Every knitter comes to find they have a favorite technique, and lace is often one that has special appeal. It might be a seasonal flirtation in the spring and summer, or become a mainstay in your knitting work all year round. There are many different kinds of lace knitting designs, involving a variety of yarns and patterns, in many styles and shapes!
Photo: A Pi Shawl from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s pattern in Knitter’s Almanac, featuring a simple yarnover pattern.
The main thing these have in common is that all lace knitting involves eyelets, or purposeful ‘holes’ which make a pattern. The size of the eyelet left by the yarn over will change based on a combination of variables - your needle size, the weight of your yarn, and your tension. If you’ve never tried lace before, you may find yarn overs familiar if you’ve ever accidentally “added” a stitch by forgetting to move your yarn to the back of the work when purling, for example.
For this reason, yarn overs go hand in hand with decreases, which are the other building blocks of knitting. A yarn over made without decrease to accompany it will simply add more stitches to the work, and this is usually not the desired effect when you are trying to follow a specific pattern! Each decrease has a particular orientation – either left, right, or centered. The ‘ssk,’ for example, is a left-leaning single decrease. If you’re unfamiliar with these different kinds of decreases, lace knitting will certainly help you practice them!
Photo: My Lakeshore shawl pattern, featuring a more complex pattern with both yarnovers and decreases.
Modern lace patterns generally follow these principles by using different combinations of stitch patterns, or by creating new and interesting graphic patterns. The Peacock Feathers Shawl is a popular example – it creates the look of peacock feathers by combining knit, purl, decreases, and yarnovers (and even double-yarnovers!) in a planned sequence.
There are many different lace traditions that have developed over the last few centuries, including Shetland lace, Orenburg lace, and Faroese shawl construction. Faroese shawls are unique in their construction, since they feature a “bottom-up” construction that includes a center panel around which gusset shaping is executed. The result is that these shawls become slightly butterfly-shaped. Shetland lace (from the Shetland islands), are traditionally worked with very finely spun yarn, and often rely on a “background” field of stockinette stitches upon which the pattern is visible. The famous “wedding ring” shawls are a great example of Shetland lace – a shawl so light and fine that it could be pulled through a wedding ring. Orenburg lace are similar to Shetland lace items in that they have also been produced for centuries by cottage industry workers, but from the Orenburg region of Russia. These shawls are also more typically worked with downy fiber from mohair goats, rather than sheep wool. They also more often feature very fine work, with yarn overs no larger than the very tip of your finger!
As you can guess, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lace knitting! Are there lace projects you are looking forward to making this winter?
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