Beginner Tips: Lace Knitting 101

Are you new to knitting? Or perhaps you're a knitter who has been making 'plain' things for a while and are ready to try something else. After some recent conversations, I figured it might be helpful to post a few beginner tips that helped me when I first tried knitting lace. In one short post, I'm just scratching the surface, but if you are a more experienced knitter and would like to add something which would be useful for novice knitters, please feel free to leave a comment.

Before moving on to general tips, I'll tell you what I told the lovely ladies (who were quite new to knitting and) wondering whether they'd be able to knit some of my lacy patterns: I purposely aim to keep my designs straightforward to encourage beginner-to-intermediate knitters to give them a try. For this reason, my patterns are uncomplicated and use lots of knits and purls, and simple shaping. (I also let them into a little secret: my most popular designs include 'lace' stitches and this can make them appear more difficult, but they aren't very hard to knit at all!)

Sky Full of Stars Convertible Shrug on Crafts from the Cwtch Blog
PATTERN: Sky Full of Stars Convertible Shrug/Wrap (knit in the round)
Let's take the example of my Sky Full of Stars convertible shrug/wrap. It's actually a really simple design, which makes the most of an easy-to-knit lace pattern combined with some lovely sequinned yarn. There are not many different stitches and it's easy to spot a mistake as the pattern repeats align with one another when it's correct. If you're worried about committing to a relatively big item, try something smaller first. The matching mitts give you the chance to practice the stitch and gain confidence - it is almost the same as the shrug/wrap except that the mitts are knit flat. Leaf Collector's Mitts would also make a good project for those new to lace stitch patterns. And so onto the tips I found most useful when I was a new knitter...


1. LACE DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN LACE-WEIGHT
'Lace knitting' is a slightly confusing name because it would be easy to assume that one needs to use lace weight yarn (and small needles) to do it. In fact, 'lace' simply refers to patterns which are made using 'negative' space - that's holes to you and me. You can use any yarn weight at all, with appropriately sized needles.

2. DON'T BE INTIMIDATED, IF YOU KNOW THE INDIVIDUAL STITCHES YOU CAN DO IT ( & SWATCH!)
Provided you can knit the stitches listed at the start of the pattern, you should be able to follow many lace patterns quite easily. They will usually include yarn overs (or other increases) coupled with differing decreases in order to make holes in the fabric while either maintaining the stitch count, or shaping the garment as required. This strategic placing of holes is what gives the fabric the interesting look and texture, especially after blocking (being pinned out into shape, to open up the pattern). Take it one stitch at a time, and don't panic.

It's also a great idea to knit a swatch over a smaller number of stitches so you can be sure you understand the instructions and you can check the stitch pattern looks as it should. I know you probably don't like swatching (I think it's mostly designers that like it!) but it's worth doing before you cast on a few hundred stitches. 

New evening mitts pattern -coming soon!!!
PATTERN: Sky Full of Stars Mitts (knit flat)
3. READING A CHART IS EASY (WHEN YOU KNOW HOW)
I will admit that charts terrified me at first, but now I will always use a chart over the written instructions (English language lace patterns usually include both) as it's quicker to take in the information and to see where I am - in the case of the patterns I've mentioned above, the charts and knitting look the same. Having both written and charted details is a 'belt and braces' approach - you can check back and forth if you're not sure about something.

If you're new to charts, here are some things to remember: 
  • If knitting in the round (e.g. the shrug/wrap), follow every round on the chart from right-to-left. If knitting flat / back and forth (e.g. the mitts), the right ride rows are knit right-to-left and the wrong side rows are knit left-to-right. Check your pattern for any special instructions.
  • With many patterns (such as those pictured above), there is a 'central' element of each repeat - these stack up on top of each other, so it's easy to see if you make a mistake. 
  • If the pattern has a 'rest' row/round where there is no lace, use this to check for any mistakes  such as missing yarn overs or places where the where the pattern doesn't line up or look how you think it should.  
  • When knitting in the round, use a stitch marker at the start/end of the round. In some patterns it may be necessary to move the stitch marker, so pay attention to any instructions before you start knitting - this is something that caught me out a few times in the early days!
  • If you're worried about keeping track over a long number of stitches you can place a stitch marker between each pattern repeat and then count your stitches after each one - you'll know if you've missed an increase or decrease, or dropped a stitch etc when the count is wrong. Be sure to use a different marker for the end of a round though, or you'll confuse yourself.
  • Find a method of marking your your place in the pattern - a sticky note or washi tape which can be moved as you go along work well if you have a printed pattern. If you're using an electronic copy there are various apps you can use to annotate or mark the pattern - or you can write row numbers on a piece of paper and tick them off. 

4. THE CHART CAN BE YOUR MAP
A little while ago I was speaking to a test knitter who prefers written instructions. She had put down her knitting and when she came back to it, realised she'd forgotten to make a note of her place. I advised her to use the chart as a map, even though she wasn't working from it. Looking at the knitting she knew where the start of the round was (by the stitch marker) and comparing the work with the knitting, it was clear to see where the yarn overs and decreases lined up. With that information, it was easy to work out where she was.

5. FURTHER READING: There's a lot more to know about lace knitting, but I hope this has whetted your appetite to give it a try.
- If you'd like to learn more about charts, Karie Westermann has published some excellent detailed tutorials on her blog - find the first one in the series here.
- You might also like the Craftsy class (affilliate link) Lace Knitting: Basics and Beyond with Eunny Jang

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