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March 23, 2006

Majoring in Lace - Part IV

Introduction; Shawl ConstructionYarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting • Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

Casting On For Lace

One of the most curious things about lace is the goal of having no real beginning and no real end. There might be a handy little parable lurking in there somewhere - shawl as ancestral blood, shawl as distinguished lifetime - but we're here to talk about knitting, not self-indulgent flights of metaphorical fancy. Onward!

The main problem with casting on for lace is the difference in elasiticity between the cast on edge and the rest of the fabric. Stitches worked with any openwork pattern will always stretch more than the same number worked in stockinette or garter, and the traditional long-tail cast on is too firm to accomodate the extra stretch during blocking. One way or another, the issue needs to be addressed for any lace project that will undergo a serious dressing.

**Note: The movment(s) of each technique are presented as a simple graphic and as a series of photos. The diagram should show you exactly how the yarn should sit and the directions of the movements - the photos a sense of the process. In the diagrams, working yarns are purple and the waste yarns pink, while in the photos the working yarns are blue and the waste yarns white. For clarity, I'm showing the techniques with a smooth cotton that shows the stitches well**

Invisible Cast Ons

Many traditional Shetland and Orenburg shawls are cleverly constructed to avoid a cast-on row altogether. An invisible, or provisional, cast on method is used to begin a given section of knitting, and the live stitches held to later be picked up or grafted.

All invisible cast ons are comparable in finished effect - basically, they all expose the purl bumps of a row and make them live stitches. The first and third methods shown here use the working yarn itself for the first row on the needles (what would ordinarily be the cast on row), while the second method works into waste yarn stitches on the needle. For the second method, I usually work that first row as a wrong side foundation row, turn, and then start the pattern.

Otherwise, the method you choose will depend only on personal preference.

Invisible Cast On

My favorite invisible cast-on is ridiculously simple - it amounts to making a series of yarn overs in a figure-eight around both the needle and a "holder," usually a bit of waste string. Using a smooth, fairly thick waste yarn for the foundation will go a long way towards keeping the stitches from twisting around the needle, and eventually make picking up the stitches much easier.

    1) Anchor your working yarn to the needle by making a slip knot. Hold the needle in your right hand, anchoring the tail of the working yarn and one end of the waste yarn out of the way. Tension and spread the yarns with your left hand, with the waste yarn nearer you than the working yarn - you might find it convenient to tension the waste around your thumb and the working yarn around your index finger. Dip the needle under the waste yarn...

    2) Grab the working yarn from the back, bring it under the waste yarn in front, and bring the needle back to position to make one stitch.

    3) Now, tilt the needle back, pick up the working yarn from over the waste yarn, and bring the needle back to position to make the second stitch.

    Repeat these steps until the required number of stitches, including the slip knot, have been cast on (when casting on an odd number of stitches, give the working yarn a twist around the waste yarn before turning and working the first row). Pull the waste yarn straight, and arrange the stitches on the needle carefully - as you knit, take care to straighten out and arrange any YOs that have started to twist around each other.

    When it comes time to pick up the stitches from the cast on row, transfer the stitches on the waste yarn, one by one, to a spare needle. Undo the slip knot at the beginning of the row.

Invisible Crochet Cast On I

Crochet cast on methods are very popular, though I generally find them a little too demanding for my absent-minded ways - I nearly always have a bit of waste string in a pocket or buried in my purse, but I hardly ever remember to carry a crochet hook with me. Work crochet cast-ons with a hook similar in size to the diameter of your knitting needle (though size isn't crucial), and use a smooth cotton or other slippery yarn (this is crucial, unless you're a glutton for tinking punishment).

Version I is chained directly onto the knitting needle, creating a foundation row of waste yarn. The work is knitted onto this foundation row, leaving live stitches when the row is later unraveled.

    1) Make a slip knot with the waste yarn and place it on a crochet hook held in your right hand, with the working end of the waste yarn running behind the knitting needle in your left.

    2) Catch the yarn with the hook from in front of the needle, and pull it through the loop on the hook to cast on one stitch.

    3) Move the working end of the waste yarn back behind the needle, and repeat steps 2-3 to cast on the required number of stitches.

    4) When all the stitches have been chained onto the knitting needle, cut your waste yarn, pass the end through the last loop on the hook, and pull closed (not too tightly - you'll need to undo it later). Tie a knot in that end of the yarn to mark the end you will unravel from, and start working the knitting, treating the loops of waste yarn on the needle as your cast on row

    Pick up the stitches by undoing the last loop of the crochet (marked by the knotted tail) and tugging on the tail to pop the chain open, one stitch at a time. Transfer the live stitches to a knitting needle as they are freed.

    The crochet chain will only "unzip" in one direction - from the last chain worked to the first.

Invisible Crochet Cast On II

Version II should also be worked with a smooth, clean waste yarn and a hook about the same diameter as the knitting needle. You may wish to use waste yarn of fingering or heavier weight to show the loops clearly - picking up the wrong loop will keep the chain from unzipping later.

