Does lace intimidate you? It certainly looks complicated — but the good news is that if you can follow directions, you can knit lace.
And we already know you can follow directions. That’s how you learned to knit, right?
But there are some extra things you can do to make knitting lace easier. So, here are my tips for knitting lace. There happen to be eight of them.
Use stitch markers. Mark off the edge stitches (which lace shawls usually have), the centre stitch(es), and even mark the places where the lace patterning repeats itself in a row. That way, if you forget a yarnover, it will be so much easier to find your mistake.
Don’t like the feel of hard, plastic stitch markers? I use little loops of knotted yarn in a contrasting colour. They’re nice and soft, and I don’t freak out when I lose one because I always have more waste yarn.
Avoid making mistakes by counting, double counting, and triple counting. Why count like an obsessive lunatic? Because then you’ll notice a missed yarnover almost immediately — soon enough to fix it easily and continue knitting happily. Remember those stitch markers from Tip 1? If you know how many stitches should be between each one, and you double check that none are missing each time you reach a marker, your knitting will get ten times easier.
Look at the chart. It should show you how the stitches will relate to each other once they’re knitted up. See that line of stacked centre double decreases in the chart? That means that those decreases will stack neatly in the knitting, too. And see how those yarnovers form a diagonal line? That means they’ll form a diagonal line in your knitting, too.
Now, some patterns are too weird to fit neatly into a chart like that. That’s why designers sometimes have to use those weird, dark-grey “no stitch” squares. In real life, lace curves and bends… but graph paper does not. We do what we can with what we have. But a good designer will always try to show you how the stitches relate to one another.
A tip about reading charts: Think of each square as an instruction, not a stitch. If you follow the little line of instructions across the chart, one by one, you’ll do fine.
Another bonus tip about reading charts: Make sure you’re reading them in the right direction. Flat charts get read from right to left on right-side rows, but from left to right on wrong-side rows. Circular charts are read from right to left on all rows. If in doubt, start at the side where the row number is written and work away from it.
If you really hate charts and absolutely refuse to use them, or if you just want to know your lace on a small scale before casting on 300 stitches, try knitting a small swatch across just one or two pattern repeats. That way, you’ll get a feel for how the stitches will interact, and you’ll be able to spot mistakes more easily later on when you start your big project.
I did this when knitting some Estonian lace with nupps, and boy, am I glad I did. The lace repeat was long and two-sided, and I made some mistakes the first time I tried it. It went much better the second time. I knew what I was doing by then, and I could spot my mistakes as I made them… instead of 3 rows later.
Keep looking back at your knitting to make sure the stitches are lining up consistently. In fact, every time you knit a new row, make sure it’s lining up properly with the stitches underneath it. Are those decreases stacking or lining up the way they should? Are the yarnovers in the right place in relation to the ones below?
Knit under good lighting.
Don’t knit lace when you’ll be too distracted to pay attention and count your stitches. TV and knitting groups are great, but they can wreck your lace before you notice a thing has gone wrong. Ask me how I know this. Now, I keep at least two projects on the go: I work on my lace shawl during quiet times or boring shows (Formula 1, anyone?), and I have a mindless project I can work away on during good shows like Call the Midwife or The Big Bang Theory.
Yarn matters. Especially if this is your first lace project. Avoid fuzzy yarn, dark yarn that’s impossible to see even under good lights, and clown-barf yarn that will draw attention away from your stitches. Seriously, do you want to knit an intricate lace pattern that no one will notice because the ten different colours are all yelling, “Look at me! Look at me!” ?
Just so you know, I’m currently knitting a lace shawl with black yarn, and it’s going to be gorgeous. But on the needles? It’s impossible to admire, I can’t get a good photo of it for my Ravelry project page, and it can be tricky to see the stitches. I sit directly under a lamp to knit this shawl. It’s not impossible. I just don’t want you to knit your first lace shawl ever in black and then wail, “But Amanda didn’t warn me about this in that post of hers on lace knitting!” So now — count yourself warned.
Also on the subject of yarn mattering, make sure you use yarn that you can block. Acrylic yarn? No matter what you do to it, it will always spring back into a crinkly blob. When knitting lace, always use something lovely that has memory, like a type of wool or other natural fibre. Merino is my favourite. But superwash, even merino, won’t remember the blocking as well as a plain old non-superwash wool. It’ll be okay, but not awesome. Trust me on this one, too.
So, how about you? Have you had troubles with lace knitting in the past? What were they?
Are there any tips for knitting lace that I’ve missed? If so, share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re looking for an interesting lace shawl (not necessarily a beginner’s one), check out my newest pattern release, the Sea Glass Shawl, now available through Knit Picks! And come join us for a knitalong over on Ravelry in the Aknitica Designs group.