Lace Knitting Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What yarn should I use for lace knitting?

A. Yarns that show off the texture of the lace are best. For instance, the texture of knitted lace would be completely lost if you were using something extremely fuzzy like an eyelash yarn.

You can use handpainted yarns for lace, but these tend to work better with simpler lace patterns.

Yarn with a lot of acrylic content doesn't tend to block well, so most lace knitters avoid those yarns.

If you are a beginning lace knitter, you may want to put off knitting with fuzzier yarns like mohair until you've done a few projects; the fuzziness of mohair yarns can make it difficult to see the stitches clearly. It's also difficult to frog mohair (i.e., rip back to correct a mistake).

Weights of yarn: you can knit lace with any weight of yarn from gossamer or laceweight on up, but the thicker the yarn you use, the thicker the lace will be. If you use a very thick yarn, you'll need to use a proportionately bigger needle so that the eyelets in the lace pattern don't close up (see "what size needles", below).

Take a look at the blog for the popular "Branching Out" scarf on Knitty.com. You'll see a wide variety of yarns being used for this scarf, each giving a different feel to the finished project.


Q. What needles should I use?

A. Unfortunately, there's no one answer to this question. Every knitter finds that different needles work for him/her. Many lace knitters like Addi Turbos, but others like various bamboo or birch needles. Also, the needle that works best with one type of yarn may not work well with another type of yarn. "Grabby" yarns often work well with metal needles, and "slick" yarns may work better with wooden needles that keep the yarn from sliding around as much. Your mileage may vary (YMMV).


Q. What size needles should I use with (insert yarn of choice here)?

A. Again, there's no one answer to this question, because a) every knitter knits at their own gauge, and b) the size of needles will differ depending on what size yarn you use and what effect you want. The best way to determine what size needles to use is to do several gauge swatches using different needles.

For instance, if you're knitting a sweater an want a lace eyelet insert, you may not want a very open pattern; whereas if you're knitting a shawl, you may want to use larger needles for a more open effect.


Q. What length circular needles should I use?

A. If you're knitting in the round, you need to use a length of needle that is at least a little smaller than the circumference of the object you are knitting. For instance, if you're knitting a hat for a 22" head, you should use a 16" needle. If you're knitting a sweater that is 36" around, use a 24" or 29" needle.

If you're knitting flat (i.e. back and forth), the length doesn't matter as much. Many knitters use circular needles for flat knitting because they take up less space -- you're less likely to poke your neighbor on the bus with the end of an errant needle. Because the stitches bunch up on the cable, you can usually squeeze a lot of stitches onto a circular needle; the largest shawl will probably fit on a 24" needle.


Other lace knitting tips:

- Learn to read knitting charts. They're not that scary, really! In fact, they're very helpful -- you can often see where a pattern has gotten off track more easily than if you're using a pattern that's just written out, because you have a graphic representation in front of you.

- Use lots of knitting markers, and COUNT the stitches on your needle within each section of the pattern when you reach each marker. I find I'm always forgetting a yarnover somewhere, and it's easier to go back and fix it immediately instead of discovering it several rows later and having to rip back. Knitting markers can be anything from bits of yarn tied in a loop, to metal or plastic rings, to the very nice beaded split ring markers that many knitting stores are selling. (I like these because they're less likely to slip under yarnovers, and because it feels like I'm knitting with jewelry when I use them.)

- Use a lifeline at the end of each repeat or section of the pattern. Frogging (ripping back) in lace knitting is very difficult, because of all the complexity of the patterns, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what's a stitch and what's the space between two stitches. To put a lifeline in your knitting, finish a row of knitting and then thread a slick yarn like crochet cotton or dental floss through the line of stitches on your needle. The ends of the lifeline will hang loose on either side of your knitting (make sure to leave enough length on the ends of your lifeline that it won't pull out of the stitches as you knit). If you make a mistake, you can rip back to that row, put the stitches on the lifeline back on your needle, and start that section over. (Leave the lifeline in place, just in case you need to rip back again.)

- Use a magnetic needlepoint board or post-it note to help keep track of which row you're on.

- Make a photocopy of your pattern and work from that. If the pattern is too small to read easily, enlarge it. Write notes about the pattern on your copy as you go. If your pattern didn't come in a plastic sleeve (as many knitting patterns do), you can buy these at office supply stores.

- To avoid splicing if you're making a very large project that will require a lot of yardage, work from a cone.

- If you need to join two skeins, do it at the end of a row where you can more easily hide the ends in the border.

- Do block your lace knitting. Before blocking, lace knitting often doesn't look very good. The transformation after blocking is amazing.

Also see How to Read Lace Charts

Recommended Reading:
A Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker
Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara G. Walker
Charted Knitting Designs
by Barbara G. Walker
A Fourth Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara G. Walker

A Gathering of Lace by Meg Swansen
Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace by Margaret Stove -- does a great job of explaining why knitting stitches do what they do
Folk Shawls by Cheryl Oberle
Gossamer Webs by Carol R. Noble, Galina Khmeleva
Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller
Knitting Lace by Susanna E. Lewis -- out of print, but definitely worth having or borrowing through Interlibrary Loan
Lavish Lace by Carol Noble & Cheryl Potter

Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls by Martha Waterman
Shawls and Scarves by Nancy Thomas et al
Shetland lace knitting from charts by Hazel Carter

Lace Knitting Tips on other sites:
Shawl Pattern Resources at Interweave Knits
Shawl-Knitting Workshop (tip-up) and blocking hints from KnittingGeek.com
Frogging Lace (i.e. ripping back to fix a mistake), at http://thedevashands.blogspot.com/
Fiber Trends patterns are available from a number of retailers, including the Flower Basket Shawl that got a bunch of knitters (myself included) started on lace knitting.
Fiddlesticks Knitting has some lovely and popular lace patterns
Heirloom Knitting - Shetland and general lace knitknitting info, including a tutorial on how to read charts and a couple of free patterns
Knitty has had some great lace knitting patterns lately, including Branching Out and Soleil. Branching Out might not be a good first lace project, since the number of stitches changes from row to row. It might make a good second or third project, though.

Copyright 2004-2005 Mara Riley