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Thank you all so much for joining us for our first official KAL! We hope you learned a lot this summer about the joy and satisfaction of lace knitting, while also adding a few tricks to your technical toolkit.

We’ve included a few highlights from your project shares below, though there’s so much more beautiful work to see on the #BTLaceKAL17 and #BrooklynTweedKAL tags, we hope you’ll go have a look. While our KAL is officially ending, if you haven’t finished your project yet, don’t fret! We’ll keep following along as more projects continue to flow from your needles throughout the rest of summer and into fall. Thanks again to everyone who participated and made this such a fun summer of knitting!

From left to right, top to bottom: Bohochicfiberco, Websterstreetknittery, Mllemichl, Natalieservant, Minib, The_other_emily

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Sometimes questions don’t arise until a project is well underway. Today we’ve selected a few different queries that have come up for folks during the course of their lace knitting journey. Our hope is that today’s final Q&A post answers will be helpful no matter where you’re at in your own lace project.

Q: I’m not ready to knit from a chart quite yet, but I want to knit a garment that only has charted instructions. Is there a way to write out the charted instructions?

A: Once you learn how to read a chart, you can translate the chart into written instructions. The example chart below is written for a piece that is knit flat (there is a right side and a wrong side of the fabric). We’ve described how to read a chart here, but the important things to remember are that charts are read from the bottom row, up and from Right to Left on the odd numbered rows (RS of fabric) and Left to Right on the even numbered rows (WS of fabric). If you are working on a chart in the round, all rows are read from Right to Left.

Each box in a chart accounts for 1 stitch. If there is a stretch of the same kind of stitch/symbol (i.e. 3 knit stitches in a row) you’d want to write them as one step. For example: Knit 3 (K3) versus writing out each individual stitch (Knit 1, Knit 1, Knit 1). This will make your knitting much faster as you won’t have to read instructions for each individual stitch. When knitting lace, you will complete increases and decreases in the same row to create the decorative pattern but maintain the same stitch count. (One benefit of reading charts is that you can see how stitches align vertically row over row, which makes it easier to catch a misplaced decrease or yarn over.)

To translate the chart below, review the Legend to familiarize yourself with the symbols and start with Row 1.

 

These written instructions correspond to the chart above:

Row 1: YO, K3, SSK, K4, P1.
Row 2: K1, P9
Row 3: K2, YO, K3, SSK, K2, P1
Row 4: K1, P9
Row 5: K4, YO, K3, SSK, P1
Row 6: K1, P9

 

Q: In addition to picking up stitches at a regular interval between ridges, are there any tricks for making sure you pickup stitches evenly along a long row of knit edging, such as with Bridgewater?

A: A technique that makes it easier to ensure your stitches have been picked up evenly and that you have the correct amount of stitches when you’re done is to measure the length of the piece and place stitch markers at even intervals along the fabrics edge. The interval will depend on how many stitches you have to pickup. Generally, it’s a good idea to place a marker every 1-2 inches. Divide the total number of stitches you need to pickup by the number of sections you’ve created. When you start to pickup the stitches, do so at a rate that will allow you to pickup that number by the time you reach the next stitch marker.

Q: Is there a difference between nupps and bobbles?

A: There is! Nupps are an Estonian technique that forms a small bump in the knitted fabric which is made by knitting into the same stitch repeatedly with yarnovers between each knit. Five- or seven-stitch nupps are usual; you could go higher, but bear in mind that on the subsequent row the nupp is closed by purling all of those stitches together. (The trick is to make those knits and yarnovers very loose, really pulling the right needle tip back from the fabric.) There’s more than one way to make a bobble, and they can be stockinette or garter based, but most methods have you knit into the front and back of the same stitch several times to create four or five stitches out of one. Then you turn and work multiple rows back and forth on only the bobble stitches to create a little pouch of fabric before binding off the extra stitches to return to your original stitch count and carry on knitting the row.

Nupps sometimes need to be coaxed to the right side of the fabric and give a subtler effect than bobbles – especially as they’re traditionally worked as a decorative element for cobweb-weight lace shawls.

 

Q: Is there a way to even out my decreases?