Despite its slight fiddliness, this is my preferred crochet cast con - the method is simple and sensible, without the awkwardness of manipulating the yarn around too much. From a seperate crocheted chain, the working yarn is pulled through the reverse-side bumps. The chain is later unzipped to expose live stitches.

    1) Crochet a waste yarn chain of as many or more stitches as you want to cast on (more is better). Cut your yarn, pull it through the last loop, and knot that tail to mark the end you'll start unraveling from later. Consider the front and back of the chain - the front presents the familiar nested V shapes, while the back shows a series of bumps straddling the loops.

    2) Starting from the knotted end, pass the tip of a knitting needle through the first bump (and only that strand - take care not to grab any other strand or ply of the chain with the needle). Catch a strand of working yarn with it, and pull it through the bump to cast on one stitch.

    3) Pick up a second stitch in the same way.

    4) And continue until all the stitches have been cast on. If the bumps become too tight to work into, it's fine to skip one or two chains - you'll be glad to have worked more chains than strictly necessary.

    Expose the live stitches in the same way as in Crochet Method I - undo the last loop of the crochet, and tug to expose the stitches one by one. Tranfer them to a needle as they are freed.

Regular Cast Ons

Sometimes, of course, a hard cast on edge is unavoidable. Many stoles and rectangular shawls are knit in one piece, starting at one cast on short edge and worked toward the other. Triangular shawls, too, are occasionally worked from the outer (long) edges towards the top center, starting from a very long cast on edge and decreasing steadily towards the endpoint.

A long-tail cast on may be used, but it should be cast on very loosely - around two or three needles, even. However, I tend to think the sturdiness of the edge (no matter how loose) can be jarring in a very delicate piece. One of the following is probably a better bet.

Backwards Loop Cast On

This is the very simplest cast on a knitter can do. It works beautifully in lace, because there are hardly any extra loops or twists - the edge is as delicate as a single thickness of yarn, and will even stretch farther than the fabric. This can be a disadvantage - an edge made in this way should be pinned carefully to avoid flare.

The twisted loop may be placed onto the needle with either a forward or backwards twist.

    It is simply a matter of how the loop lies around the creepy disembodied thumb, and how it's placed on the needle. I tend to think that version A looks better when the next row is a knit row, and version B when the first row is a purl row.

Lace Cast On

This is a peculiar cast on, not overly popular or well-known, but very useful. It forms a loopy, open edge, sturdier than a backwards loop, but far more elastic than the long-tail. Worked loosely, this cast on is suitable for any lace project that requires a real beginning row.

The movements are basically that of a cable cast on, except the new stitches are drawn through the last stitch, rather than between the last two stitches.

    1) Make a slip knot, and place it on the left needle. Pass the right needle through the back of the slip knot, catch the working end of the yarn, and pull it through. Without twisting the loop, place it on the left-hand needle.

    2) Continue in this way, working into the front of each loop (for next row knit) or the back of each loop (for next row purled). The finished edge is appropriately lacey, but sturdy and firm.

Circular Beginnings

Many square and circular shawls, of course, are knit entirely in the round. They start from a tiny center point of less than ten stitches joined in a circle, and rapidly grow (increased throughout for circular shawls, and increased only at corners for square shawls).

There are a couple problems with the usual methods of casting on and joining circular rounds with such small numbers: for one thing, it would be impossible to close the center hole perfectly; for another, it's very very hard to cast on only one or two stitches onto four DPNs and avoid twisting something. The popular methods of starting circular shawls try to address these issues.

The surest sign that the apocolypse is here? After casting on, I heartily reccommend Magic Loop for dealing with those first 4, 6, 8 stitches. Though I hate the feel of Magic Loop, it's infinitely easier to keep those stitches from slipping and twisting when there are only two needles to worry about.

Emily Ocker's Circular Beginning

Very popular, this method produces a very strong, very sturdy center with a distinct "bellybutton." Basically stitches of single crochet worked over double thickness of looped yarn, the foundation stitches are somewhat raised - when blocked, it's hardly noticeable, but I don't especially care for the final effect.

    1) Make a loop of yarn with the working end in front, pass the crochet hook through it from front to back (under the tail), grab the working end of the yarn, and pull it through the loop.

    2) Grab the yarn once more, and pull it through the loop on the hook. This makes one stitch of single crochet, and one stitch casted on.

    3) Leaving the last loop on the hook, repeat until the right number of stitches have been made, always passing the hook through the loop and under the tail.

    4) Transfer the stitches on the crochet hook to DPNs or to a circular, pull the tail of the loop to close it, and join.

Lighter Circular Beginning

While the last beginning's heaviness comes from working the foundation stitches over a double strand of yarn, this circular beginning is much lighter. It's actually an invisible cast on (the first thing this post went over) worked over the looped tail of the working yarn rather than a waste strand.

    1) Form a large loop of the yarn with the working end on top. Keep the loop open with the fingers of the left hand; tension the working end of the yarn with the left index finger or thumb.

    2) Put the knitting needle through the loop, catch the working end, and pull it through (under) the loop. Return the needle to position for one stitch casted on.

