The Shape of Lace

To understand hand-knit lace as it relates to shaping garment sections, we will take a close look at the key structural elements used in lace-stitch pattern construction. A solid understanding of the basics will prepare you to easily overlay shapes onto stitch patterns.

In this article we will study four different lace patterns: Lace Knitting (Single-Sided), Knitted Lace (Double Sided), Alternating Stitch Count (number of stitches changes on different rows) and Single Row Lace (one lace row in each pattern repeat). We will identify what happens during the knitting process before we pick up our needles. The purpose of this exercise is to recognize the path of the construction elements and how they are used to build out the lace motifs.

Trellised Leaf
Trellised Leaf In this example of lace knitting, the leaves are formed using the “Half Drop” format. Notice how the rows of leaf motifs stagger to create an undulating border.

Our first sample will be a Single-Sided Lace pattern. We will compare both the written and charted versions of that pattern to get a good feel for the pattern structure. With the remaining three lace types, the written example will be omitted here, but I recommend that you try writing the patterns if you are not completely at ease working from a chart.

Begin by carefully examining the stitch key, then writing each line of the pattern, surrounding the actual pattern repeat by asterisks. After each written row, count the number of stitches between the asterisks, then count the plus stitches to make certain that the number of stitches you have recorded is correct for that line before moving on.

LACE STRUCTURE
The layout of a lace pattern is no different in its basic structure than any other knit stitch pattern, in that it is constructed over a specific number of stitches and rows. These constitute the pattern repeat. If worked flat, most patterns will also have extra stitches at either the beginning or the end of each row (or both) that fall outside the pattern repeats. They are called “plus” stitches and are represented with the “+” sign in the written instructions; e.g., “pattern is a multiple of 8 + 3.” In a written lace pattern, stitch repeats will be bordered by asterisks. For symmetry, many patterns have a different number of plus stitches before the beginning and/or after the ending repeats.

EXAMINING EACH COMPONENT
Trellised Leaf Pattern Chart
Click here to view chart larger in a PDF format.
Frost Flowers
Frost Flowers This classic, feminine pattern is often used in garment design. the swatch combines knitted lace for hte petals with lace knitting for the bands of eyelet chevrons. (See VK Holiday 2006 #6.)
Frost Flowers Pattern Chart
Click here to view chart larger in a PDF format.
The two shaping components: The yarn over (increase) and the decrease form the basic structure of all lace patterns, and there must be a balance of increases and decreases in order to control the width of the fabric. These basic components can be arranged either vertically [see Trellised Leaf Pattern chart PDF] or horizontally [see Fan & Feather chart PDF].

Yarn Over: In all knit fabric construction, stitches are held together as the fabric is made by a continuous flow of the yarn between them. This linking yarn is called the “running” thread. Since a yarn over is a “bridge” between two stitches, it is made by simply diverting the running thread up and over the needle. When the stitch is diverted, the yarn has to cross the right-hand needle in a way that enables it to lie in the same direction as an untwisted stitch.

The way of carrying the yarn up and over the needle so that it can be in that position will differ depending on the types of stitches that are being made on either side of the yarn over. They are as follows: from knit stitch to knit stitch (bring yarn to front, then knit the next stitch); from knit stitch to purl stitch (bring yarn to front, then over the needle, then to the front again); from purl stitch to purl stitch (take yarn over needle to back, then forward to front again); and from purl stitch to knit stitch (leave yarn in front for British-style knitting; work as purl stitch to purl stitch for Continental-style knitting).

If you cannot remember the four movements, just think about how the yarn should cross the rIght-hand needle (RHN) at the conclusion of the technique. If your pattern includes a double yarn over, count it as two stitches. Remember that on the next row you are going to knit into the first yarn over and purl into the second.

Decreases: These are the decorative components, which give form to the stitch pattern. Both single and double decreases involve working the stitches together into a single stitch. For single decreases, one stitch is decreased from two stitches; for double decreases, two stitches are decreased from three stitches.

With the exception of the vertical double decrease, all other decreases will cause the fabric to slant either to the left or the right. When symbols on the chart are drawn for wrong-side rows (WSRs), the indication is for the way the fabric is going to slant on the right side (RS). Examples of left-slanting single decreases are SSK (RS) and SSP (WS). Examples of right-slanting single decreases are K2tog (RS) and P2tog (WS). Examples of left-slanting double decreases are K3tog tbl (RS) and P3tog tbl (WS). Examples of right-slanting double decreases are K3tog (RS) and P3tog (WS). Examples of vertical double decreases are Sl 2-K1-P2SSO (RS) and Sl 2-P1-P2SSO (WS). On any written pattern, remember that all decreases are counted as one stitch; e.g., P3tog and Sl 2-K1-P2SSO are both counted as one stitch. To my knowledge, triple decreases are rarely used.

TYPES OF KNIT LACE
Spade Stitch Pattern
Spade Stitch Here, the pattern rows have alternating stitch counts to compensate for additional increases on certain rows.
Spade Stitch Pattern Chart
Click here to view chart larger in a PDF format.
Fan and Feather Pattern
Fan & Feather The heavily scalloped border, created with “stacked” increases and decreases, makes this stitch perfect for shals and baby blankets. It also provides a fanciful alternative to ribbing on sweaters.
Fan and Feather Pattern Chart
Click here to view chart larger in a PDF format.
Lace Knitting (Single-Sided): With these stitch patterns, the lace pattern is worked on every other row with one purl row in between. The patterns are easier to follow, since there is always a “breather” row between lace rows and the lace construction always continues from the same starting point that is the beginning of each RSR. For our swatching example we will be working with the Trellised Leaf Pattern.

Knitted Lace (Double-Sided): With these stitch patterns, the lace motifs are constructed on every row. Some of the more gossamer lacestitch patterns call for this technique. An easy way to determine which of the two techniques has been used on a lace piece is to look for the purl-stitch twists in the yarn overs. Most pattern stitches use one method or the other, but several combine the two techniques. The Frost Flowers pattern is an example of a lace structure in which one part of the pattern is worked in lace knitting and one part is worked in knitted lace.

Alternating Stitch Count: These are stitch patterns that increase on one row, then decrease back to the established number of stitches in the pattern repeat on another. For our swatching example we will be working with the Spade Stitch pattern, shown on page 52. When you examine the chart you will notice an extra increase (YO) on every other row (RSR). On every following row (WSR) you will see that decreases are worked to bring the repeat count back to the original number of stitches. You will note that at the close of each diamond shape there are two single increases on the last RSR. On the following WSR a double decrease is worked to match each of the two increases.

SINGLE ROW LACE
These types of stitch patterns are classified as Horizontal Lace patterns. For our swatching example we will be using the Fan & Feather Pattern, sometimes referred to as Old Shale. When you look at the chart, you will see that the lace components do, in fact, line up horizontally across the row. A closer examination of its true structure, however, reveals that it is an example of a stockinette pattern punctuated by one lace row on every fourth row. An examination of the two lace components will show that yarn overs lift the fabric while decreases push the fabric down. A set number of yarn overs are placed side by side with a matching number of decreases. They are placed in the same position each time (on every fourth row), which means they are “stacked” along the length of the fabric. The stacking of the components exaggerates the lifting and lowering movement of the lace design. This results in a beautiful undulation at the base of the fabric. Shaping the fabric with this pattern is accomplished more easily than with other types of lace patterns.