Friday, June 13, 2008

Knitted lace, lace knitting

Warning: If you are not a knitter, I would suggest skipping this post. It's full of knitting terms that would render it meaningless to you. Ah, the problems of having a generalist's blog!

Last night I stayed up till after two in the morning. I had finished an eight foot long stole in the morning, washed it, blocked it and spent a bit of time admiring it. It's quite beautiful, but it was a piece of cake. I used a pattern from Folk Shawls, even though I usually don't use patterns. I loved this one, and figured it would be a good idea, for once, to use a pattern, for I've only once before knit fine lace (and that was almost twenty years ago!) It was a good idea, and I re-learned to structure of lace well. If you are thinking of knitting lace, I suggest you start the same way, with a project designated as "easy", or you most certainly risk the danger of complete frustration which will put you off lace for many years to come.

I also suggest that you do not start with cobweb weight or lace weight yarn, but a light sport weight. The thinnest yarns have very little give, fall off the needles and break easily, adding to the potential of frustration.

What words of warning! I enjoyed knitting the stole immensely. But last night's beginnings are a different story altogether. I just unraveled five hours of work!

There's a difference between knitted lace and lace knitting, though whether the definitions of both are "true" is disputed. Lace knitting is patterned on every other row, and knitted lace is patterned on every row. I will say, even if folks dismiss the terminology, that knitted lace is much more difficult. It is easy to get lost when patterning on every row. If one makes a mistake, one can't rip out to the unpatterned row, which is easy to identify. No, if one gets lost, or makes a mistake with knitted lace (which some call "true lace"), you must (and I can't stress this enough) understand the structure and principles of lace knitting in order to fix it. Otherwise, you are doomed. Seriously.

I understand the structure and principles of lace knitting fairly well, and I can attest to that, even then, it's pretty easy to become lost, especially at two in the morning.

Last night I spent at least a half an hour on one row of knitting, for I kept forgetting where I was in all the yarn overs, knit two and knit three togethers. I pulled out row upon row until I felt fairly sure everything was correct. But in the cold light of morning, I looked at my knitting and felt sure it contained one too many mistakes. I've made a bit of a vow to allow for mistakes when knitting (unlike when I was young, where any small mistake would scream at me to fix it). This, in theory, is a great way to knit, but with knitted lace, if you do make a mistake, it starts to multiply on itself, leading to more and more and finally rendering the pattern meaningless.

The pattern is fairly meaningless, too, as one is knitting. It doesn't look good and it's not supposed to. The knitting needs blocking (or dressing, as they call it in Great Britain). Before that, it's a mess, looking entirely like a somewhat controlled series of mistakes. For this reason, I find it inherently frustrating but also absolutely fascinating.

So, I ripped out my knitting (oh, and it was the second time, I must admit). It was too wide, anyway, and goodness knows, I don't need to do that many repeats in one row!

I will keep you posted. And I've got to take a picture of the finished stole. I am proud of it, even if it wasn't as hard as it looks.

Image note: page of instructions from the bible of Shetland lace knitting, or knitted lace. Whatever you call it, it's truly gorgeous.

Addendum: I am up to row fifteen of a complex pattern, on size 2 needles and cobweb weight yarn. I should have cast on more. The width is a bit too narrow and I don't want it to look like a scarf. I can either make it insanely long, so that I can drape it over my shoulders twice (which sounds good) or add a wide edging. I don't have to make that decision for many months, I'd venture to guess, even though it's knitting up fast. Today, I encountered no glitches and no confusion. Was it all because I was tired last night? Yes and no.

I learned a lot making all the mistakes I did yesterday. And today, I noticed that while I was knitting, I was not only counting stitches, but doing so in a sing-song manner, so my knitting puttered on with a soundtrack that was keeping me in line (and on the beat). This seems a good way to knit something complicated. It is a pattern that has a rhythm to it, after all

I highly recommend to anyone who wants to knit lace that is patterned on every row to make a fairly big swatch beforehand. It's usually unnecessary to swatch for gauge in lace knitting so forgoing it may be tempting. But, swatching to become intimately familiar with the pattern is a good idea.

Addendum: Approximately 1000 stitches later, I have this piece of advice for those of you who want to knit lace with true lace weight or cobweb weight yarn. Use small needles, size 0 or so. I'd also advise using Inox straight needles, for they are not in the least bit slippery. I generally do not like straight needles, but Inox doesn't make anything smaller than 2's in circulars. Crystal Palace makes 0 bamboo circulars, but if you use them you'll have to be careful about not snagging the yarn, especially with cobweb weight, on the connection points between the needle and the circular part (what's that called, anyway?) The reason I'm recommending small needles is because the lace has more integrity when knit tighter. One can see the design more plainly, and if you are new to this, this is very important. I ripped out those nearly 1000 stitches after hopelessly trying to chase down a dropped stitch and fix a break in the yarn. Just switching from 2's to 0's has made the whole endeavor a pleasure. Now, it's a crazy endeavor, no doubt, but I can't help myself. I must persevere!

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