A: Typically tension will have the biggest effect on how the decrease lays on the finished fabric. After completing the decrease, insert your needle into the next stitch and gently pull the working yarn to tighten the decrease.  If you are experiencing this issue with a left leaning decrease, following our instructions for a modified SSK might help. To do so, Slip 1 stitch knitwise from L to R needle, replace stitch on L needle in new orientation then knit 2 stitches together through the back loops. Practicing the decreases on a swatch may also help you find the correct amount of tension before working on your garment. Also, keep in mind that knitting by hand can produce some imperfections and that’s quite alright — in fact, it’s part of the process and joy of making things by hand.

 

Q: How do you continue to pick up edge stitches if your blocking wire isn’t long enough?

A: Simply start picking up stitches with a new wire and you’ll be good to go! We recommend leaving at least a few inches of space on either end of your blocking wire in case you need to stretch out the fabric further while laying it out on the blocking mat. When pinning your wires to the blocking surface, be sure to place 1 or 2 pins at the point where two wires cross to keep them firmly in place.

 

Q: What type of surface should I block on? Where can I get the blocking board that BT uses?

A: Sadly the blocking boards that we use seem to no longer be in production, but there are many good alternatives available. The most frequently used product are called blocking mats. They are pieces of foam cut in a jigsaw formation that can be connected to accommodate the shape of your project. If the piece is very large, you can use your mattress or a clean carpeted floor. We’ve also heard of people using ironing boards for smaller projects.

If you knit a lot of hap, or pi shawls and like to build your own tools, you might consider making a stretching frame. These frames were traditionally used for blocking Shetland hap shawls. Kate Davies provides excellent instructions on how to make one at home on her blog.

 

Q: How do I weave in my ends invisibly in lace?

A: It’s best to leave long tails and weave in your ends after you have blocked your final piece. The best practice for lace is to weave in an end following the pattern as closely as you can on the wrong side of the fabric. Be sure to check your work on the right side frequently to make sure the yarn isn’t showing through the fabric. After the ends have been weaved in, gently stretch the fabric to ensure the woven in strand has the same tension as the knitted piece, and then cut the tail as close to the work as possible.

 

Q: I completed my first lace shawl and am feeling really confident, what’s a good second lace project?

A: After you have mastered the basics of lace knitting, you’ll have plenty of pattern choices available to you. Patterns that utilize multiple charts, or a larger repeat of a single chart, are a good option for a second lace pattern. We recommend Girasole, Quill and Ravine for your next project. You can also find our catalog of lace projects with an Intermediate skill level here.

Though our Summer of Lace KAL will soon be coming to an end, we continue to welcome questions about lace knitting at any time, feel free to also share with us what you’ve learned here in the comments. And don’t forget to share your projects with us on Ravelry and Instagram with #BrooklynTweedKAL and #BTLaceKAL17!

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Blocking lace is one of the most transformative processes in knitting, one that surprises and delights us every time. After you’ve faithfully created a pool of open — and perhaps unruly — stitches in your favorite yarn, the moment you pull a crisply blocked sheet of wool off the board is satisfying for the soul. You may wish to call for an audience when you do the unpinning!

Today we outline our preferred lace-blocking process in hopes of helping you make the most of your knitting time and cross the finish line with a stunning piece of lace.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1.) Rust-proof T-pins (the rust-proof part is important, as the pins will be exposed to moisture during the drying process and rust stains would be permanently visible on your finished shawl).

2.) A set of stainless steel blocking wires. Wires come in a variety of weights: some are thin and flexible — perfect along shorter curved edges — while others are a bit more sturdy and work well along the straightaways of a scarf or stole.

3.) Rinseless wool wash or delicate dish detergent (optional, but recommended for best results).

If it’s your first time practicing these blocking techniques, we recommend trying them out on a swatch. It’s important to always block your swatch in the same manner you’ll block your finished project in order to ensure an accurate finished gauge.

Please note that our directions are specific to blocking pure wool. If you are knitting with a different fiber, please consult the manufacturer’s directions for proper handling.

First, wash your item

Our worsted-spun and woolen-spun wool yarns are dyed using different processes, so their care instructions vary slightly. Never place any wool item under running water as this motion may felt or full the wool.

