How to tell when a pattern is easy and when it's hard: You can't tell by looking. You can tell by knitting ye old swatch, and sometimes by other knitters' comments. Remember what's easy for some is hard for others. The hardest patterns for me are the ones where there is just a little change in the order of yarn overs and decreases.
For the really brave - it is possible to design your own lace patterns. The basic rule of patterns applies: anything you do over and over again is a pattern, but some of the results are prettier than others. For people who want to design lace that actually looks like something - a flower, a tree, a wave, a swirl, - the simplest description for designing your own lace is place the holes where you want them, then work out the surrounding decreases and plain sections. Pay attention to which way the corresponding decreases lean and where they are, because that will enhance or hide the flow of the holes. Here again, charting is your friend. Having charted your piece you can see how it flows, and where it doesn't. There are whole books written on this subject.
A sampler scarf for Beginning Lace Knitting - with explanations
Sampler patterns - all taken from Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns
Lace trellis 1. (Produces a right bias.)
Row 1. K1,*yo, k2tog; rep from *, end k1
Row 2. purl
Repeat these two rows 10 times
Lace trellis 2. (Produces a left bias.)
Row 1. K1, *ssk, yo; rep from *, end k1.
Row 2. purl.
Repeat these two rows 10 times
Knit two ridges of garter. When knitting the second ridge, increase one stitch somewhere along the way, for a total of 25 stitches to accomodate our next two patterns. Since this next pattern starts on the wrong side, knit an extra row, and purl across the back as row 1.
Knit two ridges of garter stitch.
Repeat these 32 rows twice.
Knit two ridges of garter stitch.Go back to Razor Shell, for 10 repeats, 2 ridges garter, remembering to decrease a stitch somewhere in the two ridges,to Lace Trellis 2 for 10 repeats, 2 ridges garter, to Lace Trellis 1 for 10 repeats two ridges garter, and to Basic Fagotting for 20 repeats and the same number of ridges you did at first.
Finishing your piece:
When you have finished knitting your lace, there is yet more to go. You may choose to do a few rows of edging or a long fringe to make the piece look smoother and more elegant. You will at least work in the ends and wash and block the piece.
My advice is to plan your piece so as to avoid having to sew a seam in lace. If you really have to sew a seam, put a little stretch of plain stockinette or garter where the seam will go. Sewing a good seam in plain knitting is hard enough.
Working in the ends:
Ends should have been left 3 or so inches long for working in. Work in the ends using a yarn needle, or the gadget that looks like a giant needle threader, that slides through the stitches and grabs the yarn end and pulls it through. Lace yarn is so fine it is not usually necessary to split the plies, but you can if you want to. When you have run the yarn strand through, stretch the yarn a little to see where the end ends up before you snip off the extra. If an end pokes through the front, pull it to the back where it belongs, then run it in again.
Use a mild shampoo without a lot of perfumes and conditioners in them, such as a baby shampoo. You can use products advertised for wool, like Woolite, but they aren't any better than shampoo. Use plenty of warm water to rinse the soap out. Do not rub, scrub or wring the finished product. Squeeze as much of the water out as possible with your hands, then roll the scarf inside a towel and walk on the towel to squeeze out more water. If you are going to block it, block it wet.
What blocking will do:
Unblocked lace has been described as looking like panty hose just out of the package - nothing like its eventual shape and size. Blocking will cause the stitches to first stretch and then relax against each other, smoothing the appearance of the knitting and averaging out the size of the stitches. It is almost essential to block lace to make it look like it's really lace. Depending on the stitch pattern used, the piece may become much bigger when blocked. So if it looks like the piece is too small, but you really did get the gauge, and you really did knit the full number of rows, try blocking before you panic. Blocked pieces will gradually draw in on themselves, even without washing, so plan on blocking them again in a couple of years.
What blocking won't do:
Blocking won't fix major errors in sizing or gauge. It won't fill holes. It won't have any effect at all on acrylic and suchlike yarns, and not a lot of effect on cottons or silk. It won't make something that is too big smaller. It won't fix a really crooked seam or a warped shape.
How to Block:
Wash the lace piece, if you haven't already, or soak it in cold water, squish most of the water out, roll in a towel and squish more until it's no longer dripping wet. While the garment is still wet pin it out to a large thing that can be pinned to and left alone for a day or two. Examples are: the bedspread or the carpet in a guest bedroom, a large heavy piece of cardboard such as seamstresses use for a cutting board, or a piece of cloth stretched tight on a frame. Use t-pins. You can buy t-pins in sewing supply stores. Some knitting supply companies sell blocking wires, which are wires of varying thickness and lengths. You run these through the edges of a garment and only pin it in a few places. The wires even out the stretch and simplify the pinning, but aren't really necessary for someone beginning in lace.
Start by pinning out the main body of the scarf. If it's a rectangle or a square, and you know how long it will be, use a measuring tape to help you pin the corners out to the right length. Then pin at intervals along the edge. Some motifs may need to be stretched more than others in the same piece. You do not have to be excruciatingly exact, however, since when it is dried and unpinned, the piece will settle a bit more and tend to even out. If the piece dries out while you are still working with it, a plant mister can be used. For the last step, stand back and look at it and see if it looks pretty generally even. If someting looks stretched too tight, release it a little, if too loose, tighten it up. Then go away and leave it alone for a couple of days. Have a cup of coffee, relax, read a book.... Two or three days later, come back to it, pull the pins out, give it a good shake, and admire it.
Weak places or dropped stitches
While you are pinning out the piece, be on the lookout for weak spots or strained places in the knitting. Help these out by taking some of the strain off with pins, and if necessary by a little discreet defensive sewing with a bit of the original yarn. This is the best solution to finding a dropped stitch or yarn over, which is usually due to splitting a stitch which later broke. Hook the stitch row by row up to where it belongs, or where it disappears into the pattern with a suitable sized crochet hook and take a quick sewing stitch with the yarn on a sewing needle to hold it in place, then work in the loose ends.
Tips for Trouble Avoidance
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