    Continue to cast on stitches exactly as you would in an invisible cast on, first grabbing the working end from under the "waste yarn" loop and then over. If you are casting on an even number of stitches, stop one short of the total.

    Pull the loop snug by tugging on the free tail and distribute the stitches. If an even number of stitches is required, YO before joining and knitting the first round.


Did I miss anything?

All posts in this series:

March 20, 2006


The second convening of Columbia Knit Night starts in four, count 'em, four hours!

Columbia Knit Night
Monday, 20 March
Panera Bread
6435 Dobbin Road
Columbia, MD 21045

Hope we see you there!

Sampler Stole

1.5 borders, and then just the edging, still letf to knit.

March 18, 2006


I have babbled before about a project I've been planning for ages - "a spring jacket with three-quarter sleeves, notched cuffs, and lapels in an allover brocade pattern".

What do you think?

The color pattern needs a lot of tweaking, but it's a good starting point. The shape of the jacket is starting to take clear form in my mind, too - a back vent, rounded corners, bottom hems, a cropped, close fit with a nipped waist, and I want to try out an idea I've got for a twisted, attached i-cord edging in the contrast color.

I think the real thing will be done in a deeper blue and a paler, warmer brown - it'd be perfect in heathery, antique-y, crunchy-cool-soft Silke-Tweed. On very small needles (maybe a US 1 or 2), it would make for a dense, firm fabric - perfect for an early-spring jacket.

The swatch was done in Dale Tiur, a yarn I quite like in its own right but don't use very often because I don't much care for mohair in sweaters. I picked up two skeins just for the color combination - the amazingSteph and I were spending the morning poking around Baltimore, and the fine-weather sky was exactly captured in that shade of blue. I want this jacket to be rich and almost ornate - I want it to call to mind horsehair chairs and netted purses and sharp, exaggerated silhouettes - but I want it to be sweet and fresh, too, and for that, the sky is as good a cue as any.

March 17, 2006


Thanks for all the positive feedback on the lace series! I had no idea it would get such a response - I'm trying to catch up with emails, but in the meantime, cheers to everyone who said such lovely things, and big thanks to everyone who's provided clarifications and otherwise picked up my slack. To answer a common question, I do not use any kind of knitting software, either for drafting patterns, for sizing, for chart-making or for drawing the illustrations. I've never tried Sweater Wizard, et al, though I know lots of people have good experiences with them - I guess I'm just a luddite in that I don't quite trust them. Then, too, in the patterns I'm trying to work out right now, there are lots of fiddly little details that couldn't really be translated - gauge math and sizing math are easy enough that pen and paper work fine for me, and it's a lot easier for me to visualize exactly what I want that way.

I draw all my charts in PhotoShop CS like this: create a 25x25px jpg for every symbol you use. Open those up and copy and paste them as needed into a new layer in a blank document with gridlines every 25px. To get a printing grid, open a blank 25x25px document, draw a 1px line at the very top and at the very left side, flatten it and save it as a jpg. Choose "select all", set it as a pattern, go back to your chart, and fill a new layer with the pattern. Then choose "select color" in that layer, choose "highlight", and hit clear or delete to take away the white background and leave only the black grid visible. The same process can be done with a 250x250px grid and thicker lines to mark off every 10 squares. Flatten the image and resize at the end.

The diagrams I do are all drawn in Illustrator CS - I just take an ellipse and subtract a smaller ellipse from it to get a stitch shape. I fiddle with it until it until it looks right, and then create "building blocks" - stitches arranged as in k2tog, stitches arranged as in ssk, etc - and then just duplicate and paste away. I futz as I go to make sure everything lines up and looks right, and occasionally you need to scissor and slice to get things in the right arrangement, but they're pretty easy and quick to make.

Thanks for your generous comments about the stockings, too! I did knit two, but the first one had a lot of issues I was still working out and wasn't very pretty. That's why it's hidden inside the boot :)

The lace series picks back up tomorrow, I think - it takes me a couple days to get each entry together. In the meantime, check this out:

The center panel of the sampler stole, seven and a half repeats of the pattern, is done. What a difference a bit of pinning makes, eh? Here's what it looks like on the needle:

The garter stitch base creates a very compact, very drawn-in fabric (even more exaggerated since I'm using US0s instead of the US2s called for), and the unstretched piece is ripply and sort of...nipply, for lack of a better word. I've pinned it out only gently for the photo above - it's got a couple inches still in it in either direction, I think - but it already measures about 13x32 inches. There are two small (I think about 150 rows each) borders on either short side, and then the edging to go.

My mom's birthday is the 23rd. If I get serious about this and start knitting like usual (rather than lazily knitting a row here and a row there once in a while), it might be doable.

March 14, 2006

Majoring in Lace - Part III

Introduction; Shawl ConstructionYarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101 • The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting • Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

The Structure of Lace

Simply put, lace combines fields of positive space and negative space to create an image, whether a literal representation, a suggestion of an image, or an abstract pattern. Knitted lace uses the open area of a yarn over as negative space, and solid fabric as the positive.