For Arbor and Vale, our worsted-spun yarns dyed in the skein, fill a sink or basin with cool water and submerge the fabric, gently squeezing out any air bubbles so that the piece can remain under water without being held there.* Soak work for 10 minutes, allowing fabric to become completely saturated.

For our woolen-spun yarns that are dyed in the fleece, ShelterLoft and Quarry, submerge finished fabrics in warm water.* Gently squeeze the fabric to release air bubbles and soak fabric for 30 minutes or until well saturated.

*You may add a small amount of delicate dish soap or rinseless wool wash to the soaking water if you wish; if not rinseless, you will need to submerge the piece in clean water once or twice to remove the soap from your fabric.

Remove the lace from the sink or basin and squeeze out excess water from your work, taking care not to twist or wring fabric. Roll your fabric between clean, dry towels with light pressure to further remove moisture.

Shape and secure the lace

Find a location to block your lace item where it won’t be disturbed while it dries. Cover a clean area of carpet or mattress with a bedsheet, or pin into a fabric-covered board or matrix of foam tiles created especially for blocking. Cork wall boards can also keep the lace up and out of the way as it dries — plan on a second set of hands to help pin the item to a vertical surface.

Gently spread the damp item out into a rough approximation of the desired shape — square, rectangle, or triangle — by hand. Carefully run your blocking wires through the stitches at a short and regular interval along the edge. Be tender as you go; remember that wool is at its most vulnerable when wet. As you work, refer to the pattern’s schematic and measure from the center of the work if working on a symmetrical piece. If you are sizing up or down, keep the proportions in scale to the original. By practicing on a swatch, you can determine the best place to insert your wires to avoid unsightly gaps in the finished piece. In our example below, we skimmed the blocking wires through the right leg of each stitch in the row worked before the bind off to create the most even and straight finished edge.

Once you have inserted your blocking wires, place pins along the inside of each one at consistent intervals while stretching your item to the desired dimensions. It is helpful to insert each pin into the blocking surface at an angle — this will prevent the lace from popping off as it dries. When stretching and pinning your fabric to shape, use a tape measure to verify overall symmetry and finished dimensions of the project. Because wool will often spring back slightly from the blocked dimensions after unpinning, you may wish to block your finished shawl 5–10% larger than the listed finished dimensions to account for slight shrinkage after unpinning.

Alternatively, if you haven’t yet invested in blocking wires, you can run a thread through the the lace edging and hook the drawn thread over the pins. However, on an edge designed to be straight, do not simply pin without wires as this will create visible points at each pin.

For circular shawls, blocking wires are not suitable. Instead use pins along the outer perimeter, starting by blocking the four “compass points” (north, south, east, and west), then placing four additional pins, one each halfway between the four compass points. Continue in this manner, inserting pins at regularly spaced intervals around the shawl perimeter, to ensure symmetry in your final dimensions.

For a pointed or scalloped edging, use one pin per each point for a decorative effect as shown above.

A word to the wise

Fight the urge to overblock. Blocked wool has a memory and overblocking can permanently strain the wool fibers. If your unblocked gauge is significantly smaller than recommended, do not try to make that up in the blocking but rather block to an appropriate drape for the chosen yarn.

Let the lace dry completely before unpinning. Weave in ends after the item is completely dry. Over the next 24 hours you may find that your garment relaxes a bit, which is normal (see our tip above about blocking slightly larger than your target finished dimensions). Store your new treasure neatly folded to preserve the crispness of the blocked fabric (unless you are proudly wearing it, of course!). When properly stored and cared for, wool lace will hold a crisp blocking for months to come.

Feel free to share your questions or additional tips below in the comments. Happy lace blocking!

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Welcome to BT Backstage, a series of posts introducing some of the folks who bring our patterns and designs to the knitting public. Once the concept for a new design is sketched and swatched, the work begins to translate the designer’s vision into a knittable pattern. Robin Melanson, our Senior Tech Editor, has been the linchpin in this process since we began producing design collections in 2011. We talked with Robin about the demands of her job and the skill set that allows her to bring to life more than 60 patterns for Brooklyn Tweed each year.

BT: Let’s start with a bit about your background… how did you become a tech editor?

