10 May 2020

A Few Words About Lace in General

Galina Khmeleva's Russian lace class was not the only lace class I took at Georgia FiberFest in 2017. I also took a class called "Introduction to the History, Methods, and Styles of Lace Knitting" from Franklin Habit. Franklin talked about the various traditions including Shetland, Orenburg, and Estonian. In the class handouts he included charts of a motif typical for each tradition.

I keep notebooks of the handouts from the many classes I've taken. It is often useful to have swatches with those handouts. So, I decided to knit up samples from Franklin's class. The process got me thinking about lace in general.

First off, there is sometimes a distinction between lace knitting and knit lace:

knitted lace = action on both right side and wrong side
lace knitting = action on right side; mindless wrong side

Also, some laces are stockinette-based (knit on right side, purl on wrong side) and some are garter-based (knit on both sides). Garter tends to be bumpier, especially in large yarns. Traditions that use garter knit lace usually use a very fine thread worked at an open gauge, which naturally de-emphasizes the bumpy texture. On the other hand, garter stitch is reversible and lies flat without blocking. Stockinette has a flat right side but a bumpy wrong side. And stockinette curls. Many stockinette-based patterns will have a border of garter stitch to counteract the curl. For fun, I knit up the Shetland Tree Diamond in acrylic yarn using all four options.

Shetland Tree Diamond chart

This is a pattern that utilizes left-leaning and right-leaning decreases. It has a double-decrease down the center and a purl wale down the center as well. (I am shocked at how that purl wale doesn't look like a purl wale in my samples.)

There are four ways of working from this chart:

garter knit lace
The garter knit lace is a little squat. Remember, this is acrylic yarn. I can't block it open the way I might with wool. The shape looks more like a shrub than a tree. And the garter stitch around the lace wants to pull down vertically, making the lace motif seem taller than the surrounding background. If this were worked in fine yarn at an open gauge, those problems would disappear. Having action rows on both side in garter stitch is how this motif would traditionally be worked in Shetland.

stockinette knit lace

stockinette knit lace, wrong side

The stockinette knit lace is not quite as squat as the garter knit lace. The lace motif wants to be taller than the surrounding stockinette background. But in this fabric, the lace motif pushes forward in sculptural relief. (This is part of why the wrong-side view is slightly out of focus, as the fabric pushed up off the scanner.) You would need to work in a loose gauge to be able to block this open in wool, but it might block close to square. Interestingly, I found both the right side and wrong side of the motif to be different but pretty.

Both the garter knit lace and the stockinette knit lace were more difficult to work than the lace knits. The array of yarn overs close together means working decreases into yarn overs from the immediately preceding row. It is awkward. More than once I somehow lost a yarn over and had to tink back a row and try again. But, it may be why both sides of the motif look okay in stockinette knit lace — working decreases into the yarn overs makes the purl bumps less bumpy?

garter lace knit

garter lace knit, wrong side

The garter lace knit is fairly square. Right away, this was much easier to work with that mindless knit-all wrong-side row. The pattern is close to square. The central spine is not as pretty as on the first two swatches. And the bumpiness of garter stitch is somehow more evident. I am thinking if I hadn't bothered with the purl wale down the center, I would have liked this better. And while the bumpiness is a little bothersome, it also looks a little like a beaded trellis on the right side. Once again, the wrong side looked surprisingly nice. I'm think that's due to the lacy nature of this pattern, rather than a feature of this type of lace knitting.

stockinette lace knit

The stockinette lace knit has a nice, crisp right side. Interestingly, the motif is taller than it is wide. You need to stretch the fabric width-wise to block the motif square. Unlike the lace knit versions, this motif generally stays within the plane of the background stockinette, rather than trying to push forward into relief. The wrong-side row was mindless purling. Of course, if your knit and purl tension are different, this can quickly lead to obvious rowing-out. An advantage of stockinette lace knitting is that it looks nice even at a larger gauge with sock-weight or even worsted-weight yarn. This is probably why myriad shawl patterns in sock yarn are written in stockinette-based lace, The right-side action rows produce a pretty pattern, while the wrong-side purl rows are mindless. And since there is always a row in between each action row, you never end up trying to decrease into a yarn over still on the needles.

If you are designing lace patterns, I suggest giving this experiment a try with a favorite motif. You may be surprised by what you get!

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