Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lace Lessons Learned

As a beginning lace knitter, I have learned an enormous amount by working on the Fiddlesticks Venus Vest and then Mystery Stole 2 by Melanie Gibbons. Here are a few tips for anybody just beginning to knit lace:
  • Don't be afraid of charts. They might be intimidating at first, but they really are easier to use than written instructions.
  • Make an extra copy of your chart so that you can mark it up with colored pencils, and still have the original "just in case." Depending on the pattern, it might make sense to mark off every x stitches, where x is an arbitrary number like 10 or 20; or, if there are multiple repeats across a row, mark off each repeat.
  • Use some kind of ruler (PostIt notes work well) to block off the rows above the one you are working on. That way you can see the current row as well as previous ones, so you can check your progress against the pattern.
  • Make liberal use of stitch markers. If practical, use them in the same places as the colored lines you have put on the chart. Sometimes they have to be moved, if there is a multiple-stitch figure (K2tog, SSK, etc.) that spans the marker, but it is a small price to pay.
  • Use a row marker to keep track of which row you are working in case you put your work down and come back to it a day, week, or month later.
  • Count, count count! Count the stitches between markers, and count again on the wrong-side row if it is a plain purl row. If you have lost or gained a stitch, you will be much more likely to find it right away and not have to tink or frog.
  • Use lifelines! They are easy to do... just thread a contrasting piece of yarn through the stitches on the needle after you have completed a row that you know is correct. It seems easiest to do this on a wrong side row, at least with patterns that do purl (or knit) across WS rows. If you make a mistake that you can't correct, you just have to frog back to the lifeline and pick up the stitches -- much better than having to start all over from scratch!
  • Don't panic if you are off by a stitch. It is often possible to fix the error in the next row, as long as you have been counting and catch it right away.
  • Don't knit in bad light.
Thanks to many of the members of the Mystery Stole group who made several suggestions that I wouldn't have discovered by myself without much more trial and much, much more error.


Leanne said...

Great tips! Lace is so addictive, and I find I learn something new every time I do a different pattern. A couple of additions to your list:
- dental floss makes great lifelines
- When I'm leaving my knitting for a while, I mark on the chart where I left off, so I can find my place easily when I get back.
- Like you said... count, count, count. On a pattern with large patches of knit stitches (like the Mystery Stole), I find it helpful to pre-count them and then mark the squares accordingly so you can tell at a glance how many you need to do. And then, after you've knit the, say 16 knit stitches needed between yo's, look at the row below to see if you're where you should be. Eg, if your yo should be above another yo, and it's not, count again until you discover why. It could be that a) you find you miscounted, or b) you made a mistake earlier that you can easily fix.
- I completely agree with your advice to not knit lace when you're tired. But if you do knit tired (because we all know once you start, it's hard to put it down!) and you make a mistake - stop. walk away. go to bed. fix the mistake in the morning. You will be much less likely to turn a little mistake into a huge mess that will result in the frog pond!
- Most of all, have fun with it.

Gill said...

Another - don't attempt lace when your DH is around. There's nothing like the psychic vibe of a complex pattern to prompt a usually silent man into a lengthy conversation :)

Gill (AKlist)

Barbara C. said...

Loved your suggestion for a life line. Sounds like you take a darning needle, thread it with contrasting yarn and work it through the stitches on the needle.
Then if you have to rip out to there, the contrasting yarn acts like a stitch holder? Am I correct?

Reluctant Penguin said...

Barbara -- That's right. It's a good idea to use something smooth like cotton so that the fibers don't get too attached to the fibers of the shawl. Some people suggest using dental floss (see Leanne's comment above), but the only time I tried it, it didn't work too well, and I went back to the cotton. It's easy to get careless and not put one in, but that is certainly going to be when something goes wrong and you need it.

pumpkinhead said...

I learned:
1. Make sure you know how to put a lifeline in correctly.

I ripped back to the lifeline and and the ripping continued. Image my surprise to have my lifeline in my hand.

2. Make sure the lifeline is up to the job.

Don't use just any old scrap hanging around your stash. I made the mistake of using a well-aged cotton that my of been older than me. (maybe inherited stash?) The lifeline BROKE!

BTW: Reluctant Penguin and others, would you be willing to give permission to The Folk Shawl KAL yahoogroup to achive this list?http://groups.yahoo.com/group/folkshawls/

I am currently creating an online database/resource page to support the group. ;) I'll completely understand if you say no.

jenkav_pumpkinhead at yahoo.com

Happy Knitting!
Jen the pumpkinhead