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Why Knitting Lace Needs No Reason and Has A Million Reasons

I have a confession to make.  I am a sentimental, nostalgic person when it comes to crafting.

This is the reason why I want to knit lace, even though I have no use for it.  Actually, I used to roll my eyes at it.  Remember the days when every buffet top and side table was covered in a round doily of some sort?  Actually, my mother in law still has a couple of them, although I notice they’ve been disappearing over the years.  The lace-on-every-surface fad is going out of style, and for a while, I was glad.  Now, I’m not so sure.

As a knitter who loves to challenge myself, I am enchanted by lace.

I never pick up a piece or flip through an old book without wondering about the women who first came up with those patterns.

Who were they?  

How did they know what the stitches would do?  

How did they figure out how to draw flowers with yarn overs and a seemingly infinite selection of decreases?  

Did the patterns evolve from years of experience, or did they emerge, fully formed, from their brains to their fingers?  

I wonder these things.  I am fascinated by the now-forgotten minds behind the stitch patterns we take for granted.

As a designer, I love to get my hands on books full of stitch patterns.  I have a couple pattern books, but usually when I shell out cold hard cash for a book on knitting, I want it to be a reference book.  Something that will teach me how to think like one of those women from years gone past.  Something with clues in it that will reveal the mysteries of the flow of stitches.

Just looking at the cover of my copy of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitters Almanac makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Now there was a woman who could communicate how knitting works and make it charming and witty at the same time.  She writes about stitches and techniques in the same breath as her children, her canoe trips, and her worldview.  She makes designing sound easy and logical.

I recently picked up a book which I’d been stalking on Amazon, called Second Book of Modern Lace Knitting by Marianne Kinzel.  The lace on the cover had caught my eye.

It’s a circular design with a Scottish thistle motif, and I’ve had a soft spot for thistle flowers ever since I found one on my windshield, wedged anonymously under the wiper blade.  I instantly knew who had put it there, since there was only one man I knew who had the motive and a love of all things Scottish.  We weren’t yet dating, but that flower is now a warm memory of the beginnings of our life together.

I bought the book and fell in love with the completely outdated, no-longer-modern tidbits of lace inside.

There are huge circular table cloths, oblong table runners, and coffee cloths, which I assume are for small tables on which women would serve coffee.  I have no idea.  But all of the lace designs are beautiful to my eye.  Now that I know the patience it takes to knit on tiny needles with cotton thread.  Now that I know the skill it takes to design a flow of holes and decreases in the right balance to make a circle and a picture, all at the same time.

It makes me sad that they’ve fallen out of fashion.  But I’m proud, at the same time, to be one knitter in a movement of knitters who still knits lace.

I don’t think we’re knitting lace for the sake of preserving the old ways, though; I think we’re knitting it because we find beauty in the stitches, and we don’t care what non-knitters think.  We know our skills are won from years of hair-pulling, frustrating mistakes so big that we thought about giving up and shoving the piece to the back of the closet.  (Which we did, for a while.)  But eventually, we gathered our courage and learned how to fix our knitting with a crochet hook and a cup of coffee and a couple hours of painstaking trial and error.  We learned that we can knit anything!

So we keep on, and we try new things, and we look for new challenges.  And we knit lace.

So, even though I have a bezillion other projects calling to me from their needles, I’m knitting a useless yet lovely coffee cloth with thistle flowers on it.  Just because I can.  And I think I’m going to starch it and hang it on my wall, perhaps with a pretty turquoise background to really show it off.

Because knitting can be art.  And because looking at its beauty reminds me of ages past, of the women who came before me, of my husband, of my Scottish heritage, of a time when people got together and drank coffee off pretty cloths.  Because I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

Balmoral Thistle Lace knitted by Amanda Schwabe.


Do you knit lace?  If you know of any beautiful old patterns or books I need to see, please tell me!  I love finding new things.  

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to click on them and then you buy something, I’ll make a couple cents, which is awesome.  But I mostly put them there so you could see what I’m talking about for yourself.  Isn’t that lace beautiful?  You need to check out another pattern from Marianne Kinzel’s book, called Rose of England.  It’s even more amazing, but not as sentimental for me, so I’m not knitting it just yet.