In dense, firm fabrics, YOs and decreases can create interesting sculptural effects:

Image courtesy of the lovely Yahaira

but most knitted lace is knitted at a very floppy gauge and then blocked perfectly flat and taut. It follows, then, that traditional knitted lace must be made of two-dimensional silhouettes, right? Not so. Carefully placed decreases create a double- or triple-thick area in an airy, transparent ground, adding another tone to the available "palette". Even the simplest geometric patterns take advantage of this effect, using decreases to suggest

the vein of a leaf;

the foam of a breaking wave;

the iris of a bird's eye.

A lace motif may be as open (with as many yarn overs) or as solid (with as much plain stockinette or garter) as the creator likes. There is only one rule, almost always observed, when it comes to the structure of lace: within a single motif, every new stitch (formed by a yarn over) must have a compensating decrease. This ensures that the resulting fabric maintains an even width throughout.

The wonderful pliability and flexibilty of knitted lace means that the rule need not apply to individual rows, but only of the pattern repeat as a whole. There are lace motifs that introduce two, six, eighteen new stitches in one row, and only correct the number of stitches several rows up in the pattern. While this would create a distinct bulge in other knitting, blocking draws the lace fabric flat and square, making an infinite number of unusual effects possible.

The Basics

The yarn over and the decrease are the building blocks of every lace pattern. A yarn over (sometimes called a yarn forward, and abbreviated as yfwd) is formed by bringing the working yarn forward (as if to purl) and taking it over the needle to the back of the work again.

When working in a purl row, continue the YO by bringing the working yarn under the needle and back to the front again.

Every kind of decrease is used. When knitting stockinette-stitch based lace, you might use decreases that slant to the right when viewed from the knit side:

Or decreases that slant to the left when viewed from the knit side:

In these diagrams, it should be clear that "slant" is often a matter of stitch precedence more than the actual slope of a single decrease. It's only when several decreases are chained that the slope becomes clear.

Some lace patterns, usually those patterned on both sides over a garter stitch ground, do not discriminate between decreases and instead use only one type throughout. The decreases (usually k2togs) of the even-numbered rows slant in opposition to the those of the odd-numbered rows and in effect create a neutral decrease over the entire repeat.

Building a lace fabric

For clarity, I'm using three different representations of the same thing: as a chart, as a line drawing, and as a knitted swatch. The line drawing should show you the relationship between the stitches very clearly - try comparing it to the chart and seeing how they match up. All swatches are shown in stockinette lace, patterned on one side only. Symbols used in the charts include:

The very simplest openwork fabric is a lineup of YOs and corresponding decreases, whether arranged horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Take, for example, a simple horizontal eyelet row, alternating k2togs or ssks and YOs:

The number of stitches stays constant - two stitches of the row below become one in a decrease, and a YO creates a new stitch. You will notice that the stitch immediately above a YO is somewhat larger than the other knit stitches around it - while stitches pulled through a lower stitch are gathered together at the bottom by the top loop of the base, stitches pulled through a YO spread as far as they can.

Now look what happens when eyelet rows are stacked, directly on top of one another:

The result is vertical columns of YOs. Looking more closely, you see that the decrease lines are "feathered", or "broken" - the topmost stitches do not form continuous vertical lines.

But, if the rows are offset by one stitch, the decreases line up and form continuous chains, slanted in the direction of the decrease.

Knowing this, geometric designs become possible, running columns of trellises to one side and then another, or using single YOs and complementary decreases to outline a shape.

And intricate, pictorial patterns emerge when YOs and decreases are detached from each other and simply arranged in the right ways.

Mary Thomas, in her absolutely invaluable Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns, draws a distinction between eyelet motifs, faggot stitch motifs, bias fabric motifs, and lace motifs, depending on the interaction between YO units and decrease units:

    The same units are employed for Eyelets, Faggot, and Bias Fabrics. For Eyelets the two units are used adjacently to make one small Motif, an Eyelet. In Faggot Patterns they are also used adjacently, but in vertical and diagonal arrangement. For Bias Fabrics the two units are still related but divided. In Lace designs they are independent but complementary. This is the difference."

Her point is clearly illustrated here - it is obvious that YO and the decrease are independent units in lace fabric. They need not be next to each other, or even near each other, so long as the total number of YOs and decreases match over the entire pattern repeat. Distinctions between specific types of eyelets (for an excellent graphic explanation, check out pieKnits' post) don't matter in lace since YOs and decreases are only occasionally adjacent (the definition of an eyelet), and nuances of faggoting stitch and bias fabric matter little when n the context of a large, complex pattern.

There are a few other common occurrences in lace knitting - often, along the centerline of a symmetrical motif you might see a double decrease with no slant at all:

And you might see double or triple YOs used to make two or three stitches out of one very open YO stitch.

The yarn is simply wrapped around the needle the required number of times, and a knit and purl (for a double) or a knit, purl, knit (for a triple) are worked into the first loop on the next row, dropping the extra loops.

Just a handful of movements and relationships to get used to - and infinite, incredible ways of applying them.

Next: Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

All posts in this series:

March 13, 2006

Mini-Argyle Stockings

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you...