Robin: I started working in the knitting industry as a freelance designer way back in 2003. I have had many patterns published with magazines and yarn companies over the years, I published a book with STC Craft in 2008, and I’ve made knitted costumes for several stage musicals (including a Broadway show). Nearly all of my work as a technical editor has arisen from relationships I made as a designer with technical or creative editors working in the industry. People who were familiar with my work as a designer would ask if I was interested in editing, or when they found out I was editing, they would be happy to add me to their team. What they liked about my work was that I was submitting well-written, logical patterns with excellent math and very few errors. At the time I thought that all designers had those skills, but as it turns out that is not always the case. I enjoy the imaginative aspect of designing, but I also take a lot of pleasure in solving the technical puzzle of an unexpected detail. Basically, I’m a Velma — the nerd who figures stuff out — and it suits me to edit pretty much full-time. My clients include yarn companies, magazines, book publishers, yarn shops, and independent designers. I think my path is a fairly common one among tech editors.

BT: What do you think are the most important skills for a tech editor?

Robin: In addition to having a great amount of knitting knowledge, a tech editor must be skilled in language, math (including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and occasionally trigonometry), design, grading, spatial reasoning, logic… it’s a long list. Most tech editors must also use Adobe Illustrator, so some graphic design skills are required. We must be able to cut to the gist of a document, figure out what is really intended and how to say it in the most logical way, and be able to do so in a timely fashion because we don’t have unlimited budgets or flexible schedules in this industry. My educational background is academic and language focused; I earned an Honours BA from the University of Toronto with a double major in English and Celtic Studies. I am also an avid sewer (as an English major I can’t use the word “sewist”), which gives depth to my understanding of garment construction. Tech editors are inventive problem-solvers; accumulated experience is a valuable asset when someone comes up with something you’ve never seen before and you need to use your previous experience creatively. We also occasionally need to be the voice of reason.

BT: At what point in a pattern’s development do you get involved? What’s the route a pattern has to travel before it’s ready for publication?

Robin: For Brooklyn Tweed Design Team collections, after the designers have created their concepts and the layout of their sample sizes, I write and grade the patterns for them from the charts and swatches they have provided. I communicate with the sample knitters to resolve any problems that come up (although the designers also work with the same knitters frequently and discuss the sample amongst themselves as the work progresses). I re-edit the patterns after receiving feedback from the sample knitters and any finishing notes from the designer. Our counter editors work with me to identify problems not discovered earlier; this is an important step because if it’s me who is doing the initial work on the patterns, then we also need additional eyes to check my work. (It would be nice if I were 100% perfect 100% of the time, but alas I am not Borg!) The process is many months long from start to finish for any given collection.

BT: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Robin: Quality alone-time with my spreadsheets.

BT: Thanks for taking the time to introduce your work, Robin! We’ll let you get back to those spreadsheets for the Winter 18 collection!

Robin has also designed for Wool People — her Themis cardigan in Loft is ideal for transitional weather.

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Lace knitting has a rich tradition in many cultures worldwide. Place-specific histories, techniques and garments are especially present in Shetland and Estonian knitting. While there has been much written about lace knitting, there are a few books in particular that come to the forefront when we are looking for lace knitting inspiration. Many of the stitches found in these books are heirlooms which have been used for generations and are rare to find in print. We’d like to introduce you to a few of our favorite lace knitting books here.

Most of these recommended books contain a substantial section of stitch motifs. Stitch dictionaries such as these are filled with charted stitch patterns, which can be used for inspiration while designing your own patterns or to substitute a motif in an existing design. If you’d like to replace a motif in a pattern, simply find a stitch that has the same repeat count, or modify the stitch count, as needed.

The Haapsalu Shawl: A Knitted Lace Tradition from Estonia (2009) by Siiri Reimann and Aime Edasi details the history of Estonian lace knitting in great detail. In this book you will learn how these lace knittings traditions have been passed down from generation to generation as well as the techniques used to master this type of knitting. We find particularly helpful the schematic information about how the Haapsalu shawls and scarves are constructed. Using this construction information, along with the accompanying examples of stitches, you can design a project that’s all your own.

