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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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We are so very proud to welcome Gudrun Johnston to our design team! Gudrun has been an inspiring presence in the independent knitwear design community for many years and we are thrilled to be collaborating with her.

Gudrun was born in Shetland, where her mother ran a successful knitwear design company called The Shetland Trader. Gudrun revived the name to publish two collections kindled by love of her homeland. She now lives in the United States with her family, but returns frequently to Shetland to visit and lead knitting tours.

Gudrun’s heritage is prominent in her design work, whether she is creating lace-edged haps or Fair Isle-inspired colorwork. Her contemporary aesthetic and love of experimenting with new techniques make her designs both modern and timeless. She loves seamless construction and yoke patterning, whether in textured stitches or colorwork, and her designs are always eminently wearable and enduring.

We celebrate Gudrun’s arrival at BT with a special pattern release to launch our Summer of Lace knitalong. Brora is a distinctive shawl, printed all over with triangles of garter stitch and rimmed in an arrowhead lace motif that combines garter  and eyelets to achieve a flintknapped texture. The pattern includes directions for two weights: a breezy complement to summer dresses in Vale or a slightly larger triangle with comforting weight and warmth in Arbor. Brora uses a traditional Shetland construction, beginning at the base point of the main fabric with a single stitch and growing by means of yarnovers at each edge. These linked loops simplify the task of picking up stitches to begin the lace edging. The pattern teaches the Icelandic Bind Off technique to yield an elastic edge that partners effectively with garter stitch.

 

Brora is available as a limited-edition kit in our webstore. Choose any color of Vale or Arbor and we’ll wind the yarn for you so you can cast on right away or be ready to gift the kit to your favorite knitter (we can even ship the kit directly to him or her). Your handsomely packaged kit will include a coupon code for digital download of the Brora pattern.

For domestic orders, place your kit order by Friday, June 30 in order to receive your yarn and pattern in time to cast on for our Summer of Lace KAL beginning July 7. Read more about the KAL here.

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The designers we selected to contribute to Wool People 11 were among the first knitters to sample our new Rambouillet laceweight, Vale. Today we share their impressions of the yarn as we feature their beautiful stoles.

Natalie Servant contributed Prism to this collection. Printed with diamonds and rhombuses, this geometric design can be a lace stole or a cowl. The charted shapes are filled with shifting textures — knit, purl, garter — so there’s more solid fabric than in many lace accessories, which puts Vale’s smooth and balanced preparation on display.

Natalie wrote, “I really enjoyed knitting with Vale. I found it easy to produce even stockinette and reverse stockinette. The surprise for me was when I washed and blocked the swatch: the drape was fantastic. The hardest part about working with Vale was having to send back the unused skeins!”

Sandhya Shadangi’s Ravine is patterned with rivulets of branching, shifting, straightening eyelets. A good stretch on blocking wires evens the long sides and opens the organic motifs to stand out against the stockinette background. Despite Vale’s elasticity, it’s a biddable yarn that accepts blocking to become fluid and drapey.

Sandhya’s impression of Vale was that it’s crisp, soft, and springy. Her fabric blocked beautifully to yield clean and even stitches with good definition, and it retained the crisp softness that had first struck her when handling it in the skein. “Overall, I think it’s perfect for lace. And I can imagine it being great for super-light garments that would also hold their shape nicely,” she concluded.

Amy van de Laar had this to say after creating Leadlight, a stole with a pattern of geometric tracery radiating from a pinhole cast-on:

“Vale is springy, light and soft, but substantial and full of personality. It’s next-to-the-skin soft, and it blocks easily and drapes beautifully — just perfect for lace knitting. The colour Heron is a calm, neutral, mid-toned grey with a subtle sheen to it.”

Fans of Plains, a limited edition yarn that we produced in collaboration with Mountain Meadow Mill in Wyoming, have been asking how Vale compares. Our customer service specialist, Jamie Maccarthy, describes the distinction between them this way:

“In spite of their commonalities (Vale and Plains are both two-ply, worsted spun, breed-specific laceweight yarns made from Rambouillet fleece grown on the plains of Wyoming), they do differ. Plains is a slightly rustic yarn, spun a bit thick-and-thin with a lot of spring in its step. While Vale maintains some of the bounce that Plains has, it is a polished yarn with an even weight and twist, which would be lovely knit up into a light top or sweater.” Read more about the development and characteristics of both Vale and Plains here.

What are you making with Vale? We’d love to know your impressions of it! Don’t forget to tag your project photos with #ValeYarn so we can follow your progress. We’ll be reposting some of our favorites on our Instagram account in the coming weeks.

@jess_schreibstein, @looplondonloves, @softsweater, @knitgraffiti, @minib, @jen_beeman

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Recently released, Vale is the first laceweight offering in our line of core yarns. Since we also currently have our small-batch laceweight Plains in stock, we thought we’d tell you a little more about their similarities as well as their unique qualities. 

Vale and Plains share many similar characteristics: they are both two-ply, worsted spun, breed-specific laceweight yarns made from Rambouillet fleece grown on the plains of Wyoming. Soft and crimpy, Rambouillet is prized for its loft and bounce and creates accessories and garments that are both durable and springy. Patterns made from either Vale or Plains will be warm, light and airy.

Despite these similarities, Vale and Plains also have nuanced differences that make for unique knitting hand and finished fabric characteristics. While both yarns are spun worsted for strength, Plains is a slightly rustic yarn, intentionally spun a bit thick-and-thin which lends a lot of spring to its step. Scoured and combed into buttery smooth top before spinning, the more polished Vale is spun with an even twist and weight, lending a balance and evenness to it while still maintaining some of the bounce of Plains.

When it comes to the micron count of wool, the smaller the number, the softer the fiber. The fleece used for Plains has a micron count of 22. Vale’s micron count is 21.5, making it the softest fiber we’ve sourced to date. Even this small decrease in micron count makes a noticeable difference in terms of the softness of hand of the finished fiber.

The color palettes for both yarns were designed in-house by Jared Flood. The Plains palette offers an assortment of colors, many of which have a counterpart in our worsted-spun, DK-weight Arbor palette. While Vale’s palette incorporates a few favorites from the Arbor yarn line as well, it was uniquely curated to showcase the softer and more sophisticated tones within the color wheel, and in particular was inspired by Jared’s nature photographs taken during his travels (see more of those in our new lookbook).

Working with Mountain Meadow Mill in Wyoming, the same location as the source of the fleece, Plains was Brooklyn Tweed’s first foray into limited-edition yarns. Since Plains is a small-batch, special release, when it’s gone, it’s gone. Conversely, Vale marks an expansion of our permanent offerings of worsted-spun yarns. As an addition to our core yarn line, you can count on Vale being around for years to come (although we do hope that you give it a try sooner than later!).

We are eager to hear about your experience knitting with our newest core yarn Vale, and encourage you to knit with Plains while you still can!

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