Beginners, Cast Off Those Training Wheels!

Milanese_longerLately, I have met several people who, seeing me knit Linda Marveng’s Milanese Shawl, stroke the beautiful yarn (Anzula’s Cloud), and admiring the pattern, say, “Oh, I could never do that.  I knit but not with little needles like you’re using!”  (I’m using US2.)  Hmmm, with that attitude, children would never stop using training wheels on their bikes!

Since its release in 1998, my favorite book on knitting lace has been Martha Waterman’s “Traditional Knitting Lace Shawls.”  TraditionalLaceShawlsI think it is an excellent introduction to lace knitting.  Martha’s book is small and easy to carry or sit up in bed and read.  It provides a wonderful overview of the history of lace knitting.  One chapter covers shaping shawls (rates of increases, top-down, bottom-up, knitting square shawls and round shawls, circles and half-circles, rectangles and squares, working from the center versus working from the edge, etc.).  Other sections include care and maintenance of shawls and even drawings of various ways to wear shawls.  Martha has included several pages of (graphed) stitch patterns and, at the end, several projects with instructions and pictures that – oddly enough – use line-by-line written instructions (i.e., no graphs).

I think many knitters are nervous about laceweight lace (compared to knitting lace patterns with heavier yarns), because the finished patterns look both delicate and complicated.  But remember, all knitting is based on only two stitches: (1) knit, and (2) its backside, purl.  Lace’s delicate and complicated appearance comes from a manipulation of those stitches with knitting multiple stitches together and creating holes using yarn overs in a systematic way in repeatable patterns.

A few hints for your first lace project:

1.  Select a lace pattern for a small project.  Not only can you can carry it with you, you won’t feel tired of knitting it or wonder if the dratted thing will ever end.  Best of all, you can splurge on a single skein of luxurious lace yarn because that’s all you will need.

2.  Choose a project with a fairly short pattern and row repeat.  This allows you to get the feel of knitting lace without feeling as though you’re losing your mind.  It makes counting easier (because it’s shorter), and if you have to rip out a section – well, it is far less disheartening.

3.  Select a lace pattern where the actual pattern is knit on one side of the fabric; the reverse side is either garter stitch or purl.  That gives the knitter a bit of a breather.  A true lace pattern (such as the one I’m knitting now), has patterned knitting on both sides.

4.  Make sure you use a good needle; it will make all the difference in the world.  (I am partial to Addi’s Turbo Lace Needles, but there are other excellent needles.)

Closeup of Milanese Shawl Pattern in "Cloud"

Closeup of Milanese Shawl Pattern in “Cloud”

5.  Choose a light yarn.  It is harder to see your stitches with dark yarn.

6.  Pick a yarn with a great “hand” or feel.  Avoid slippery synthetic novelty yarns and hairy yarns like mohair.  I also suggest avoiding angora; you risk felting if your hands sweat.

7.  If you are nervous about the prospect of ripping out a pattern repeat, you can put in a lifeline.  On the first row of a pattern repeat, run a piece of dental floss through the loops.  (Each time you knit the first row of the repeat, take out the dental floss from below and run it through the “new” first row.)  Then if something goes horribly wrong and you want to unravel a pattern repeat, you don’t have to worry about unraveling “too far.”

Warning:  Lace knitting – and buying skeins of laceweight luxurious fibers – can be quite addictive.

Any hints others would like to add?! 

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15 Responses to Beginners, Cast Off Those Training Wheels!

  1. Dental floss: The lace knitter’s version of tailor’s chalk! 🙂 >


  2. fabrickated says:

    This is very interesting. Thank you ( especially the dental floss).


  3. Yes indeed – or even worse – the dreaded full-sized afghan! (Remember the crocheted blanket in the film “Hot Water for Chocolate” that kept getting larger and ever larger over the years!?)


  4. Great advice! I think it is sad that so many beginner knitters get stuck in scarfs and hats, only to become bored and dispirited. Throwing yourself in to something new, beautiful and a little bit challenging ensures you will have the knitting bug for a lifetime.


  5. cleo14 says:

    So true. Thanks!


  6. itwasjudith says:

    I haven’t tried a full blocking on a large item yet, but having seen what other knitters went through to get the fab results, it’s good that the Milanese Shawl only asks for a light steaming 😉
    Nice item!


  7. Yes, you are right. I forgot to mention blocking! (Perhaps because I am enjoying the process of knitting Linda Marveng’s Milanese shawl … and she told me that blocking will not be necessary for that lace pattern – just a steaming!) And thank you for suggesting this pattern. I will have to take a peek at it. 🙂


  8. Carina says:

    Very useful tips – thank you! I wish I had read anything like that before knitting my first lace. I have one more tip though: for the most part lace only shows its beauty after (!) blocking. So keep on knitting even though it looks crumbled and uneven – it’s almost always worth it.
    As a scarf for beginners (easy to knit and stunning result) I would like to suggest the “Easy Lace Stole” ( by Arlene.


  9. Yes, that’s a good point. Generally a good, proper blocking is necessary. Linda Marveng – who designed the Milanese Shawl I’m currently working on – told me that that pattern doesn’t require a full blocking … just a light steaming. (Nice!)


  10. I got the dental floss hint from a great lace knitter who passed it to me from someone she took classes with … spread the word! 🙂


  11. The good thing about knitting on size 2 is that undoubtedly the yarn you’ve chosen will work great with that size! And keep in mind how great your finished project will look – delicate but strong. 🙂


  12. cleo14 says:

    Great tips! I’m about to cast on a pair of fingerless glove on teeny needles (US 2 I think…). This was just the post I needed.


  13. Pingback: Demon and Self-Striping Yarn | The Knitter Nerd

  14. Marie says:

    Fabulous tips……love the dental floss!! Knitted shawl looks amazing. Thanks for sharing.


  15. itwasjudith says:

    Thanks for the great advice 🙂
    I just started my first lace proper item and although requires a lot of attention, it is satisfying and hopefully will come out beautifully.
    Another important part of lace knitting, it’s a proper blocking, and how much hard to block the item in order to achieve the best result.


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