Omas Strickgeheimnisse (in English, Grandma’s Knitting Secrets) (2008) by Erika Eichenseer, Erika Grill, and Betta Krön is a German stitch dictionary bursting with inspiration and information. The beautiful charts, which follow the tradition of German knitting and feature 200 stitch patterns, make this book worth every penny!

We hold a special place in our hearts for Shetland knitting traditions, and Brooklyn Tweed has published many Shetland-inspired patterns over the years. The hap shawls Shetland is known for provide warmth, comfort, and a fascinating history. Love Darg Shetland Shawls Centenary 1910-2010 (2010) and  Shetland Hap Shawls: Then and Now (2006), both published by Heirloom Knitting and written by Sharon Miller, are two of the best resources we’ve found that share the interesting story of lace knitting in Shetland.

That said, if we had to choose just one book about Shetland lace knitting to recommend, it would be Heirloom Knitting: A Shetland Lace Knitter’s Pattern and Workbook (2002), also by Sharon Miller. The breadth of information in this book is astounding. Miller systematically breaks down all of the steps to knit Shetland lace and provides practical assistance in the book’s “Knitting Advice” sections. Regardless of your interest in actually knitting traditional Shetland lace, for its breadth of topic and as an historical resource, we recommend this book for any knitter’s library.

With the plethora of resources available, we encourage you to learn more about the art of knitting lace. As you read, what have you found to be particularly fascinating about the history of knitting lace?

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It’s been great fun seeing everyone’s KAL progress so far! We are excited to answer some common questions that have been asked about lace knitting. There will be another lace knitting Q&A blog post on August 4th, so be sure to keep your questions coming in the Ravelry Forum and in the comments section of our blog.

Q: Which part of my lace pattern should I swatch?
A: Some patterns don’t include gauge recommendations for a charted portion of a lace project. This is usually because lace can be very fluid and can stretch quite a bit when blocked, making gauge neither precise nor necessary for the success of a project. That said, making a swatch before casting on is a good opportunity to become familiar with the lace motifs in your chosen pattern before you have to keep track of them over (potentially) hundreds of stitches. We recommend knitting a few repeats from each chart, or, if not a pattern repeat, choosing a portion of the chart that you feel the least comfortable knitting. To determine how many stitches you should cast on for your swatch, check the gauge (if listed) and cast on more than the recommended stitches over 4″ that is a multiple of the stitch pattern repeat, plus a few extra on the sides for a stabilizing border. If gauge is not listed, cast on an approximate number of stitches that will allow you to work the pattern repeat (or your selected portion of the chart) enough times to yield a swatch of approximately 4″ in width, plus extra stitches for the stabilizing side borders. After knitting a few border stitches, you could then work directly from the repeated section of the lace chart, ending your row with additional border stitches.

Q: Is it possible to increase or decrease the size of a lace project? Can I just repeat the charts?
A: Yes, it is possible to change the finished size of a lace project, and there are a couple of ways to do it based on the shape and charts used within the pattern you’re working from. If the pattern is a rectangle, like Wool Leaves or Umaro, you can simply add or subtract repeats based on the number of stitches in the chart repeat. Patterns that are crescent-shaped, circular or triangular, for example, can be easily changed by adjusting gauge. You can do this either by using a different needle size or using a different weight of yarn. Be sure to knit a swatch to ensure you like the new fabric and to calculate the new yardage requirements you’ll need to finish your project!

Q: Will my lace project be the same size if I substitute laceweight yarn for fingering weight yarn?
A: Lace patterns, particularly those with a lot of openwork, are very adaptable during the blocking process so substituting yarn can produce a fabric that is similar in size to the original. Knitting a gauge swatch in the different weight of yarn is the best way to ensure the possibility of a close match in finished size.

Do note, however, that the finished fabric will look different if the yarn weight is adjusted. Laceweight fabric will be airier and less substantial than the same shawl worked in fingering weight yarn on needles of the same size, and fingering weight fabric will likely have less drape.

Q: Is there a way to keep track of where I’m at in a row without having to count so much?
A: You can use stitch markers to mark the beginning and end of repeats in most patterns. To account for the increase and decreases in a lace pattern, however, it may be the case that the stitch marker needs to be either adjusted every round or you’ll just need to remember that there may be an additional stitch in the repeat before or after the set stitch marker.

