Lace Knitting Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What yarn should I use for lace knitting?
A. Yarns that show off the texture of the lace are best. For instance,
the texture of knitted lace would be completely lost if you were using
something extremely fuzzy like an eyelash yarn.
You can use handpainted yarns for lace, but these tend to work better
with simpler lace patterns.
Yarn with a lot of acrylic content doesn't tend to block well, so most
lace knitters avoid those yarns.
If you are a beginning lace knitter, you may want to put off knitting
with fuzzier yarns like mohair until you've done a few projects; the
fuzziness of mohair yarns can make it difficult to see the stitches
clearly. It's also difficult to frog mohair (i.e., rip back to correct
Weights of yarn: you can knit lace with any weight of yarn from gossamer
or laceweight on up, but the thicker the yarn you use, the thicker the
lace will be. If you use a very thick yarn, you'll need to use a proportionately
bigger needle so that the eyelets in the lace pattern don't close up
(see "what size needles",
Take a look at the blog
for the popular "Branching
Out" scarf on Knitty.com. You'll see a wide variety of yarns
being used for this scarf, each giving a different feel to the finished
Q. What needles should I use?
A. Unfortunately, there's no one answer to this question. Every knitter
finds that different needles work for him/her. Many lace knitters like
Addi Turbos, but others like various bamboo or birch needles. Also,
the needle that works best with one type of yarn may not work well with
another type of yarn. "Grabby" yarns often work well with
metal needles, and "slick" yarns may work better with wooden
needles that keep the yarn from sliding around as much. Your mileage
may vary (YMMV).
Q. What size needles should I use with
(insert yarn of choice here)?
A. Again, there's no one answer to this question, because a) every
knitter knits at their own gauge, and b) the size of needles will differ
depending on what size yarn you use and what effect you want. The best
way to determine what size needles to use is to do several gauge swatches
using different needles.
For instance, if you're knitting a sweater an want a lace eyelet insert,
you may not want a very open pattern; whereas if you're knitting a shawl,
you may want to use larger needles for a more open effect.
Q. What length circular needles should I use?
A. If you're knitting in the round, you need to use a length of needle
that is at least a little smaller than the circumference of the object
you are knitting. For instance, if you're knitting a hat for a 22"
head, you should use a 16" needle. If you're knitting a sweater
that is 36" around, use a 24" or 29" needle.
If you're knitting flat (i.e. back and forth), the length doesn't matter
as much. Many knitters use circular needles for flat knitting because
they take up less space -- you're less likely to poke your neighbor
on the bus with the end of an errant needle. Because the stitches bunch
up on the cable, you can usually squeeze a lot of stitches onto a circular
needle; the largest shawl will probably fit on a 24" needle.
Other lace knitting tips:
- Learn to read knitting charts. They're not that scary, really! In
fact, they're very helpful -- you can often see where a pattern has
gotten off track more easily than if you're using a pattern that's just
written out, because you have a graphic representation in front of you.
- Use lots of knitting markers, and COUNT the stitches on your needle
within each section of the pattern when you reach each marker. I find
I'm always forgetting a yarnover somewhere, and it's easier to go back
and fix it immediately instead of discovering it several rows later
and having to rip back. Knitting markers can be anything from bits of
yarn tied in a loop, to metal or plastic rings, to the very nice beaded
split ring markers that many knitting stores are selling. (I like these
because they're less likely to slip under yarnovers, and because it
feels like I'm knitting with jewelry when I use them.)
- Use a lifeline
at the end of each repeat or section of the pattern. Frogging (ripping
back) in lace knitting is very difficult, because of all the complexity
of the patterns, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what's a
stitch and what's the space between two stitches. To put a lifeline
in your knitting, finish a row of knitting and then thread a slick yarn
like crochet cotton or dental floss through the line of stitches on
your needle. The ends of the lifeline will hang loose on either side
of your knitting (make sure to leave enough length on the ends of your
lifeline that it won't pull out of the stitches as you knit). If you
make a mistake, you can rip back to that row, put the stitches on the
lifeline back on your needle, and start that section over. (Leave the
lifeline in place, just in case you need to rip back again.)
- Use a magnetic
needlepoint board or post-it note to help keep track of which row
- Make a photocopy of your pattern and work from that. If the pattern
is too small to read easily, enlarge it. Write notes about the pattern
on your copy as you go. If your pattern didn't come in a plastic sleeve
(as many knitting patterns do), you can buy these at office supply stores.
- To avoid splicing if you're making a very large project that will
require a lot of yardage, work from a cone.
- If you need to join two skeins, do it at the end of a row where you
can more easily hide the ends in the border.
- Do block your lace knitting. Before blocking, lace knitting
often doesn't look very good. The transformation after blocking is amazing.
Also see How to Read Lace Charts
A Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker
Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara G. Walker
Charted Knitting Designs by Barbara G. Walker
A Fourth Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara G. Walker
A Gathering of Lace by Meg Swansen
Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace by Margaret Stove -- does a great job of explaining why knitting stitches do what they do
Folk Shawls by Cheryl Oberle
by Carol R. Noble, Galina Khmeleva
Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller
Knitting Lace by Susanna E. Lewis -- out of print, but definitely worth having or borrowing through Interlibrary Loan
Lavish Lace by Carol Noble & Cheryl Potter
Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls by Martha Waterman
Shawls and Scarves by Nancy Thomas et al
Shetland lace knitting from charts by Hazel Carter
Lace Knitting Tips on other sites:
Shawl Pattern Resources at Interweave Knits
Shawl-Knitting Workshop (tip-up) and blocking hints from KnittingGeek.com
Frogging Lace (i.e. ripping back to fix a mistake), at http://thedevashands.blogspot.com/
Fiber Trends patterns are available from a number of retailers, including the Flower Basket Shawl that got a bunch of knitters (myself included) started on lace knitting.
Fiddlesticks Knitting has some lovely and popular lace patterns
Heirloom Knitting - Shetland and general lace knitknitting info, including a tutorial on how to read charts and a couple of free patterns
Knitty has had some great lace knitting patterns lately, including Branching Out and Soleil. Branching Out might not be a good first lace project, since the number of stitches changes from row to row. It might make a good second or third project, though.