For many novice knitters, the thought of knitting lace can be daunting. Intricate lace patterns create images of mandalas, flower petals, paisley or leaves simply by combining basic stitches in clever ways. It can look like magic! But take heart, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, you too can learn to knit lace. Here’s an overview to take a little bit of the mystery out of it all. If you can knit, purl, increase and decrease, you can learn to knit lace.
There are a few things that you do need to understand about knitting lace.
Working off a chart:
You will definitely be working from a chart to knit lace.
And trust me, you want to be working from a chart. A chart is a graph of what stitches make up the pattern. It’s a visual representation of what you will be knitting. As much as it can be nice to have written instructions, (and many patterns will have both) once you get accustomed to following a chart, you will likely come to prefer it over written out instructions. A chart allows you to see what went before and what is to come in the pattern, all in a glance. It removes the step of translating words into instructions and then into an image in your mind.
As you work your way through the chart it is imperative that you mark, in some way, to show where you are.
I use a pattern holder for my charts. These come in a couple sizes. They are usually a folder of sorts with a metal sheet inside so a magnet will grab onto it. This allows you to use a long skinny magnet to keep track of where you are in your pattern. I prefer to place the magnet directly above the row that I am working on. This way I can see the stitches I have already done below the current row I am working. What I see on the chart matches what I see when I look at my knitting. I also use a pencil to place a tally or a check mark beside each row as I complete it.
Working flat versus working in the round will impact how you read the chart.
Charts usually show you how the right side of the fabric is going to look. Therefore, if you are knitting flat and turning your work; alternating right side and wrong side, the wrong side rows will be read as such. Usually the legend will say what a symbol represents on the right side and what that same symbol represents on the wrong side. Generally with lace, any increasing, decreasing or other fancy work is usually done on the right side of the fabric with the wrong side simply knits and purls. I have knitted patterns in which the wrong side is always simply purled. On those charts they only showed the right side rows of the pattern on the chart because once you know to just purl the wrong side, you don’t need a chart to tell you that. If you are knitting in the round, each symbol on the chart will only have one meaning as you will only be working the right side of the fabric.
Feeling a little confused? That’s okay.
Like with most things, you really have to try it out to be able to wrap your brain around it. Hang in there. This info will settle into the back of your mind, and when you do try out some lace knitting, it will come back to you.
Lace is made up of repeating patterns.
We refer to these as, you guessed it, “pattern repeats”. When you are first learning to knit lace, I recommend that you start with a very simple pattern. I also recommend that you place a very thin stitch marker at the end of each pattern repeat in your knitting. Knitting lace does require focus, but as you work through the pattern repeats, you will start to get a sense of what needs to happen in what order. The more repeats you complete, the more you’ll begin to anticipate what comes next. By having strategically placed stitch markers, if you miss a stitch or do a wrong stitch in one section, it’s easier to figure out what you did wrong and fix it.
It is very important to take your time and double check your work as you go.
Minimize distractions as much as possible and when you start to tire mentally, set it aside and give yourself a break. When you take a break, mark your pattern clearly and carefully to indicate where you left off.
Tinking (undoing stitches one at a time to back track and fix a mistake) can be tricky when you work with lace, especially when there are a lot of yarn-overs in the pattern. Depending on what happens, it is possible to end up with an unrecoverable mistake. For instance, if you drop a stitch and it runs down through a section that was built on a stack of decreases you can end up with a big mess that you simply won’t know what to do with. Therefore, it’s a really good idea to run regular “lifelines” as you go. Using a darning needle, you run some smooth heavy thread or light yarn through your stitches and tie it off so that it can’t fall out. Do this at regular intervals so that if you make a mistake or drop a stitch you will minimize any potential trauma. If you do drop stitches, they can only go back as far as your lifeline. Make a note on your chart to indicate where that lifeline sits. Then, if you do need to go back, you will know where to start knitting. I encourage you to always place your lifelines in the same pattern row.
I’ll be offering in-house beginner lace workshops this fall. Let me know if you are interested in participating and I’ll put you on the list!