Learning how to read your knitting can also be very helpful when it comes to keeping track of where you’re at while knitting lace. An easy way to do it is to locate reference points in your knitting. For example, when looking at your chart try matching the YOs in the previous row in relation to where you are placing YOs in your current row of knitting.

Q: Are chart symbols the same for every pattern?
Designers use many different programs and their own systems to create charts, and they may have different preferences for symbols that are more or less detailed in representing exactly what’s happening to the stitches. Carefully reading the key for your chart is critical. Make sure to refer to the specific chart legend in your pattern to ensure that you’re performing the correct techniques for the given symbols.

Q: How important is gauge for something like a lace shawl?
A: Unlike garments, lace shawls aren’t fitted so matching the exact gauge listed in the pattern isn’t necessary for the success of your project. Typically the gauge listed for lace is more of a suggestion versus other types of garments. If you want your finished piece to match the dimensions listed in a schematic, then knitting a swatch and blocking it is the best way to know if you will reach the target size and shape.

If you’re new to lace shawl knitting, it would be safe to err on the side of swatching to ensure that you will enjoy the fabric you’re about to create. Once you’re more comfortable with knitting lace shawls, you might find that getting exact gauge is of less importance to you.

Q: I need to join a new ball of yarn in the middle of my lace pattern, how can I do this without making an obvious knot?
A: If you find yourself needing to join your new ball of yarn in the middle of a row, felt splicing works great for 100% wool yarns. The Russian Join technique, a staff favorite, is another way to join yarn without making a knot and allows a clean edge for the picking up of stitches for the next section of the piece. If you have enough yarn to finish your row, you could also join the new ball of yarn at the beginning of the next row and weave in the loose ends after blocking. 

Q: How do you work a yarnover at the beginning of a row?
A: If your first stitch is a knit stitch, simply bring the working yarn to the front, as if to purl. When you knit the first stitch, the yarn will have traveled over the needle and formed a yarnover. If your first stitch is a purl stitch, begin with the yarn in back, as if to knit. This technique is used in patterns such as Brora and Rock Island and allows a clean edge for the picking up of stitches for the addition of a border.

We hope you’ve found this Q&A segment helpful! Please keep sharing your projects with us using #BTLaceKAL17 and #BrooklynTweedKAL. You can read more about the BT Lace KAL here.

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And we’re off! Today’s the day to set those needles flying if you’re challenging yourself to start and finish a project during the 5 weeks of our knitalong… or keep forging ahead if you’re already at work on your lace. We’re thrilled so many of you are participating!

Remember to visit our Ravelry group KAL thread to post pictures and ask questions. We’ll do our very best to respond quickly to questions about knitting lace (others are welcome to chime in with answers!), and we’re also gathering material for a Q & A post next week that will cover a number of finer points. We’re excited to knit along with you and look forward to following your progress.

Share your progress on Ravelry, Facebook and Instagram with hashtags: #BTLaceKAL17 #BrooklynTweedKAL

Read our previous blog posts about the KAL here.

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At Brooklyn Tweed we are passionate about domestically sourced, dyed and spun breed-specific yarns as well as creating high-quality, wearable patterns for the handknitter. From sheep to skein, and beyond, we are committed to honoring the work of those who collaborate with us in their various roles. It is vitally important to us that all of our designers are compensated fairly for the life of their work in a way that acknowledges their time, creativity, and labor. By the same token, we hope to continually recognize all of the hard work put in by the Brooklyn Tweed team behind-the-scenes to make a pattern come to life.

To reaffirm our commitment to fair compensation for our pattern designers over the lifetime of their work, we have recently reassessed the 500 patterns currently in our pattern library and have made adjustments to some prices. We took many things into consideration when making these adjustments in an effort to reflect the ongoing work that goes into a pattern before and after its publication. In the spirit of transparency, we wish to use this opportunity to share with our knitting community the details behind our decision.

Pattern development includes the designer’s time as well as technical writing, editing, and proofing; sample knitting coordination and completion; styling and photography; graphic layout; and copywriting. Post-production, a pattern is continually tended to with ongoing efforts to improve layout, styling, re-gauging, and other technical elements. In essence, we approach the creation of a BT pattern with care and consideration and maintain our dedication to our patterns far beyond their debut.

