Lace Knitting Tips

Knitting lace patterns is both wonderful and can be difficult. Over the years I have gone from being scared of it, to being able to do it, to actually really enjoying to do it. And the difference is really in the tips I learned for how to make it easier and how to fix mistakes along the way.

Every lace pattern is made with a series of yarn-overs and decreases (which make decorative holes and shaping in the work). With combinations of different types of decreases and other stitches, each row of the pattern can look pretty daunting. And knitting into a yarn over always seems odd – it’s like knitting a very loose stitch. It feels like you’ve done something wrong – but this is how it’s supposed to be.

Things I often did wrong in the past:

  • Yarning-over the wrong way round – in the beginning all my yarn overs were twisted and I couldn’t figure out how to knit them. In the end I realised that I had just put the yarn over the needle the wrong way round. This can be fixed by knitting “through the back loop” of the yarnovers. The right way is to bring the yarn to the front of the work and then over the needle.
  • Dropping the yarn-over off the end of the needle before working it. It’s a loose bit of yarn and it won’t ladder because it wasn’t a real stitch – so often you can’t see that you missed it until you went past and the stitch count is wrong. Here you just need to pay attention to the pattern and count the repeats (more on that later).
  • Knowing there was a mistake somewhere but not being able to see it and having to start again – or perhaps even give up –  the solution to this one is to add a safety line regularly.

So, here are my tips on how to knit lace patterns.

1. Start with something easy
If it’s your first lace pattern choose something simple – just some mesh work or a few holes in a pattern, with repeats only over a few rows. Get used to how it looks to knit a yarn over and how that works. Lace is beautiful but work up to the difficult stuff.

2. Make the pattern readable

This is one of my personal issues with knitting patterns in general – why are there no tables or even lines?! Take a good look at the pattern. Does it make your eyes water just reading it? Did you start reading row one and end up on row two? Is the print tiny? Probably! So many lace patterns are just a whole jumbled bunch of text with very little structure – a huge list of knitting abbreviations with *s and brackets. Very hard to read, especially when you need to read and follow every single stitch exactly to get the right result.

If there is a chart and you like to follow charts then enlarge it so that you can tick bits off. I’m personally not a fan of charts because I forget what the symbols mean and then I have to look them up multiple times and lose my place. But if you like them make it big and then make sure you have a place to put check marks and colour or highlight the boxes when you’ve done them.

I re-write lace patterns in a landscape Word table – with lines – and with alternating grey and white rows – and then I print it. I usually have 5 columns: column 1 is the row number, column 2 is the bit before the * repeat, column 3 is the repeated bit (between the *s), column 4 is the bit at the end, and column 5 is where I put my check marks when I’ve done that row (because you need to check off the rows too). Now, on each bit I write the stitch count of how many stitches should be in that repeat after I’ve done it – which brings me to the next point….

2. Count count count!
Literally count the stitches all the time. You think you’ve done a bit right? Are you sure? Count the stitches and be sure. And not just at the end of the entire row. If you have 95 stitches you don’t want to know that you did a k2tog where there should have been a k1 on stitch 3. No thanks. So count each repeat and know how many stitches should be in each repeated bit, and put a marker after you counted that bit. This means if you did it wrong you probably only have to undo a few stitches to fix it. Undoing multiple decreases and yarn overs is really not fun.

3. Know what the stitches look like
It really helps to be able to look at the stitches on the needle and to be able to identify them – know what a yarn over looks like, and a skpo, and how it looks different to a k2tog, and whatever other stitches you have in your pattern. Then when you make a mistake (and if you manage to knit an entire piece of complex lace without a single missed stitch then just wow, you are a lot better than me!) you can look at the stitches and read them back off the pattern – “that’s the k2tog, then a k1, then a yo, oh the next one should be a skpo and it’s a yo – that’s it.”

4. Safety line
After a few rows put a length of scrap yarn onto a tapestry needle and thread it through all the stitches on the needle, then ignore it and carry on knitting. Your work is now totally safe up to that point. If something bad happens you can happily (well, probably you won’t be happy about it, but you know what I mean) pull the needle out and frog it all out back to that point – the live stitches will catch on the scrap yarn and you can re-thread them all back onto the needle. It totally works. I usually do a safety line around every 10 rows (because that’s the maximum number of rows I can bear to frog without getting very annoyed.)

5. Wooden or bamboo needles
For lace knitting I would always use bamboo or wooden needles – they are less slidey than plastic or metal, so your stitches will be more secure. This is personal preference of course, but I just think it’s easier. I switched to my metal ones during my current project because I lost a bamboo needle (don’t ask, left it at the Craft Room, went home with only one!) and it didn’t feel good to me – I dropped at least a couple of stitches just because of the needles.

6. Slowly
Lace knitting is a deliberate and slow affair – unless the repeats are very simple to remember, you will most likely need to knit reading the pattern as you go along, and checking the stitches as you go. You may not be able to do it in front of the TV or at the same time as facebook, it needs concentration! With the pattern I’m doing now there are 28 rows that are repeated 13 times, and in each row there are 4 to 5 repeats of between 18 and 22 stitches. Most of those 28 rows are different, and whilst you get used to how the pattern works over time, after 7 repeats I am still having to read every row and follow it stitch by stitch, although I am now able to do it with the TV on!

7. Blocking
At the end you must block your work – you’ll need to stretch out the lace pattern so that it really shows – it’s totally worth it believe me.

Lace it lovely to knit summery tops and shawls – if you want help with lace knitting, or you’ve never done it before and would like to learn, come along to our Knitting Techniques Lace class and we’ll be happy to show you.

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