Summer School – Lace

I’m taking a bit of time off this month, but I wanted to make sure you had something to do while I’m napping (or, more likely, sweeping out the garage, getting drywall dust  out of my cabinets, or planning next year’s projects…but napping sounds better).

On Mondays, I’ll introduce a topic or skill and provide a bunch of links and resources to help you learn more. Later in the week, I’ll show off a few favorite patterns so you can do some homework.  The featured patterns will be on sale for one day each, so come back each weekday to see if there’s something that catches your eye!

So last week we talked about cables, and how they were just knitting a few stitches out of order.  This week I want to talk about lace.  Lace is basically putting holes in your knitting on purpose.  Big holes. Little holes. Lots of holes. Just a few holes.  It’s all lace.

You’ve probably already knit lace, even if you didn’t know it.  Remember back when you were just learning to knit?  And you started out with something 30 stitches wide and then by the end somehow it was 42 stitches wide and there were some random holes in the middle because you’d somehow worked a couple of extra yarn overs here and there?  Yeah, you can make a pretty convincing argument that that’s technically lace.  If you want to explore the idea a bit more, you’ll probably want to get a little more precise and put the holes in intentionally.  But really anything with stable holes is lace.

The way you get those holes is (usually) by working yarn overs.  People sometimes get themselves all worked up over yarn overs, but they’re really very mellow (so mellow you sometimes do them by accident). Jen has some great videos over here on how to work yarn overs (and what to do if you forgot one…actually every single thing over there will be helpful if you’re a new lace knitter).

Now, if you’ve made a hole by working a yarn over (or some other clever way to make a hole, there are a few others), you’ve very likely got an extra stitch on your needles.  If you want your fabric to stay the same width, you probably want to decrease those extra stitches away.  Balancing those increases and decreases is the whole trick to lace.  You can have the decreases snuggled up right next to the increases or farther away.  You can even do the increases and decreases on different rows.  If decreases are new, start by learning how to make one that leans to the right (sometimes called knit 2 together) and one that slants to the left (sometimes called slip slip knit).  Then once those are feeling comfy, learn one that turns 3 stitches into 1 stitch (there are at least five versions of this, but the one I use most is the centered double decrease).  When you’re feeling ready, learn the purl side versions of all of them. You can find videos of lots of decreases (and oodles of other handy stuff) right over here.

Once you’ve got the increases and decreases down, you’ve really got all the stitches you need.  All you need to do now is start putting them together.  And I think the best way to put them together is with charts.  I’m a huge fan of charts (there’s a good chance that if we do summer school next year, we’ll talk about charts…like a lot).  They are pictures of your knitting and they let you visualize your work a whole lot better than a string of letters and numbers do.  If you’ve never used charts, this is a fabulous resource.  And if you want someone to hand hold you through every step of the way for a first go at knitting lace from charts, this will totally do the job.

I’ll talk in a bit more detail about fun lace stuff over the next few days.  But just like we did with cables last week, I want to point you toward some great books if you want to read more.  These are all fabulous and I love them to bits (as usual, amazon links are totally affiliate links, if you don’t like those, you can absolutely google the titles instead, I’ll never ever know).

Reading List:

  • Jen Arnall-Culliford can break any knitting task down into tiny steps, and her Something New To Learn About Lace book is a great place to start.
  • Barbara Benson has a brand new lace book out full of projects using big yarn.  If the tiny yarn or tiny needles scare you, Big Yarn, Beautiful Lace Knits will sort that right out (I’ve got a proper review of it coming next month, but you should totally go check it out now)!
  • If you want to go in the other direction and embrace the tiny yarn and needles, Nancy Bush’s Knitted Lace of Estonia will show you that you can do amazing things (I’d trust Nancy Bush to teach you how to do anything involving sticks and string, just do what she says, you’ll be fine).
  • And once you’re properly hooked and want to start experimenting with making up your own patterns, Siiri Reimann’s Haapsalu Shawl book and The Haapsalu Scarf Square and Triangular Lace Scarves from Estonia will inspire all sorts of confections (yes they’re out of print, yes copies are hard to come by, yes they is absolutely worth snatching up if you come across a second hand copy at a good price).