Try it today! Knit your first lace
A new year, a new skill. Elizabeth Bagwell gives you some tips on getting started with knitting lace.
After I wrote about my Knit Year Resolutions, I heard loads more great ideas from readers and the LoveKnitting team. My list definitely got longer! Several people mentioned wanting to try lace, so here are a few helpful hints to get you started.
What is lace knitting?
Lace knitting is a pattern of holes. It can also be called openwork, although I think this is mainly a marketing ploy: ‘manly openwork socks’ sound more plausible than ‘manly lace socks’.
How do I make holes that don’t unravel?
The holes are usually created by doing an increase, most commonly a yarn over. Increasing, as the name suggests, increases the number of stitches on your needles so most lace patterns pair increases and decreases so that you finish a row with the same number of stitches as you started with. The two don’t have to be next to each other or even on the same row. In fact, you create the lovely wave of the classic ‘feather and fan’ pattern by ensuring that the increases and decreases aren’t next to each other (see our beautiful pattern below!) New to yarn overs?
Does it matter how I decrease?
Yes. In lace knitting, how and where you decrease is critical and going off-pattern can alter the whole look of a piece and even it’s shape. It’s important to follow the designer’s instructions, even if doing a k2tog is easier than the sl1, k1, psso they’ve suggested. There are several different ways to increase and various ways to decrease, too.
You don’t need any special tools to knit lace – just your needles and yarn. You may find a row counter and stitch markers helpful though, particularly if your pattern repeats across the row. It’s a good idea to start with a quick project with minimal shaping, such as a neck warmer in aran yarn or DK fingerless mitts. Ideally choose a yarn that’s easy to see, so avoid dark solid colours.
What about charts?
Lace patterns are often shown as charts, so if you haven’t used a chart before, this is a good time to start. Lace charts typically show what the finished lace will look like, and can make knitting a lot simpler. You can find help getting started in our chart walkthrough, read some advanced tips for charts and if you’re feeling nervous, why not run through our chart checklist before you start.
What is blocking and do I have to do it?
Blocking is magic. It can turn a crumpled mess into a beautiful lace shawl. It can’t work miracles though, and some yarns don’t block well. Wool and animal fibres block well, plant fibres less well and acrylic often can’t be blocked at all. Not all lace needs to be blocked. In general, if something is going to be slightly stretched when it’s worn (such as a hat, socks or gloves) blocking is not required. If you like the way your project looks unblocked, it doesn’t need blocking.
How to block your knitting
Wet your project through. Wrap it in a clean towel and gently squeeze out the water until the whole project is damp. Don’t rub or scrub your knitting, as it may felt. Spread the piece out on a flat surface you can stick pins in (I usually throw a towel over the spare bed). Slightly stretch the knitting, so the lace holes look nice and open, and pin the edges using bobble-head pins or T-pins (so you don’t lose them in the bed). Leave to dry, then remove the pins. Your knitting should stay in the shape you pinned it into, with the holes open and looking lovely.
What is laceweight yarn, and do I have to use it?
Some of the most famous traditional lace patterns are wedding ring shawls. They’re so delicate that a large shawl (perhaps a metre or more on each side) can be pulled through a wedding ring. They use very fine yarn, which is called laceweight yarn. There is absolutely no need to start your first lace project with laceweight, and in fact it’s best not to. Laceweight is very fine, so is typically knit on needles a few sizes larger than the thickness of the yarn suggests. As a result, it can be fiddly (even if you’ve got perfect eyesight and good light, which I don’t!) and frustrating. The effect is usually worth it though, as it’s incredibly impressive.
This Simple Feather & Fan Lace Scarf from Fyberknitics is a great first lace knitting project, and it ‘s a FREE download! Feather & Fan is a beautiful undulating lace pattern that is created by a four row repeat, ideal for beginners!
How to download patterns: click on the images to download the free patterns. Add the pattern to your basket, and select ‘Go to Checkout’ – this requires you to create an account with LoveKnitting. If you’ve already shopped with us, then you will already have an account and can simply sign in. Follow the checkout process (you will not be charged!) to receive the download. Learn more here.
Two yarns that would work wonderfully well for this scarf are Rowan Kidsilk Haze, and Drops Kid-Silk. There are a fabulous 43 Rowan Kidsilk Haze shades to choose from – we love Candy Girl (left), Alhambra (centre) and Dewberry (right). A fabulous alternative for a less expensive yarn is Drops Kid-Silk, a beautiful mohair and silk blend, and there are 26 beautiful shades available – take a look at Grey (left), Dark Rose (centre) and Moss (right), below. Got a tip for first time lace knitters? Tell us in the comments!
Last updated: January 12th, 2015.