Most importantly, we are here to support you through your project! Should you have any questions about BT yarns, patterns, or processes, feel free to reach out to our Customer Service Specialist. If you have cast-on and find yourself needing assistance with understanding directions or techniques in a BT pattern, our Pattern Support Specialist is also available to assist you via e-mail, free of charge. 

On behalf of our designers as well as the many people quietly working in the background to bring a pattern to your table, we are thankful for your continued support. Your ongoing validation of Brooklyn Tweed’s mission allows us to provide our shared knitting community with thoughtful and educational patterns that can be treasured for years to come.

Happy knitting!

 

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Once you’re feeling confident about your pattern choice, the fun begins: it’s time to gather your supplies and cast on a swatch!

Yarn 

Most regions of the world with strong lace-knitting traditions used a two-ply yarn for lace pieces because this balanced structure is the most receptive to opening up with blocking to reveal the openwork patterns. Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter, Loft, Vale, and Plains are all constructed on this principle. The worsted preparation of Vale and Plains lends extra strength to the yarn so it can better withstand a stiff blocking, and the smooth alignment of the fibers gives crisp definition to the stitches. Woolen-spun lace has a more rustic look and is perfect for projects with a cozy farmstead feel. We love Loft for Shetland-style haps in particular.

Needles

Most knitters find they prefer needles with sharper tips for knitting lace; it’s easier to insert such a needle tip through multiple stitches during complex decrease maneuvers. Many also like a bit of extra traction to help control their tension — wood or coated metal needles will grip the stitches more than slick aluminum. This isn’t to say you can’t knit lace on your usual needles with perfect success, but if you find yourself struggling to draw a loop through a k3tog or to keep your yarnovers consistent in size, trying a lace-specific needle may give you the extra control you need.

 

Extra Notions

When you’re establishing a lace pattern and can’t yet see the motifs taking shape, it can be helpful to place stitch markers at strategic points. Marking off every repetition of a large chart, or every few repetitions of a small one, can make it much easier to find a missed increase or decrease if your stitch count is off at the end of a long row. (If working in the round, don’t forget to use a visually distinctive marker at the beginning-of-round so you know when it’s time to progress to the next row of your chart.) Some lace knitters also like to use lifelines. A lifeline is a thin strand of non-sticky yarn, string, dental floss, or any other material you’ll easily be able to pull out later. It runs through all of the stitches in a single row so that you can rip back to that point without having to recapture hundreds of loose stitches in lace patterning. Some lace needles come with a little hole in the base of the needle above the cord so you can tie your lifeline through the hole and drag it through the stitches as you work. If your needle isn’t made this way, simply thread the lifeline on a darning needle and run it through the stitches while they hang on the needle cord. Whether and when to use lifelines is entirely a matter of personal preference and confidence. You can place one at regular intervals just to be safe; you can place one at a change in motifs when you’re sure the work is correct but feel anxious about the next section, or you can never use one at all and simply trust to your own skill and savvy.

Swatching & Blocking

Your pattern may call for multiple swatches in different fabrics, so give yourself plenty of time for the swatching phase. Counting stitches within a lace motif can be difficult. If your pattern reads, “25 stitches x 36 rows = 4” in lace pattern,” you can make your job easier by placing locking stitch markers on either side of 25 stitches and at the bottom and top of 36 rows while you’re working, then use these points to make your measurements when the swatch is finished. Proper blocking is essential for lace. Your work may look dishearteningly like a heap of ramen noodles when it’s fresh off the needles, but a good stretching will open up the motifs to reveal the beautiful design you’ve created.  Deciding how much to stretch your fabric is a matter of balancing your preferences, the designer’s intentions, and what the yarn is communicating about its needs. Using your stitch markers as a guide, you can judge whether to apply a little more or less tension. If the fabric is fighting back and you still can’t stretch your markers to 4” apart, you may need to try a new swatch on a larger needle. If you’re at 4” without stretching enough to really flatten out the fabric and open up the eyelets, you’ll need a smaller needle — or a sense of peace about having a shawl that’s larger than planned.

