Majoring in Lace - Part III
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 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:
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
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 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.
All posts in this series:
- 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 Knitting
- Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings