Knitting lace patterns can require complete concentration and many hours of work. However, many knitters enjoy such a challenge – the production of a perfect piece of fine knitted lace seems to generate universal feelings of awe and pride among us knitters. The complexity and labour-intensive nature of lace patterns mean it’s all too easy to make mistakes, and this can be off-putting to those embarking upon their first lace project. Fear not: there are some really useful tips that can help you to produce that elusive piece of perfect lace.
If you’re new to lace knitting, we’d recommend starting with a small project that has lace patterning on alternate rows. This type of project is referred to as lace knitting, as opposed to knitted lace which has lace pattern on all rows.
Main image (above): Tor Grass lace shawl, designed by Anniken Allis from The Knitter issue 123.
Choosing the right pattern and yarn
When choosing your first lace pattern, look for a relatively small project that will enable you to try different stitches without being too overwhelming. It’s also worth trying to avoid yarns that are hard to unravel, and dark-coloured yarns which can make the stitches hard to see.
The majority of lace patterns are now presented in chart form, particularly more complex patterns. Each instruction is represented by a symbol within the chart. These symbols are designed to show how they look in the knitted fabric. Yarn-overs, for example, will appear as holes in the knitted fabric and are shown as circles on a chart. Right-leaning decreases (K2tog on RS) are shown as right-leaning slashes.
Compare the sample with its chart to see how the two relate to each other. Because this sample is lace knitting, the chart shows only RS rows, and WS rows are purled.
It is common to make mistakes when working early repeats of a lace pattern. Once you have done a few repeats, the pattern will become easier to memorise, and you’ll be able to recognise where you are. However, taking a few preventative measures can save lots of time.
Chart copy, sticky notes and markers
You can make a working copy of the chart, for your own personal use. Enlarging it will make it easier to read, and you can keep notes on the back of it as well. Sticky notes are a really great way of keeping track of where you are in your pattern. Use them to block out the rows above, so you can see how the row you are working lines up with your knitting.
Stitch markers are useful when placed after each repeat of the stitch pattern in the row, to help you keep track of where you are in the pattern. Purpose-made markers are available, or you could simply use a knotted loop of mercerised cotton.
Using a life-line
A ‘life-line’ is a piece of cotton yarn threaded through a knitted row at the end of the pattern repeat. If a mistake is subsequently made, then the knitting can be unravelled back to the life-line and no further. Life-lines can be used after each pattern repeat, or at the halfway point. In really complicated lace patterns, you may want to insert a life-line every couple of rows.
Use a large sewing needle with a blunt point and a smooth contrasting thread. Make sure the thread is long enough to leave you with ample yarn once sewn through the row. Mercerised cotton is perfect because it won’t stick to the working yarn.
Sew through the centre of each stitch on the knitting needle, being careful not to sew through any stitch markers. If there isn’t enough space to do this on the needle, slip the stitches off onto the sewing thread, and then slide the needle back in, once all stitches are on the life-line.
Make sure that the life-line thread cannot loosen or unravel itself from the row. Perhaps use safety pins to secure it at each tail end, or tie the ends in a knot.
Of course, however prepared and careful you are, it’s inevitable that mistakes will slip in. It’s a good idea to check your work regularly – try to make a habit of counting stitches after most rows. The following examples are based on the Hexagon Fern stitch pattern in the chart.
Correcting an error made on the previous row
If you make a mistake one row down you could unpick the row you’ve just knitted, but there are a few time-saving alternative fixes you could also try. Once you’ve identified the mistake, use a stitch marker to indicate its position and work along the row to that point.
Correcting a missed yarn-over
This is one of the most common errors made in lace. In the sample pictured, there should be a yarn-over on both sides of the central stitch.
Pick up the thread that runs between the two stitches where the yarn-over should have been made.
Place this thread on the left-hand needle and treat it as if it is the next stitch in the pattern. This will make a slightly smaller hole than the others on the row, but once it has been blocked and pressed it will not be noticeable.
Getting rid of an extra yarn-over
The sample to the left has an extra yarn-over which will make a hole where you don’t want it, and create an extra stitch.
To get rid of the yarn-over, work up to it, then knit or purl it (depending upon which row you are on) together with the next stitch along. This will leave a very small hole which won’t be too obvious once the piece is blocked.
Correcting a decrease that leans in the wrong direction
In this sample, what should be a left-leaning decrease (SSK) has been wrongly worked as a right-leaning (K2tog) decrease.
To correct it, work along the row according to the pattern until you reach the mistake.
Insert the right-hand needle from the reverse to the front of each stitch at the same time and allow the stitch above to unravel by dropping it from the left needle.
Rework the stitch in the correct way using the unravelled yarn.
Correcting an error made a few rows down
Although sometimes it is easiest to just unravel back to a life-line, a mistake made a few rows down can be fixed by just dropping a few stitches. The stitches can then be picked up again correctly, saving you from lots of re-knitting.
Tor Grass lace shawl, designed by Anniken Allis from The Knitter issue 123.