Most knitters use either T-pins or blocking wires to stretch their lace. Pins are perfect for designs with toothed edges, but will leave points where you don’t want them along a straight edge.  Blocking wires can be woven through the fabric all along the edge and then secured with pins to put the stitches under even tension everywhere, forming a perfectly even perimeter around your shawl. We’ll post a tutorial on our preferred blocking practices later in the KAL, but your swatch is a good place to get a feel for what you’ll be doing to the final piece.

Are you ready to cast on? We are! Only 5 more days until the KAL begins…

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By now you may have selected your pattern for the knitalong, or you may still be mulling over a few final contenders. We’ll provide you with some additional pattern suggestions throughout this blog post, in case you are searching for some inspiration.

Getting to know your pattern is an important first step toward lace knitting success. Take the time to read through the instructions and flag anything that seems potentially confusing or complicated at the outset. Once you’ve covered basics like necessary yardage and recommended needle size, here are some further points we recommend investigating before you even reach for your yarn and needles.

A lace shawl is a flat piece of knitting, usually in a geometric shape, but there are a surprising number of ways to build those triangles, circles and rectangles. Will you be casting on from a center point and working in the round with concentric increases? Knitting from one end to the other? Knitting from both ends toward the middle and grafting? Beginning with just a few stitches at the spine and increasing, or casting on the full length of one or more sides and increasing or decreasing to shape the shawl? Picking up stitches to work in another direction? Take a look at the schematic, if your pattern has one, to make sure you understand how your piece is going to take shape. At BT we use arrows to indicate the direction in which the fabric grows. Our Construction Notes section thoroughly describes how the work will proceed, too.

If your pattern is a garment, you’ll also want to study the construction. If there is shaping within the lace portions, now is a good time to check whether the designer has given instructions on taking added stitches into the lace pattern or what to do when you’ve worked a decrease and no longer have enough stitches to complete a repetition of the lace motif.

Left to Right: Shale Baby Blanket, Tetrapods, Lunette

Some lace patterns are easier to work than others. If you’re a lace beginner, you may want to stick with a small and
regular motif that requires lace maneuvers only on right-side (RS) rows.

Pi shawls can be a good way to start out; the work is in the round and you’re always looking at the right side, so it’s easier to read your knitting and notice if something has gone awry. Garments with shaping that interrupts the lace require a strong ability to “read” your knitting and make sure the motifs are continuing to align correctly as the stitch count changes.

Are the instructions written or charted? Make sure you’re comfortable reading the charts. If the work is flat, you’ll be reading from right to left on right-side rows and from left to right on wrong-side rows, just the way you knit. If your fabric is stockinette based, you’ll probably see that the chart legend includes symbols that mean something different on the RS and on the WS. If your lace includes anything but plain knitting or purling on the WS rows, make sure you understand the maneuvers the chart requires. A yarnover worked from the wrong side needs to be handled differently than one on the right side. WS decreases have to be worked to match the slant on the right side; don’t be surprised if you see an instruction like p2tog tbl. (NB: To purl stitches together through the back loop, you’ll need to swing your right needle around parallel to the left so you can go into the second stitch first.) If the piece is circular, you’ll always read the charts right to left, in the direction of your knitting.

Left to Right: Carpino, Stonecrop, Terra

If you will need to work from multiple charts simultaneously, this is a good moment to make photocopies or print out the relevant pages so you can cut and paste those charts into an alignment that won’t require you to leaf back and forth through the pattern. Many knitters like to tape the legend onto the same sheet as the charts if the page layout hasn’t allowed the designer to do so. Others like to enlarge the chart for easier reading; break out the highlighters to color code various maneuvers; or write marginalia that will help them track anything else that’s happening in the pattern, such as shaping in a sweater pattern. If you know you’ll be decreasing every 8th row for waist shaping, writing a note about that on Rows 8, 16, 24, etc. on the chart may help you remember. It’s easy to get caught up in the lace action and blow past additional instructions… and not much fun to rip back in order to fix errors.

We hope that covers all you’ll need to consider about your pattern before you begin, but leave questions in the Comments field and join our conversation in the Brooklyn Tweed Ravelry group if you need some immediate answers! Our next post on tools and swatching will cover the rest of the preparation you’ll want to do before the KAL kicks off.

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