My monogrammed gusset didn't work out, but a narrow allover stripe broken by a single imposing letter on the heel feels very nice indeed.

Pattern: My own (pattern available by and by)
Yarn: Dale of Norway Baby Ull, in colors 9436 (sage) and 2561 (bright pink)
Yardage: less than one 180yd skein each color for one stocking
Yarn Source: All About Yarn
Needles: 2.75mm Brittany birch DPNs
Gauge: 9 st/inch
Modifications: --

See all entries on this project

March 10, 2006

Majoring in Lace - Part II

Introduction; Shawl Construction • Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101 • The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace KnittingProvisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

Yarn choices

There is some well-deserved mystique around the yarns used for lace. Even the very weight classifications - in other knitting, unromantic terms like "worsted" and "sport" - seem to hint at lurking possibility: Gossamer! Cobweb! "Bulky" sounds just ugly by comparison.

From left to right (penny included for scale):

  • Fingering weight wool (shown yarn is 190 yards per 50 gram ball);
  • Lace weight silk (a catch-all category between fingering and cobweb, with a wide range of weights. Helen's Laces, Lorna's Laces, Knitpicks lace yarns, and Jaggerspun Zephyr all fall in this category. The shown yarn is approximately 500 yards per 50 gram ball);
  • Cobweb weight Merino (shown yarn is approximately 775 yards per 50 grams);
  • Gossamer weight Merino (shown yarn is approximately 1,300 yards per 50 grams).
Lace knitting is wonderfully flexible in terms of yarn weight, since a precise fit is rarely required - the exact same circular shawl pattern could be rendered in fingering wool on large needles for a large wrap, or in gossamer weight yarn and tiny needles for a doily.

Fiber content, though, is a different story. Most lace needs substantial stretching to look its best - yarns with natural elasticity, such as wools and other animal fibers, tend to grow the most gracefully during the blocking process. Inelastic fibers like silk, linen and cotton, on the other hand, must be knitted with care to avoid the slightest gauge inconsistency. Even then, they will not stretch and flatten to the degree that wools will, and the pattern will not bloom as fully. This might be an asset in some applications - the crisp, structural quality of lace knitted with, for example, cotton, might work beautifully in a fitted garment.

Needle choices

For me, the single most important factor when choosing a lace needle is the sharpness and taper of the tip. A lot of manipulation has to be done - single decreases, double decreases, through front loops and back - with yarn much thinner than what that needle is typically used for. A sharp, long tip goes a long way towards the easy catching of, say, three stitches to purl through the back.

Next, consider the surface of the needle. The aforementioned manipulations are difficult to perform on a very slick, very slippery needle without stitches occasionally jumping ship, but a needle reluctant to slide the stitches smoothly as they are worked will drive a knitter crazy.

At right is a blunt, polished metal needle with a very slippery surface (Addi Turbo); in the center, a coated bamboo needle with a tolerably sharp tip but a rather sticky surface (Crystal Palace circular); and at the left a coated aluminum needle with a blessedly sharp, fearfully pointy tip and a not-too-grabby, not-too-slick shaft (Inox Grey circular). No prizes for guessing which one I like best.

Then comes the next question - double points or circulars? Many patterns, even for pieces worked entirely flat, call for circular needles to distribute the bulk of the (usually mind-bogglingly numerous) stitches. For pieces worked in the round, some method of knitting circularly is required, of course - the knitter might choose very long Shetland lace double-points, but most often a circular needle is used. The smoothness of the join between cable and shaft becomes hugely important when working with very fine yarns - the slightest bump or gap will snag delicate yarns. Weeping and hair-rending will ensue - save yourself the trouble and choose a needle with a very smooth join.


Don't let the knitting police know, but...I never check gauge for lace. I consider the gauge notes given with patterns to be almost completely useless - it is impossible to take an accurate count of stitches over a complicated pattern (it would be more useful for patterns to include a gauge for stockinette using the same yarn and needle). Since finished measurements are rarely crucial in a lace project, it is easier to just start knitting and check size as you go to confirm that the finished size will be tolerable.

This doesn't mean, though, that swatching isn't important, particularly when substituting yarns or developing your own pattern.

The overall look, size, and effect of lace can vary dramatically with the slightest difference in needle sizes. Yarn overs in particular, because they lack the stabilizing influence of being drawn through the last row's stitch, can get out of control. The swatches above were done with a standard laceweight, on (clockwise from left top row) US0 (2.00mm), US2 (2.75mm), US4 (3.5mm) and US6 (4.0mm) needles. The swatches are all the same, a very simple faggoted trellis (alternated YOs and decreases on every right-side row) broken by a two-stitch column of stockinette in the center.

The needle size I most often see called for with laceweight yarn (in itself a problem because laceweights vary so widely) is a US6. I don't find the resulting fabric appealing at all - the whole stitches are sloppy and loose, and the YOs are enormous. In a motif patterned every row, the size of the YOs would be even more exaggerated. While this could be taken advantage of for very airy, very open patterns, pictorial lace loses all impact when the "solid" portions are almost as open as the YO areas.

