Adventure in an Old Book, Part Three
When I finished the collar I realized I was not quite finished with Elvina Corbould’s “Wheat-ear Pattern” from The Lady’s Knitting-Book, Second Series. You know how it goes. You think you’ve got hold of an idea, but really it has got hold of you.
Up In Your Face with Knitted Lace
I am absolutely fascinated by the basic structure of knitted lace fabric and can talk about it for hours, which is one reason people stay away from me at parties.
It’s so simple, yet so infinitely variable. Look closely. You have solid bits
and you have holes.
The holes are most often yarn overs, and a yarn over is more than a design element; it’s also an increase. Yarn over, and your stitch count grows by one.
Unless the eyelets in a lace pattern are being used to shape the knitting, each yarn over is balanced by a corresponding decrease somewhere in the neighborhood.
If this were not so, things could get out of hand very quickly.
As we saw in part one of this adventure, decreases placed well away from their yarn overs can make fun stuff happen within the motif. In the case of the Wheat-ear Pattern, that means rippled rows and scalloped edges.
It follows that if we move the decreases to other parts of the fabric, there will be corresponding changes. And from those changes we can learn more about how lace fabric works, and possibly even derive new lace motifs.
This excites me.
Dream of Wheat
Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to start with the original pattern
and leave the yarn overs exactly where they are, but remove all the decreases.
Then we’re going to put the decreases back again–but in different places. And we’ll see what, if anything, happens.
So that we can focus entirely on changes that come from the chart, we’ll be using the same yarn (Hikoo® Simplicity) and the same needles (addi® Click Interchangeables, size US 4/3.5 mm) as in the past two installments.
This is a wonderful way to learn how to design your own motifs. It also makes a terrific party game, if you’re at the sort of party where you’re home all by yourself because nobody wants to be in the room with you when you’re talking about knitted lace.
Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that the lace pattern for Frumentum had diverged from Corbould’s original.
I removed line 9 of the chart, which had no patterning, to maximize the amount of swerve going on in the fabric.
I also replaced Corbould’s left-leaning single decrease–
Slip 1 stitch as if to purl. Knit the following stitch. Pass the slipped stitch over it.
with a modern left-leaning decrease, the slip-slip-knit (ssk). Slip-slip-knit is our gift from the legendary Barbara Walker, who developed it as a more perfect mirror image of the right-leaning knit two together (k2tog) single decrease.
I most often use the variation of slip-slip-knit developed by two other knitting legends, mother-daughter yarn titans Elizabeth Zimmermann and Meg Swansen:
Slip 1 stitch as if to knit. Slip the next stitch as if to purl. Return both stitches to the left needle and knit them together through the back.
These changes are small, and don’t result in a pattern much different from the original. If you weren’t looking for differences you probably wouldn’t notice any.
Now we’re going to shift the decreases in rounds 1–7 so that they’re closer to the yarn overs, but still not adjacent. And for the ducks of it, we’re going to replace the single decreases in the middle of rounds 9-15 with a single line of double decreases right down the center.
Here’s my favorite double decrease. It gives a symmetrical, upright cluster of three stitches rather than the right-leaning bundle you get with knit three together (k3tog). In fine or slippery yarns, it’s also easier to work without dropping stitches.
One at a time, slip 2 stitches from the left to the right needle as if to knit. Knit the next stitch. Slip the first 2 stitches (separately or together) over the knitted stitch.
The result is a fabric in which biased areas now alternate with unbiased–an interesting textural effect.
And the edge is still scalloped, but not quite so deeply.
Can we get rid of the scallop entirely? I think we can. All we need to do is eliminate all early and delayed decreases, like this.
Now every decrease occurs immediately before or after a corresponding yarn over. The result:
Huh. Well, it doesn’t knock my socks off; but it’s certainly different. It might be cool to fill in those blank stretches between the upright motifs with smaller, perhaps floral, motifs.
And if we want to try that, why not give ourselves as many stitches as possible between the upright motifs. How could we do that? Like this.
Now each pair of yarn overs is balanced with a double decrease between.
This gives us something very similar to the previous swatch, though the stitches up the center of each motif now stand up (being bundles of three). That might be a nice textural touch (especially in heavier yarns) or you might hate it.
The lovely thing about designing your own lace variations is that you decide what works or doesn’t.
Let’s get really wild. We’re going almost back to the original chart, but we’re going to make one sneaky change. See it?
Note the row numbers. Until now, the uncharted even rows have all been worked in plain old purl.
Now we’ve eliminated those plain rows completely. We’re going to work only the patterned rows–a technique known to knitters of Shetland lace as “close working.”
To do this, you must work every row in the chart beginning where you see the number–so odd rows are read and worked right to left, and even rows are read and worked left to right.
Also, to keep the fabric in stockinette, we need wrong-side purl versions of our left- and right-leaning decreases. Therefore…
For k2tog, use purl two together (p2tog).
For ssk, do this:
One at a time, slip 2 stitches as if to knit from the left needle to the right needle. Return these 2 stitches to the left needle and then, after making sure the working yarn is on the near side of your work, purl the two slipped stitches through the back.
It sounds a bit awkward, and it is at first; but with some practice it becomes quite simple.
We’ve seen that early and delayed decreases cause bias in the fabric. We’ve seen that the closer they are to one another, the more pronounced the bias. Now, working them on every row, we should being seeing that effect amped up to max volume.
I got so into knitting this version that it would have been well on its way to a finished scarf if I hadn’t forced myself to bind it off and block it so you could see it today.
I could, and probably will, go on…but our next adventure is already under way. In fact, it’s right here on the work table at my elbow, screaming for attention.
See you in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
addi® Clicks interchangeable needles, size US 4/3.5mm.
About Franklin Habit
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His next book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book will be published by Soho Publishing in June 2016.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.