The availability of knitting instructions and visual guides online has added to the popularity of knitting techniques that were once tricky to learn. Lace knitting in the form of fine vintage lace or heirloom blankets makes it looks complex and difficult. But all lace knitting, from the simplest to the most advanced, is constructed by combining increases and decreases. The arrangement of these increases and decreases and the way they interact is the magic of lace.
What you’ll need
- decreases and increases
- chart reading (not always necessary, but hard to avoid with lace-knitting)
- sharp, smooth knitting needles
- a nice firm, smooth, flexible yarn is best to start, in a fingering or sport weight. You can absolutely use heavier yarn, but lace patterns usually involve a lot of decreases, which are a little easier in lighter weights.
- movable stitch markers (not absolutely necessary, but can be very helpful)
Good beginner lace stitch patterns
(Pre-Lace knitting) Simple eyelet stitch: You can start your lace adventure by experimenting with eyelets. A pattern of eyelets across stocking stitch makes a lovely fabric. Check out the Old Orchard Vest for an example. Or use a row of eyelets with garter stitch on either side to run a ribbon or drawstring through, like the waist cord in the Lucky Duck Tunic, or as a decorative element like the Montgomery Scarf.
Razor Shell: A simple stitch that uses yarn overs and double decreases. Change it by varying the distance between yo’s and decreases. Or experiment with the type of double decrease you use. The sl2-k1-p2sso central double decrease emphasizes the vertical ridge formed between the yarn over holes, while sl1-k2tog-psso makes a more nubbly texture. One of my favourite variations of this stitch breaks up the rows of eyelets with rows of plain knitting. This emphasizes the push and pull effect of the yo’s and decreases. You can see it in Sweet Oak Cardigan, Sweet Oak Shawl and the Oaklet Shawl.
The other great thing about the Razor Shell is that it can be changed to make a leaf-shaped pattern simply by alternating the start position of the ridges. This will make, among other things, the Fir Cone stitch. You can see a variation of this in Sweet Oak Shawl.
Here are some charts to give you an idea of the variations:
Feather and Fan: There are many variations of Feather and Fan. It works by clustering yarn overs and decreases. The yarn overs push the stitches up and out, while the decreases pull them down and in. The result is a wavy fabric. Feather and Fan is often used with garter stitch or garter stitch ridges, making it non-curling as well. You can see a variation in the Maple Ripple Pullover.
Look for the following
- Rest rows: Look for instructions like, “row 2 and ever WS row: Purl”, or “Rows 3-6: Knit”. These rows give you a rest, and also mean the lacier portions are easier to work. Lace knitting with many yo’s and decreases on top of each other mean you need to be able to “read” all those strands on your needles, which can be confusing when you’re starting out.
- Stocking stitch or garter stitch, rather than knit/purl combinations.
- Smallish row and stitch repeats: simple doesn’t mean boring, there are many beautiful timeless patterns worked over 8 stitch repeats.
- Easy to memorize: Patterns with small repeats and simple combinations are more easily memorized, which frees you from referring to a chart for every stitch.
- Get yourself a pair of smooth, sharp needles. Surfaces that grip like bamboo and coated metal aren’t great for lace. You want to be able to manipulate stitches easily.
- Just because it’s called Lace doesn’t mean you need lace yarn! Lace stitch patterns look great in fingering, sport, dk, and aran weight yarns.
- Block! Most lace stitches don’t look their best until they’re blocked. Here’s a trick: if you’re part way through a swatch of lace, and you’re not sure if you like it, spritz your swatch with cool water and pin it gently on a towel.
Eunny Jang has written some excellent online guides for lace knitting.
The Walker treasury books are invaluable, and not just for lace. Check you local library or Amazon. The first treasury is the one I refer to most.