Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The evil lace monster and what it likes to eat.

This is the current progress of my clover lace wrap from stitch n'bitch- evil,
and thwarting my patient progress through its cunning green wiles.

On a more 'romantic' (shudder) note, I put my sister's titchy little heart pastry cutters to good use . The little pie below was for my grandmother, and other will be for feeding and pacifying the hungry lace monster. Why do you always end up with 'never-ending' pastry fragments afterwards? (That, or you only just have enough to put the pastry lid on, which needs to be stretched within an inch of it's life to FIT THE DAMN THING)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Little things are rarely explained in patterns or how-to books, so it may be worth telling you a few hints and tips to help you in your lace knitting.

Don’t despair
When I began to do lace knitting, I had to re-do the first five rows at least 20 times! You are not alone if you are having difficulty: I have seen many, many web posts from people who feel that lace knitting is driving them insane! But each time I did it I began to understand the repeat pattern more and more, and learned from my mistakes:

If a row is really driving you crazy, unravel to your last safety point, mark where you are, put your wool back on the needles, count the stitches, and then put it aside and leave it alone until you have relaxed. It might be worth doing a test swatch of the pattern until you have become familiar with the technique you are using.

Following Charts.
Lace knitting involves a lot of unravelling, redoing, and alteration as you go along. Because of this, it is best to photocopy your original pattern and you are free to doodle all over it without worrying about wrecking your pattern or muddling yourself later. (my SNB Nation book looks like it’s been repeatedly hurled around a monkey enclosure)

As you may need to redo rows, it’s a good idea to use a marker to keep track of where you are: I like to use little dot stickers to mark where I am. If I need to go back, I simply move the marker, rather than having to alter my notes yet again. You can use a different colour to mark your safety save rows as well.

Making patterns line up over increases and decreases.

To make the pattern line up when doing decreases, you just have to get the first pattern repeat right and the rest will slot in perfectly! This first pattern on the decreased row is always the hard bit- basically, you need to remove the number of stitches you have decreased by from the first repeat.

This is probably the most fiddly part of lace knitting, so I would strongly recommend you safety-save your last row before decreasing. It will save you a lot of stress later on, and keep your knitting looking tidy if something needs reknitting.

If the pattern begins with enough plain stitches to deduct from without eating into the pattern , you will have no problem-

If your decreasing means the edge of the fabric will not be sturdy enough later- for example, if it becomes only 1 stitch away from the edge after decreasing and removing the corresponding amount, it may be worth omitting the repeat pattern for one turn. To make sure this lines up you must simply knit (or purl, depending on the side you are on) the amount of stitches the motif adds up to.

For example, a YO produces one stitch worth, a sl 1, k2tog, psso sequence produces one stitch worth. Therefore, a YO, sl 1, k2tog, psso, YO totals three finished stitches in total. Count the stitches on the needles, not the holes!

So if you want to cut out this motif for one turn, you must knit three plain stitches instead of the above sequence, and then you must continue with the written sequence.. Make sure that, after this motif, you then knit the normal amount of plain stitches between this motif and its’ repetition. Once the new starting formula is proved right, it’s best to make a note of it for future reference.

If you have done this wrong, you might not notice until later in the row- one stitch out and it will not line up. It is best to keep checking everything lines up during this row, for this reason! Remember if you have your safety-save it needn’t be a disaster if you have any trouble. And don’t forget to repeat this new beginning formula for the rows following this. If you increase again, you simply use the same method but this time add the extra stitch instead of decreasing it, and adjust accordingly.

Don’t forget to do decreases on both edges if the pattern tells you to and check if the last motif will work with it!

The pattern motif at the end of the row will line up automatically, if you have done this right, but if the edge will become flimsy or eat into the pattern if you make the last repeat of the row, just replace the last motif with the corresponding number of stitches in the way I described above.

Safety Saves (AKA lifelines)

I have seen lace-knitting without safety saving likened to bungee jumping without a cord, and there is a good deal of truth in this. Lace knitting is harder to count than regular knitting due to the complex patterns, and it is easy to make mistakes, lose track of your row, and dropped stitches can be so destructive that in many cases it produces a better finish to unravel and re-knit rather than attempting to pick up a complicated motif. This is understandably liable to enrage the knitter, so to avoid flung balls of wool and inventive cursewords, it is essential to safety-save periodically. You will often find this referred to as the 'lifeline'.

