Lace knitting has a special appeal, a certain charm that comes from its storied traditions and long-standing legends. From the cottage industry of Estonian lace, with those distinct nupps and hagakiri (twig) or lehekiri (leaf) motifs, to the Shetland Island edgings, and or the Orenburg lace garter made from the down of mountainous goats, lace has a history. It’s a history that seeps into our blood, compelling us to become the “that” kind of knitter. A lace knitter.
Yet, those legends also bring about a sense of complexity. One that daunts us and makes us see lace as a hard thing. It has some of us thinking, “All those stitches, and charts, and counting, oh my!”
In reality, though, the only skill necessary to become a lace knitter is concentration. That, and perhaps the willingness to give the old lace chart a try (while not required, chart reading has the bonus of helping you work faster). Everything else is already in your repertoire as a knitter: knits, purls, increases, and decreases.
The first thing to remember is that there are only two components to lace. Only two! Lace consists of a yarn over (increase) and a matching decrease. For every increase, there must be a decrease (I’m sure that’s what Newton meant in his law of motion). The yarn over and decrease can be worked in a variety of ways (such as double decreases), but the premise always remains the same.
- The next thing to know is that there are three types of lace patterns:
- Single-Sided: This is where the lacework occurs on the right-side rows only. Simple knits or purls make up the wrong-side row.
- Double-Sided: You’ll work yarn overs and decreases on every row.
- Alternating Stitch Counts: This method might have the yarn over/decrease pairs broken up across a series of rows. It means your stitch count changes every row, but before the end of the repeat, it all comes back to the original count.
Do you have to learn to read charts for lace? Absolutely not. In fact, all of SweetGeorgia Yarn’s patterns include both the written and charted versions of stitches used, just to ease your doubt. But, should you learn? Absolutely! Chart reading makes your knitting faster while also enabling you to “see” what’s coming (which also helps identify errors). The key here is to practice and not give up.
Some things to remember when reading a lace chart:
- One square equals one stitch.
- Look at the key or legend. This will tell you which symbol represents which stitch in the chart.
- Read any pattern notes about the chart, noting whether the chart shows all the rows or just the right-side rows.
To Read Flat Charts:
a. Read Row 1 and ALL right-side (odd-numbered) rows from RIGHT TO LEFT, using the key/legend as your guide to the stitches.
b. Read Row 2 and ALL wrong-side (even-numbered) rows from LEFT TO RIGHT, working the wrong-side version of what is shown. This is the part that takes practice because we tend to want to work the stitch as we see it, but the chart is showing us what the pattern looks from the right- side of the piece. Which means we have to switch the stitch around for the wrong-side of the piece. You key/legend will tell you exactly how to do this (like, “knit on the RS, purl on the WS”).
To Read Round Charts (which are the easiest charts to start learning from because what you see is what you get):Read EVERY row from RIGHT TO LEFT, working the stitches exactly as indicated by the key/legend. Understand the repeats:A lot of stitch patterns will have a border or heavier lines around a section of stitches. This is known as the repeat and it means you will work those series of stitches or rows until the remaining number of stitches on your needle matches the remaining number of stitches in the chart. When you get to the end of the chart, you start back to the row at the beginning of the repeat row. A big help here is stitch markers: place one before and after every repeated stitch count (in the example, I would place a stitch marker after the first K1, then every 12 stitches until the last st.).
We love incorporating lace into our patterns, delighting in the way it moves and dances across the fabric. With a bit of practice, lace actually isn’t too complicated. And yet, mastering it will make you feel like a lace-knitting rockstar.