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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:


Thanks so much for doing this tutorial - it is spectacular!

Ditto Nancy. Really, really well done. Kudos to you.

Thank you so much... Great job and your tutorials are so easy and clear to follow.

You are absolutely insane for having created all those stitch images. INSANE, I tell you! At the same time, SO cool, Eunny, they're awesome!

Very nice work, very clear. The diagrams are a great help and bridge between text and photos.

Woah mama! Very nice diagrams, may I ask what you use? Photoshop?

Another great installment, thanks much. I'm looking forward more information on grafting, especially grafting something other than stst. Like a garter or seed st border for example.

Question, wouldn't the k3tog tbl create a twisted st? I'd think you'd want to slip at least the first st knitwise and then knit them all together through the tbl.

Will you marry me?

I can cook.

Thanks for the link! Fantastic graphics and illustrations. I'm awed by the depth you cover. Really looking forward to the rest of the series too!

Fantastic installment! All those illustrations are awesome. It's unfathomable to me the amount of time you put into these tutorials. I enjoy reading them, though, so keep up the great work!

You are awesome! This tutorial rocks. Must go knit something lacey...

I'm loving this set of discussions. great work explaining the structure of lace and helping us visualizing it. We should start calling you Professor Jang

Eunny, if you are not writing a book, you darn well should be! Brilliant.

Thanks Eunny for this fantastic tutuoial. I'm really enjoying it. I have always wondered if I was doing things the right way.
Now I know. Thanks again and keep up the great work.
Your blog is my favorite and I wouldn't miss a day of it.

Your diagrams are fantastic, the sets of visuals do a great job tying charts and logic to the knitted fabric.

Write a book! You are truly a genius and it would make you a millionaire. Or at least a hundredaire. It would be a really good book.

Your line drawings are incredible--so much work!

I know I'm not the only one to say this...but WOW! First of all, I know you must have a life to live outside of this blog, so I thank you for the extreme time and effort you are putting into this tutorial....the diagrams, explanations -- all wonderful. I have actually begun doing a bit of swatching, it's nice to know the "why's" of lace instead of just staring intently at a chart!

Your diagrams are amazing. I mean, so is all the rest, but how'd you get your graphics so perfect? (grin)

Amazing tutorial, as always.

Thanks for the tutorial. You're amazingly technical and I'm in awe. *bowing down before you*

Why do I feel so dumb now?

I. am. without. words. This tutorial was awesome. Thank you SO much.

Echoing the comments made already - amazing graphics which explain the whole technique so clearly.

Thank you so much for sharing.

Talk on as much as you like! - we can wait for cast-ons if they are postponed by valuable advice. Thank you so much for all this; you are answering many questions and really inspiring me to try my second piece of lace.

My mind staggers with the thought of how many hours must have been spent composing this one post. Surely some enterprising publisher will make an offer soon, if it hasn't happened already?! :)

Thanks for doing this. It's wonderful!

Really excellent stuff! Thank you so much for taking the time to put it together, I'm looking forward to the next sections!


You might be interested in this; it's my essay on decreases, and most of it I learned from knitting lace.

Wonderful, incredible, and looking forward to the next installment.

The diagrams you use - are these generated in a particular knitting software? I'm doing a lot of transcribing from old lace doily patterns (using Excel), but your charts and font look really good.


What a great tutorial. Simple, basic, but I don't know how to do it...I'd love an illustration for a purl side YO.

Eunny, you are amazing! Thanks so much for putting a wealth of incredibly useful information in such a concise and instructive manner. Brilliant work!

This is a fabulous tutorial (and series!). And I'm incredibly impressed by your diagrams! The line drawings are amazing.

Yet another reason why this is the most technically impressive blog I know of, and always a joy to read.

Thanks again for another fantastic tutorial. I can only guess at how much time you're putting into this, what with all of the illustrations, photos, and swatches! You are a fabulous knitter, a wonderful writer, and very generous person to share your knowledge.

Thank you so much Eunny! This is exactly the sort of information that I've been looking for. I've been struggling with designing my own lace stitch patterns for a while. This will have to be printed and saved!

Eunny, this is great. This is probably the best and most concise explanation of lace that I've see. I, too, am interested to know what you use to make your diagrams.

Another happy reader chiming in to let you know I'm reading with interest.

I swear, if anything ever happens to this blog, I'll cry.

Hi! I'm new to reading your blog...and wow! As a fairly new knitter still learning the tricks of the trade, this is GREAT! And I can't wait to dig into the steeks entries. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this...you are a gem!

I am quickly becoming a devoted reader of your blog. Not only you show beautiful work but the effort you put into these tutorials is amazing. YOu must be a very nice, sharing, selfless person.
Not at all "grumpy". Thank you for all of that.

Simple, clear information. Thanks, Eunny! This will help me make the jump from knitting gorgeous lace to trying to design it.

Like everyone else who has commented, I am just amazed at your skill, knowledge, and generousity in sharing all of this wonderful information with us. I have knitted lace, but I am not sure I ever understood the big picture behind it this well. Your explanation of lace makes me have the same type of "oh, that's what it is all about" feeling that I had when I first read Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting.

Your tutorials are great! When will you put it in a book? There are so many lace knitting books and lace pattern collections, but I don't think there is a how-to on the basic concept of lace knitting. This is "lace theory"! Keep up the good work!

A simply fantastic job - one of the best overviews I've seen with excellent tips - well written and beautifully illustrated. I hope you are considering reformating into a pdf file or even a print booklet.

Thank you so very much for sharing this wonderful lace knitting information. You should definitely write a knitting lace book!


So ... when they say left-leaning and right-leaning, they mean the DECREASED stitch, not the live stitch immediately above it. I've followed those rules, vaguely able to see it in the knitted fabric, but never quite understanding who exactly was doing the leaning.

Thank you. I love technical posts. This one is amazingly clear, well written, fully explained and well illustrated. Thank you.

I'm learning SO much from your posts! Thank you, thank you, and thank you even more!

Your lace tutes are brilliant, as are all your tutes. You are making what should be blindingly obvious truly obvious to all of us. Thanks! Now I can go forth and conquer lace!

Wow!!! Words can't express how I feel about not just this lace tutorial, but the entire blog! Awesome doesn't even come close. You are such an inspiration. You are very, very talented to say the least. Kudos

I talked about the first "Majoring in Lace" installment in the Pointy Sticks podcast; you have done an EXCELLENT job on this series, and I really, really wish I could change my major in college to a degree in Knitology! (You can be the Lace instructor!) *grin*

Keep up the GREAT work!

Thanks so much for your help. The illustrations are wonderful and easy to understand.

Thank you. I just bought my first bit of lace yarn and I know once I take the plunge these beautiful tutorials will help me get through it.

Thanks so much for sharing this information. You write and explain things so very well! I'm amazed that anyone would share freely so much learned information. Thanks again! This is simply wonderful!

oh, my head hurts! but it was a great and thorough explanation. thanks!

Thank you very much for share with everyone this explanation. I'm just beggining in knitting but I can recognize the value of your work. Isabel (Colombia).

Hi! Nice site!

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