I don’t know about you, but I felt incredibly under-prepared when I embarked on my first lace project. The internet wasn’t yet a beast of information and anything I wanted to learn came either from a library book, or one of the knitting magazines my mom bought for me. Lace seemed like this daunting, scary thing - you intentionally want me to create holes in my knit fabric? I don’t understand!
Fast forward about 10 years and now lace is one of my favorite things to knit. There is a lot to be said on the subject of lace knitting, but before we go down the rabbit hole of that I wanted to share some of the essential things I learned about knitting lace. As I was thinking about all of my lessons learned, I kept coming back to the gauge swatch. The swatch is a perfect mini project to help understand the structure of lace and a guide to understanding what your finished project can/will look like!
So I came up with this list of my 5 essential tips for knitting lace.
The 5 Essential Tips for Knitting Lace are:
- Block Your Swatch
- Understanding Pattern Repeats
- Use Selvage Stitches
- Measure, Measure, Measure!
- Use the Same Tools
1 | Block Your Swatch
Creating a swatch is typically step 1 for any knit project, but it is especially important before starting any lace project. The nature of lace knitting and it's combination of yarn overs and decreases causes the stitch pattern to "bloom" once it's been wet blocked.
Wet Blocking: Method of dressing a wet fabric by stretching and pinning it into place for air drying to display stitch pattern and establish finished measurements.
Blooming is a fun knit term referring to the fact that your blocked swatch can look drastically different from your unblocked swatch. There are some great before & after photos online that demonstrate this beautifully.
Generally speaking, I prefer to use blocking wires to create a perfectly blocked swatch (and finished garments). For a helpful tip to make the blocking process easier, skip to Tip 3.
2 | Understanding Pattern Repeats
All stitch patterns are broken down into repeatable sections. At the start of any stitch pattern, you'll see a guide for how many stitches to cast on. For example:
- Multiple of 7 + 2
- Multiple of 4 + 3
Essentially what these instructions mean is that the lace pattern itself is worked over 7 (or 4) stitches and has "extra" stitches and the start and/or end of each row, the count of those stitches are defined in the "+" section. When creating a gauge swatch, make sure to include more than one repeat of the lace pattern. This helps for a few reasons:
- You'll have more swatch to measure (Tip 4)
- You'll learn to "read your knitting" (more on that in a later post!)
- You'll get a better sense if the yarn & needle combination you chose was a good fit for the lace pattern
3 | Use Selvage Stitches
The best trick I ever learned when knitting lace was to add 4 selvage stitches, in addition to the "+" that the pattern calls for. So my swatches pattern repeats look like:
- Multiple of 7 + 2 + 4
- Multiple of 4 + 3 + 4
So what do I do with those 4 extra stitches? I create a smooth selvage edge that makes it easier to block my swatch with wires, as well as make the seaming process easier. The swatch starts and ends with a K2 on RS rows, and on WS rows I K1, P1 * work patt to end * P1, K1.
The stitches on the farthest ends of the swatch create a line of garter stitch bumps that are super easy to slide my blocking wires through. The stitch next to it is a column of neat stockinette stitches, which makes seaming with the mattress stitch (my preferred method) a breeze.
4 | Measure, Measure, Measure!
This may seem so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but measuring your swatch well is incredibly important. A few stitches off per inch on a swatch may seem like a small problem, but multiply that difference over a large sweater and you have a big fit issue.
Measuring a gauge swatch with a lace pattern can be a little tricky, given how open the fabric is. If you stretch the swatch too much or too little while measuring, your gauge will likely differ from the pattern specifications. In addition, if you measure the swatch before it has fully dried your gauge can also be off because the stitches will behave quite different when wet vs. dry.
My preference is to wet block the swatch and remove the blocking wires once the swatch feels pretty dry to the touch. Remove the wires and lay the swatch on a flat surface (like you blocking mat) and let it sit there for another day (or two, depending on the weight of the yarn). This give the fibers extra time to dry allowing them to snap into their desired placement.
5 | Use the Same Tools
Last but not least, when starting any project you have the option to knit your pattern flat in rows, or in the round on circular needles. Whichever way you plan to knit the final piece is how you should plan to knit your swatch. There is a fascinating article about different gauges that occur when using the same yarn & needle size, but choosing different types of needles. Check out my most recent pattern release, Magnolia, for a real-world application of your newfound skills!
And tell me, what are some of the biggest lessons you learned when knitting lace for the first time?