Heirloom Knitting

Lace patterns are a wonderful way to gift someone with a piece of heirloom knitting. You can knit a baby blanket, a christening gown, a bonnet, or a shawl, and chances are the recipient of your gift will keep it forever, passing it down to future generations. And if you knit for yourself, you can use your beautiful lace creation and then pass it on when you're done, creating your own heirloom piece.

If you're new to knitting lace, you can still knit an heirloom! Here's a tutorial for you, and a free lace pattern to get you started.

The Building Blocks: Yarnovers and Decreases

Airy, light, and a bit mysterious—the delicate tracery of knitted lace is hard to resist. Even the simplest of lace patterns looks impressive and inspires admiration. But intricate as it may appear, knitted lace is simply a fabric punctuated with deliberate openings that can be arranged in a myriad of ways to create patterns that range from basic to complex.

The wonderful thing about knitted lace is that in spite of its apparent intricacy, it follows a simple logic. The openings are created by special increases called yarnovers, and each yarnover is accompanied by a compensating decrease. Once you understand how yarnovers and decreases work together, you'll be on your way to mastering the vast array of lace patterns.

Easy Lace Pattern to knit!
Directions at left.

A yarnover is a stitch made by a loop or strand of yarn placed on the right-hand needle as you work. On the return row, this loop is worked as you would any other stitch; once knitted, it leaves a small opening in the knitting.

Each yarnover is counted as an increase of one stitch. Every yarnover is paired with a decrease that may immediately precede or follow the yarnover, appear several stitches away from the yarnover in the same row, or even be worked on a later row. The decreases used in lace knitting are standard: k2tog, ssk, and any of the several kinds of double decreases. The specific kind of decrease to use in any lace pattern is spelled out in its instructions.

A good way to see how yarnovers and decreases work together is to knit a sample pattern. In pattern #1, the yarnover is made between two knit stitches and is worked as follows: after knitting the stitch before the yarnover, bring the yarn forward between the needle tips. When you knit the next stitch, bring the yarn up and over the right-hand needle to the back of the work again, ready to knit the next stitch (see Figure 1, below). The strand that travels over the top of the needle is the yarnover, and it counts as one stitch.

Easy Lace Pattern

With size 8 needles and fingering yarn (or any yarn and a pair of larger-than-usual needles), loosely cast on 27 stitches (or any multiple of 9 stitches, the stitch repeat). You may find it helpful to place markers between each 9-stitch repeat.

Row 1: (RS) *K2, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k2; rep from * to end of row.
Rows 2, 4, 6: (WS) Purl.

Figure 1. Yarnover increase

Row 3: *K1, k2tog, yo, k3, yo, ssk, k1; rep from * to end of row.
Row 5: *K2tog, yo, k1, yo, sl 2 as if to k2tog, k1, pass sl sts over, yo, k1, yo, ssk; rep from * to end of row.
Repeat Rows 1–6 for pattern.

After you have knitted a few repeats of the pattern, finish with Row 6 of the repeat and bind off loosely. Pin out the swatch, stretching it so that the pattern formed by the holes is clearly visible. Then steam the swatch.

How to Read a Chart

Instructions for knitted lace are often presented in chart form. Charts offer a graphic representation of the front or right side of the pattern. The chart here shows a visual picture of the lace pattern repeat given in the written instructions above. Each line of the chart represents a row of the stitch pattern. Each square represents a stitch. The chart is read from bottom to top, and RS rows are read from right to left, in the same direction as one normally knits.

The first stitch on the left-hand needle as you're ready to begin a row corresponds to the first square in the bottom right-hand corner of the chart. Notice how wrong-side rows have no patterning; they are rest rows. The symbol key tells what to do for each stitch; for example, a plain square represents a knitted stitch and a circle represents a yarnover. A right-slanting line represents k2tog and means that you knit the stitch that corresponds to the k2tog square with the stitch to the left of it.

Chart for Easy Lace Pattern

Note that in this lace pattern, the chart shows that the number of stitches stays the same in each row-for every yarnover, there is a corresponding decrease, and vice versa. On Row 1, the right slanting k2tog decrease is paired with the yarnover that follows it, and the left-slanting ssk decrease is paired with the yarnover that precedes it. On Row 5, the center double decrease (sl 2 as if to k2tog, k1, pass sl sts over) decreases two stitches, and the yarnovers made on each side of the decrease add two stitches to compensate. (You might find it easier to download this pattern as a PDF so you can print it out).

Preventing Mistakes

Practicing a few good habits will make it easy to work even the trickiest lace pattern.

  • Be sure that you can easily read and keep your place in the instructions. Enlarge charts and, if necessary, transcribe texts or charts into terminology or symbols that work for you.
  • Use a magnetic strip, ruler, or Post-it just above the row you are working. Doing so helps your eyes focus on that row while it allows you to check previously knitted rows as a reference point.
  • Create good working conditions: increase lighting, minimize distractions, and avoid knitting when you are tired.
  • Check your work often: count stitches, use markers liberally, and visually compare your knitting against any available charts and sample photographs.
  • Read the pattern out loud as you work through the pattern the first few times. Simultaneous seeing, hearing, and doing can be helpful.

—Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer, from Interweave Knits, Summer 2006

Isn't that lace pattern gorgeous? You could make it into a scarf, large rectangular shawl, or a baby blanket. And I promise, you can do it; it really is easy!

Learn all about working incredible lace knitting in our video, Start Knitting Lace, with Heather Zoppetti. It's the perfect workshop for beginning lace knitters, or those who haven't knitted lace in awhile and migh want a refresher course.

Download Start Knitting Lace today (or order the DVD) so you can cast on a knitted heirloom!


P.S. Are you a lace knitter? Leave a comment and share a tip that's made lace knitting easier for you!

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