I still find the same true for the swatch knitted on US4s, and US0 is too dense for most tastes, but the US2 strikes me as finding the right balance between crisp and lacy.

This is a really personal thing - as a rule, I like lace knit on smaller needles, but the vast majority of people prefer something airier. Then, too, different motifs look better at different gauges - some patterns really need crisp, clear definition to make the image pop, but more abstract motifs often look better at a more open gauge. The only way to know is to experiment. Swatching for lace is easy - use an invisible caston, knit a couple rows in garter stitch, work a repeat or two of the motif with a two or three stitch frame of garter stitch on either side, and finish with one or two more rows of garter stitch. Leave the stitches on a holder or on a piece of string (cast-on and bound-off edges should be avoided to allow for maximum stretch), wash the swatch, and pin it out to get a clear idea of the finished effect. Go up or down in needle size until you find something that looks good, in that particular yarn, in that particular pattern.

Chart reading 101

Charts are simply a handy form of shorthand for knitted directions. Complex, expansive motifs - ones that would take pages to write out line-by-line - can be presented succinctly in a clear, universal format that can be read by anyone in any language. The absolute best thing about knitting from charts?

The knitter can see exactly what the pattern will look like before ever reaching for the needles.

Everything you need to know about reading and following charts can be summed up in two basic rules:

1) Charts are read in the direction of the knitting
2) Charts are presented from the right side

Take the chart for the simple swatch in the last section:

The backwards slash represents a ssk (left-leaning) decrease, while the open circles represent YOs. The white spaces are stitches that are knit on the right side. Each grid square represents one stitch.

Assuming that this piece would be worked flat, the chart would be read in the direction of the knitting. Flat knitting grows from the bottom up, and the first row moves from right to left (stitches start on the left needle and are transferred, one by one, to the right needle). So, starting at the bottom right corner, you would read across the chart to the left. After turning the work, you are working from the left edge of the piece to the right edge - so read in that direction.

Now, the second rule is that charts are always presented from the front, or "right", side of the work. You've turned the piece, and are working on the wrong side - so you must do the reverse of what the chart says for each stitch. A blank white square is a knit stitch on the right side - so it must be a purl stitch on the wrong side. Each wrong side, or even, row is a line of plain purl stitches. So you know two things about this motif now: it's patterned on one side only, and since it alternates knit and purl rows, it's stockinette-based lace.

Reading a chart is much more intuitive than what I just described - the symbol key will usually do the reversing for you, noting that certain symbols mean "k2tog on right side; p2togtbl on wrong side" or "k on right side; p on wrong side". Reversing each stitch on the wrong side is done to maintain the slope of the decreases, since the double-thick area of a continuous decrease line becomes a design element in many patterns. For the record, on a stockinette ground:

--k2tog on the right side corresponds to a p2tog on the wrong side;
--ssk or skpo on the right side corresponds to a p2togtbl on the wrong side.

There are only a few other things to know about chart reading:

1) For lace patterned every other row, most charts will omit the plain rows and simply make a note to "work all wrong side rows plain purl" or "work all wrong side rows plain knit". The resulting chart looks something like this:

2) Some charts for lace patterned every row do not require reversing the slant of the decreases on the right side row. This happens in garter-ground lace, where sloped decreases are not used for shaping, but rather, a plain k2tog is used for every decrease. The k2togs in any given row slope in opposition to the decreases in the rows directly above and below, canceling any slope and in effect creating a neutral decrease.

3) Any decent chart will line up the rows properly, and provide a literal representation of how the pattern is constructed. Start trying to really read your chart, rather than just make the movements dictated square by square. Notice things like a decrease, for example, takes up two of the stitches from the row below and turns them into one - the second stitch in the decrease should be the one directly below it on the chart. Knowing this, you can keep yourself on track by looking and seeing that the second stitch incorporated into the first decrease of row 5 should be the stitch directly above the first YO of row 3, that the 6th stitch of row 3 should be directly above the third decrease of row 1, etc.

Next: The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting

All posts in this series:

March 09, 2006

Majoring in Lace: Introduction

Introduction; Shawl Construction • Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace KnittingProvisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings

. . . we have had the satisfaction of estimating her Lace & her Muslin; & she said too little to afford us much other amusement.

--Jane Austin to her sister, 1801

There is nothing mysterious about the movements and gestures of knitting lace. Anyone able to form a yarn over, make decreases, and read a chart is able to produce the sort of beautifully patterned cloud that shivers under a breath and sets the eyes dizzy. Anyone. There is no elusive, secret talent to it - just time and experience and acclimation.

The magic is in the long-ago motif creator's instinct for combining negative and positive space to express an idea of flowers, rocks, foaming waves; in the act of blocking and dressing, like nothing so much as watching a flower bloom; in the contradictory nature of lace itself - airy but warm; time-consuming but fragile; worn for modesty but in itself ostentatiously showy. What could be better than a project so generous with its rewards?

I should emphasize here that I am by no means an expert. I am only trying to put visuals of common techniques in one place, supplemented by my tips derived from my own experience and background information from my own reading and research. If you see an error or if I've omitted something important, by all means let me know - maybe this could, through collaboration, become an authoritative compendium on lace knitting.

