really long row.

(2) Lifelines are also your best friend

When I started knitting I would never undo my mistakes. Instead I’d just fudge things somehow and knit on. And that’s fine most of the time (although I don’t do it much any more). Still, mistakes in lace are a bit trickier. With all those yarnovers floating around it’s tricky to undo rows accurately. And you can’t just soldier on – one decrease in the wrong place can throw the whole pattern out.

Lifelines are just spare yarn threaded through rows of live stitches before you knit on. They mean that if the worst happens and there’s a mistake you can’t easily fix, you can unravel those rows with no fear of losing stitches or mucking up the work you’ve already done. Cotton  yarn in a contrasting shade is good as you can see it clearly, and the smooth yarn will slide out easily when you don’t need the lifeline any more.

(3) A chart keeper is  great – even if you don’t like charts…

A chart keeper, like this KnitPro one, gives you the ability to mark  your line of knitting so you don’t lose your place. It works brilliantly for written instructions – just photocopy the pattern pages if you’re working from a book. But if you’re really getting into lace, then you really need the next tip too…

(4) …yes, charts are a damn fine idea

Yep, charts. Some people can’t get on with them, which is fair enough. But if you can get to grips with them they can really make life easier. It takes practice to see it, but charts give you a visual map of what your lace will look like.  Reading a chart can become instinctive with time and really speed up your lace knitting.

(5) Finally, don’t forget to be a nosy neighbour

If you’re a member of Ravelry (and if not, what are you waiting for?) then look up your pattern before you start knitting. Any mistakes in the pattern should be listed, but check out the projects people have made too and filter them by ‘Helpful’ – you’ll find a mine of information. You can also search for projects made in the yarn you’re considering, to see how they turned out, and whether people had issues with yardage or needle size.

Phew! So, now you’ve waded through all that, here are my favourite lace patterns:

Citron, by Hilary Smith Callis. Not actually lace, but a good way of practising increasing and decreasing, which is how you get the lovely ruffles. Warning, the cast off is mammoth (550sts). But it really is worth it and it will give you a feel for shawl knitting if you want to do something more complicated next, like…

Multnomah by Kate Flagg. Slightly harder, this is a garter stitch shawl with a classic feather and fan edge. Still easy to do though and the effect is great.

Damask, by Kitman Figueroa. This bottom up lace shawl was my latest lace project. Yes, it starts with a mega cast on, but cable cast on will work just as well as long tail, and you won’t get fatigue as you get towards the end because the rows get shorter and shorter. Result!

Rock Island by Jared Flood.More proof that Brooklyn Tweed is a genius. This is very open lace and will need good blocking to truly shine.

Shipwreck by Bethany Kok. This is a biggy, but good lord it’s simply glorious. If you’re feeling masochistic then you can knit the 3,000 beads in too, but crocheting them in is easier.

Anything from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby. Jane Sowerby is a legend within lace circles, and deservedly so. She reworked some of the most stunning lace patterns in existence and put them all in one book, along with many great tips and instructions for lace knitting. And for that I thank her.

OK, back to my charts! I’m teaching an Introduction to Lace class at Get Knitted in Bristol next Saturday if you’d like to know more.

You can read more about my experience knitting Damask on The Knitter’s website next week…

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One Response to “How to knit lace without having a breakdown…”

  1. Elle May 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    I didn’t put a lifeline in my Veil of Isis… over 1000 stitches on the needles… and almost at the end of a pattern repeat (30 rows!), I realised there wasn’t enough yarn for the border. Eeep. Ripped back those 28 rows, picked up 1000+ stitches, and all it took was the whole of Shrek and Shrek 2 *le sigh*

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