Knitting lace shawls for beginners
If you’re a reader of this blog, it’ll come as no surprise that I love knitting shawls. Love it. In fact, I love it so much that now that I’ve started designing knitting patterns myself, the obvious place to start was a lace shawl.
If you’ve never knitted a shawl before, or lace, the idea of such a large, intricate-looking lace shawl can be very intimidating, especially if you’re still somewhat of a novice knitter.
I was encouraged to knit my first lace shawl by the lovely ladies at a local yarn shop. They saw me admire a beautiful lace shawl and asked me did I need help finding the pattern, the yarn, or the needles for it. I responded that something like that was far beyond me; I had only picked up the needles again a few months before. I was told nonsense, and was given some great advice:
No matter how many stitches in a project, you still only have to make one at a time.
That pattern was the Luna Moth Shawl. I did indeed get the pattern, the yarn, and the needles to match.
I won’t lie. It wasn’t an easy road. In fact, it was a very steep learning curve, with much tinking back (a skill, by the way, I learned in the process). But it was true, one stitch at a time, and, with patience and perseverance, I eventually managed to finish the project successfully. In a lot of ways, that shawl (which I gave to my best friend) is still my favorite project of all time.
If you are considering starting your first lace shawl, this post is meant to encourage you and give you a few tips to help you along.
When it comes to the pattern, the most important thing is to pick a pattern you love. You’ll probably be spending a good bit of time knitting this thing, so make sure it’s something you love the look off. Pick something that you find so irresistibly beautiful that you just have to knit it.
That being said, exercise a small bit of discretion picking your pattern too. You’re probably better off with a relatively simple stitch pattern on your first go. Something that’s not lace on both sides, but rather has all wrong side rows purled.
Also, consider whether the pattern is charted or has written instructions. I personally would hate to knit a shawl from written instructions only, and will only pick patterns that include charts (most do, these days), but some knitters are exactly the other way round. Find out what works for you; if you’re not sure, pick a pattern that has both.
There’s a lot of free patterns out there, and many more paid shawl patterns. For your first, pick one that’s popular, be it paid or free. Read the comments. It’ll give you an indication of whether the pattern is well written or not. Also, if many people have already knitted the shawl, you can usually find a lot of useful hints and tips on it by reading people’s pattern notes and searching the Ravelry forums.
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Yarn & Needles
For your first project, consider using 4ply rather than laceweight yarn. Yes, the latter looks beautiful and delicate, but it’s also most definitely a big step up skills. It will also take much longer to complete a shawl. Using 4ply, you will be able to see your stitches much more clearly, and your project will knit up much faster.
Considering that you’ll probably be ripping and tinking back a good bit, pick a yarn that holds up well under such treatment. Don’t use something that’s splitting. Ask for advice in your local yarn shop, or again, search the yarn database on Ravelry. And as with the pattern, do pick something that you just love, both color and feel. You’ll have it going through your hand for many, many hours. That irresistible pattern and all that work deserve a yarn to match.
Use lifelines, stitch markers and count
Lifelines are, as the name implies, a lifesaver. They allow you to rip back without having to worry about dropping stitches. You can go back and redo the bit you messed up. I rarely use them now, as I’ve learned how to fix mistakes in other ways, but I was obsessive about them when I first started to knit lace. Here’s a good tutorial on how to use lifelines.
Lace knitting is a lot of counting. Please count. Unless you can read your knitting reliably, then counting is how you’ll know whether you made a mistake or knot. Besides, use stitch markers (I usually just use loops of scrap yarn) to mark the repeats of the stitch pattern in your shawl. It’ll make the counting much easier and will really help to track down mistakes when you make them. It will often also help you catch mistakes before you get too far ahead.
Speaking of mistakes. You are going to make them. You might as well accept that fact straight away. The thing is, most of the time, a mistake isn’t disastrous. Often, it’s simply a missed yarnover or decrease. If you manage to track down where you made a mistake (using stitch markers to mark the pattern repeats will really help there). As long as all the other stitches still line upright, you can usually just ignore that you made a mistake, leave out a decrease (or add one) somewhere, and no one will ever know. Seriously. There are thousands and thousands of stitches in a lace shawl. A single hole missing somewhere or something is not going to be noticeable.
I actually found this very difficult to come to terms with myself, but eventually had to accept that life’s too short to tink back every single time I made the slightest mistake. It’s just not worth it.
Reading your knitting
Advice that you’ll often hear is to learn to read your knitting. I’m telling you not to worry about it. Yes, you should learn. But don’t stress. I really struggled when I first started knitting lace. I found it very hard to do and was worried about it. The fact is, it is hard. But you will learn. Simply by knitting more lace, you’ll soon start picking up on this skill. So practice it, try it, but don’t worry if it doesn’t click and you just can’t see it. You will eventually.
Remember, this is supposed to be a hobby. It’s supposed to be relaxing. If you get frustrated, don’t be afraid to put your knitting aside for a while and do something else. Or knit a dishcloth to take your mind of the lace for a while. Have a glass of wine. Watch a film. Have a good night’s sleep. Come back to your shawl with a fresh mind and fresh eyes, and what seemed so daunting before will probably look much easier again now.
It may be lace, it may be a shawl with thousands of stitches, it is still knit only one stitch at a time. Don’t worry about all the others, just focus on the stitch you’re working on right now!