Brief historical notes

There are several great traditions of lace knitting, (arguably) the most well-known of which come from northernmost Shetland (Unst) and Orenburg in Russia, with beautiful lace coming out of Estonia and Iceland as well. They all borrow motifs and techniques from each other, but the strongest and most suprising thread is the knitters themselves and their motives - knitting lace is a relatively new occupation, scarcely two hundred years old, developed in rural and poor areas as a commercial enterprise. The oldest, most famous motifs and patterns, astonishing in their delicacy and beauty, are the invention of rough fishermen's and farmers' wives - how strange, to work endless hours for the adornment of their wealthier, idler counterparts! The patterns are elegant in their economy and cleverness and expression, the products of truly artistic eyes and minds.

Kinds of Lace

Most lace may be described succinctly with two attributes:

1) the ground on which it is worked, whether

  • garter stitch (knitted every row) -

  • or stockinette stitch (knit and purl rows alternated) -

  • 2) the freqency of patterned rows (rows that contain decreases and YOs), whether

  • every row -

  • or every right side row (with plain purl or knit rows in between)

  • Garter stitch lace looks the same from both sides (as long as the decreases are not paired, but that's for another day), while stockinette lace has a definite right (knit) and wrong (purl) side. Lace patterned every row is significantly more open than lace patterned every other row - both motifs shown use YO/dec/YO/dec mesh-type openwork patterns, but because lace patterned every row actually incorporates the last row's YO into the next row's decrease, the effect is much airier.

    **Many people call lace by different names based on how often patterning occurs - "lace knitting" for every other row, "knitted lace" for every row - but I don't care to do so. I can't find any historical basis for it beyond an offhand reference by Margeret Stove, and as many complete pieces (shawls, scarves, robes) combine the two, there doesn't seem to be much point other than to declare that one is more authentic or difficult than the other. For the record, "knitted lace" isn't any harder to do than "lace knitting"; it's just a tiny bit more awkward at first to catch a YO loop in a decrease.

    Shawl Construction

    Most lace projects are wraps - that is, shawls, stoles and scarves. A simple, flat shape shows the play between motifs and patterns to the best advantage, while the wearing takes advantage of the wonderful draping qualities of well-blocked lace. Most stoles and scarves are long rectangles, of course, while shawls are usually square

    or circular

    (photo courtesy of the very talented Melissa)

    or triangular.

    Most shawls are composed of a main section, surrounded by a border with a different pattern and finally finished with a narrow edging all around. There are variations on this, of course - you might have several different border sections or none; a beautiful stole may be made with no edging at all, but a frame of garter stitch simply worked along with a large block of the central pattern.

    For shawls with centers, borders and edgings, construction becomes an interesting issue. Because lace needs substantial stretching to look its best, inflexible cast-on and bound-off edges are avoided as much as possible, as are any kind of backstitched or mattress-stitched seams. As a result, the knitting might move in several directions within one piece.

    The traditional Shetland square shawl is worked in flat pieces and then grafted together, matching the knitting tension carefully. The process is represented here:

    First, one edging side (represented in red) is worked from short side to short side, starting with an invisible caston and ending by holding the stitches. One border section (represented in blue) is then picked up along the flat side of the edging and worked from long side to long side. Finally, a center square is worked from the inside edge of the border. Three other edging/border pieces are worked in the same way, and everything is grafted together.

    There are several variations on this (some shawls are worked corner-to-corner; some knit the whole edging and pick up sections from it; etc), but the most popular modern interpretation does away with pieces and grafting. Rather, the entire shawl is knit in one piece, with one continuous thread:

    First, the center square (in red) is knitted flat from an invisible cast-on. Without breaking the thread, stitches for the border (in blue) are picked up around the entire perimeter of the center square, joined, and knitted in the round, working a mitered corner at each angle. Finally, starting at a corner, one short side of the edging is cast on invisibly, and the edging is worked flat, joining the live stitches of the shawl, one by one, with the edging rows. The last edging row is grafted to the first for a completely seamless shawl without a single cast-on or cast-off edge.

    Circular shawls are knit entirely in the round:

    Beginning at the center point with a circular cast-on, the center section (in red) is worked in the round, increasing throughout to maintain a circle, then any borders (in blue), and finally an edging is attached in the same way as for a square shawl. There are square shawls, too, worked in this way from a center starting point. Increases are made at the corners to form a sharp miter and maintain the square shape.

    Though triangular shawls are worked flat, it's worth noting that they're actually half a circularly-knit square shawl:

    That is, they generally start from a tiny center point (the red star) and, working back and forth with increases done at each edge and on either side of the center line (mimicking the mitered increases at each corner of a circularly-knit square shawl), they grow until the border is finished. Then, an edging is attached as for a square or circular shawl.

    Next: Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101

    All posts in this series:

    March 08, 2006

    Deep V Argyle Vest: FAQ

    I ordered, but I haven't gotten the pattern yet!