It is best to use a white yarn for this in a fine gauge- you don’t want to distort or dye the wool by mistake! I have found white dental floss is rather good, being very strong and fine- you could also use fine upholstery or crochet thread.

If you do this properly, the knitting will be simply unable to unravel beyond the point you have marked until you remove the thread. Just thread it through the stitches on the needle with a blunt thin bodkin, (have a good long piece) and knot the ends of the floss together at the back. Don’t safety save a section which has errors!! Unravel and get it right first.


The first thing to check with this is: does it affect just this row, or have you been knitting wrongly for a number of rows? You can tell this by counting stitches and , more simply, seeing at which point the pattern stopped lining up. If the former, you may be able to fix this very quickly, if the latter, you will have to unravel at the last good point and start again!

It is very important to count your stitches at the end of each row: this way you will rarely have to go right back to the safety save to ferret out the problem and reknit. If the last row had the right number of stitches, you will be able to consider the problem is only on this row. With lace knitting it is essential to check constantly: it takes time, but saves infinitely more time and trouble in the long run.

These suggestions cover the more general problems. They aren’t exhaustive, but are intended to help you jog your memory.

I have too many stitches on my row!
You may have:

Twisted a stitch round and knitted the underside as two separate stitches,
Knitted twice into a stitch without being supposed to
Made 2 Yos at once by mistake
Picked up a piece of wool as a stitch, mistakenly thinking it a dropped stitch.

One/more of my stitches have disappeared!

The first thing here is to look for dropped stitches. If you are really sure there aren’t any- and remember they can conceal themselves very well- look at your row. If the pattern only began to screw up on the current row, you can unravel to the problem point and check where things began to go wrong. It’s worth getting familiar with the stitch count between pattern repeats and the general way the row on the needles ought to look, so that it’s easier to locate errors by counting . Just-knitted YO’s are particularly easy to drop, as there’s less holding them on.

Unwelcome holes in the knitting

This is my pet hate, and, sadly, is almost always best solved by unravelling and reknitting. Even if you pick up the hole well, the pattern will never look quite as good as the surrounding ones, and it will irritate you when you wear the garment. Also, a YO is used to make a hole in the knitting- you might have made a YO in the wrong place, or made too many by mistake.

The opposite problem, a lack of holes, is usually caused by knitting the YO wrongly or by forgetting to make a YO at all! Sometimes you might also knit into a just-made YO or cast on wrongly after unravelling, which can close up gaps that were supposed to be there. For this reason, it’s best to use safety saves, or at least unravel to a plain and predictable row so you aren’t putting a complicated muddle back on the needles.

If the twisted bit separating two holes (2 Yos, usually) looks unusually feeble or holey, you have probably knitted the sl1, K2tog, psso, wrongly, as it is a move which twists the yarn round to strengthen the strands between holes. Again, this will require unravelling and reknitting.

My pattern won’t line up!

This problem is almost always solved by breaking it down. It is usually caused by one or a combination of the following: the pattern is not a thing in itself, but a combination of number and type of stitches. This will make things less intimidating and puzzling when something does go wrong!

1. Too many or too few stitches by accident
2. Wrongly-knitted stitches.
3. Wrongly-made Yos
4. Incorrect increases or decreases
5. Wrongly adjusted patterns during increase or decrease.
6. ‘Skipping’ or muddling the instructions. It can be difficult to keep track of where you are in a pattern, so it is a good idea to copy it and mark with a sticker, or move a piece of paper over as you follow each step. Oddly, this often happens when you get comfortable with a pattern and become inattentive!

If you don’t like written instructions, you might find it easier to make a chart. If you mark on it, remember to do so in pencil so you can erase if you need to go back. You can also use different colours for different symbols to make the chart easier n the eye.
The colour/symbol method can also be used for ordinary written instructions to simplify them. Charts can be particularly useful for working out alterations on a decrease, as the chart mimics the finished pattern.

Misc tips

When looking at what you have just knitted, it may help to note a YO is usually followed by a slant.

If you don't seem to have YO holes when you ought to, it may be that you have accidentally knitted into the back of the stitch instead of into the front, which twists the stitch and closes up the hole.

I have found with some of the Stitch N' Bitch books, the charts are in error and do not match the written instructions. If you are suspicious this may be the case, check the publishers' website or find the authors' blog for possible errata.