    There are a couple things that might be the case: 1) did you pay via PayPal eCheck? The automatic download system will wait until the check clears before sending you a link. 2) Did you check the right email address? The download link will be sent to the address listed with your PayPal account, or the address you used to make a credit card payment through PayPal. 3) Did you check your junk folder?

    If none of these things applies, please send an email, and I'll get you another link right away.

    Where are the larger sizes? This pattern only goes up to 42"!

    The pattern is presented as two complete versions, one for sizes 32-42 and one for sizes 44-54, simply because it's too unwieldy to list 12 different sets of numbers in one pattern. Scroll down for sizes 44-54.

    Can you tell me a little more about the fit?

    While the pattern has been carefully sized for proportion and fit, just as in every other pattern and piece of commercial clothing, all numbers are averages for each size. You may prefer a narrower fit in the shoulders, or a wider waist, or a shorter length overall - please check the schematic against a piece of clothing that fits you well. The nature of steeked knitting makes trying on as you go impossible, and fixing after cutting very difficult - check BLOCKED stitch and row gauge and schematic measurements before starting for a perfect fit. Every size of the garment is charted in full, making modifications easy to mark.

    Something is confusing, and I need help.

    No problem! Email support@eunnyjang.com with your question, and I'll be happy to help you any way I can.

    Are there forums or a knitalong for this vest?



    More will be added as it comes - please let me know if you have suggestions for this archive.

    March 07, 2006

    This and that (interested in larger vest sizes? Click here!)

    Thanks for the comments on the shawl! I love it, and it's deliciously warm. The smaller needle size, which I chose because I think the yarn-weight-to-needle-size ratio of most lace patterns is ridiculous and makes the lace look sloppy and loose, created a fairly dense fabric that traps heat marvelously.

    Deep V Argyle Vest larger sizes

    Sizes 44, 46, 48, 50, 52, and 54 of the Deep V Argyle Vest are now available, and will be sent with any order placed from here on out. I'll be sending a download link to everyone who ordered the vest already - if you don't need the expanded pattern, please just ignore it.

    Here's the rub, though - I promised this an awfully long time ago, and you guys have been waiting patiently. I can't thank you enough for understanding - I've been insanely busy the last month or so, as well as confused as to how to approach this - but the truth is, I've provided terrible customer service. If I ordered a pattern from a commercial outfit and had to wait 5 weeks for a promised change or update, I'd be pretty upset.

    So, I am offering refunds to anyone who ordered the larger sizes and feels put out by the long wait. I'd just go ahead and refund everybody's money, but I don't know who ordered it for the expanded pattern and who didn't. Please email me if you'd like a refund, and it'll be given cheerfully and with my apologies and thanks for your patience.

    Oh, and here's a link to a Vest-along! For some reason, the email I was kindly sent about this got sent to my junk folder, so I'm a bit late on promoting it.

    A pattern page will be up tomorrow, with thoughts on fit, yarn choice, and steeking. I'll incorporate erratum into it as well - let me know if you've got anything!

    Current knitting

    Yeah, that argyle stocking? Ripped. The pattern had a LOT of problems, and I was frustrated just looking at it. I'm working on the (now 6th) iteration - maybe it'll be the one that works.

    But I've been knitting, oh yes -

    Head over to the Sampler Stole-Along to see everyone else's progress too. We're up to, I think, 25 members already.

    New Technique Series

    Majoring in Lace will start tomorrow - I'll cover all kinds of things in photos and diagrams and words, from castons to grafting to needles to the right decrease to use where to seeing the big picture and understanding how lace fabric is constructed. Got a topic you'd like to see covered? Leave a comment or email me!

    March 01, 2006

    Fire Flowers and Leaves Shawl

    "Sumptuous" might be the best word. The deep, saturated color, the luster and cool, dry hand of the silk, the undulating, organic mosaic all those tiny repeating stitches built into - beautiful.

    I'm so glad I finally have this up (stupid firewire cable!). No Olympic medal for me - the knitting was done late Sunday night, and dressing didn't happen till Monday - but it still feels like quite a feat to have done this in 16 days. In the last couple days, I was knitting a repeat of edging in line at the post office, a few stitches at crosswalks, and standing up at the stove, waiting for butter to bubble.

    The endless repetition of the pattern - Sisyphean knitting if there ever was any - shows off all the subtle highs and lows of color in the yarn wonderfully, though a truly solid color without sheen might have made for a rather flat-looking shawl. As it is, the leaves and petals have dimension I wouldn't have expected - wearing this shawl is like standing in a deep, still pool of color with mysterious activity under the surface. Sundara, a.k.a. Purly White, a.k.a. The Secret Dyer, does astonishing work.

    Pattern: Frost Flowers and Leaves, by Eugen Beugler for A Gathering Of Lace
    Yarn: Sundara Yarn Silk Lace, custom-dyed
    Yardage: Approximately 3,000 yds
    Yarn Source: Sundara Yarn
    Needles: 2.00 mm (US0) Addi Turbo circular, Crystal Palace bamboo circular, Inox Grey circular
    Gauge: ?? 42" square
    Modifications: Worked on US0 needles instead of US6 needles called for

    See all entries on this project

    TO BUY