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Pink Needles
Miss Babs Hand-Dyed Yarn And Fibers


There comes a time in every designer's lifetime when they want to create their own lace.  Whether it's a result of not being able to find the perfect lace repeat in a stitch dictionary or the desire to create something completely unique, you’ll need a way to express these ideas and put them into a useable form.

When the urge to create your own motif occurs, you can create a design by sticking to a few simple guidelines. Throughout the process, you’ll test your ideas by swatching in the yarn using the same needles as your final product, making sure to block each swatch the same way the final product is to be blocked.

Knitting first, design second. One of the most important aspects of making your own lace design is setting up the framework that will serve as the background for your lace motif. Ask yourself: will your product will be knit in the round? Will it be knit flat with patterning every row, or every other row? After deciding on the basic structure of your item, consider using a simple clean silhouette, which gives you more flexibility to insert the lace motif as you need to. Finally, don't be afraid to experiment!

First things first: you need a concept. For this article, I created a chart for a cresting wave motif. The next step is to make a rough sketch of your concept on graph paper, either by hand or by using a spreadsheet program or dedicated charting software. In the example I used the popular spreadsheet program Excel with cell width set to 1.71 and cell height set to 15. Darken the squares in the shape of the design you want.


Figure 1 -- Top Left: Cresting Wave Drawing | Top Right: Cresting Wave Chart based on drawing. 
Bottom Left: Original Sketch. | Bottom Right: Chart Key

Lace is a sequence of negative and positive space created using a predetermined series of yarn overs and decreases. In our case, the lace will appear along the edges of the drawing we created with darkened squares, using negative space (yarn overs) around the perimeter of our drawing for best results.

The simple motif is created by using combinations of decrease stitches and yarn overs. To keep things simple and balanced, make sure that a decrease is always paired with an increase so the total number of stitches in each row won't change. Next, transfer your sketch into a graph. Copy the drawing (Fig 1, top left) using the sketch as a rough guideline. The inside darkened boxes remain the same, but the outer edges turn into yarn over/decrease pairs of k2tog for a right-leaning line and ssk for a left-leaning line (Fig 1, top right).

The first example has a sequence of actions (yarn overs and decreases) in every row as opposed to many examples where action happens every other row. Two historical examples of knitting that require the action in every row can be found in Shetland Knitted Lace Shawls, where there is no stockinette or garter row between pattern rows, and traditional Fair Isle whose peeries require constant color changes with no plain rows in between. If you wanted to incorporate the original chart motif in Figure 1 in a style similar to knitted lace or Fair Isle colorwork, what is seen in Chart 1 would be satisfactory without any changes.

For our purposes we need paired increase and decrease rows that alternate with plain knitting -- also known as Lace Knitting -- requiring that the action happen every other row. To make the graph work for our purpose, a rest row of purls is inserted between the working rows as seen in the Chart in Figure 2 below. The addition of purl rows on the wrong side of the work will make the motif taller by separating the working rows, and the design elements will become easier to distinguish in the finished knitted piece.


Figure 2 -- Top: Chart identical to Figure 1, with the addition of plain purl rows every other row. Bottom: Swatch. Note that features are too close together making the cresting wave motif hard to see.

At this point, be sure your swatch uses the exact yarn and needle size planned for your design. You must also block the swatch properly to assess precisely how your drawing translates to your knitting motif design. A swatch should be completed each time you settle on an edit of the graphed knitting motif.
The Chart in Figure 2 shows the addition of purl rows in between the action rows from the original drawing in Figure 1 top right. But adding them introduces a new problem -- the Swatch in Figure 2 looks out of balance and ill proportioned. What looks good in a Fair Isle design with action every row may look out of sync and unappealing in Lace Knitting when action occurs every other row. What does this mean in terms of your Swatch? Without some adjustment, the drawing may be distorted and hard to recognize.

What can be done to fix the motif? Make adjustments to the Figure 2 Chart to make it look more like the sketch. In this case, the bottom of the wave gets wider and the crest of the wave is moved up and toward the center as seen in the Figure 3 Swatch. Let us take a moment after editing and swatching to ask “does this motif in Figure 3 look like my sketch?” If not, we’ll repeat the editing process until satisfied with the finished product.


Figure 3 -- Top: Chart edited to balance out the length and the width of the motif so that it looks more like the initial sketch. Bottom: Swatch

After taking a close look, it’s clear that the lines of the crested wave become hard to see because there are too many decrease/increase pairs at the crest. So the next step is to edit the Chart in Figure 3 to clean up the graph and simplify the overall pattern so that you can see the wave motif clearly. This is done by removing most of the paired increases and decreases at the crest and smoothing out the back side of the wave. The result is the Chart in Figure 4.


Figure 4 -- Finalized Chart and swatch.

After blocking my swatch, I’ve discovered that the final edit of the cresting wave lace motif suits me and satisfies my desire to create a cresting wave in lace form.  Now it’s ready to be added to a lace knitting design.

In summary these are the things you should keep in mind when creating your own lace motifs:

  1. Decide if the pattern action happens every row or every other row.
  2. Make a rough drawing.
  3. Translate the drawing to graph form using paired increases and decreases.
  4. Swatch and Block your motif.
  5. Examine your swatch. Are the lines simple? Is the design proportional and pleasing to the eye?
  6. If not satisfied with the results, edit the Chart, repeating steps 4 and 5 until you are satisfied with your work.
  7. Incorporate your new lace motif into your knitting.
  8. Celebrate your accomplishment!

Taken individually, the lace motif design steps are simple, but be prepared to edit yourself several times until you get satisfactory results. The journey to creating your own lace motifs may take longer than anticipated, but is a rewarding journey that will teach you many things about yourself and your design work.

Look for inspiration in everyday silhouettes, photography, and nature. Keep a design notebook handy to jot down your ideas as they come. Test your ideas regularly and be fearless. But most important of all, enjoy the creative process and the feeling of accomplishment you'll get from designing something completely new!

designernameBlank Michelle enjoys creating affordable, innovative, mostly seamless knitwear. She�s a stay-at-home mama, physics grad student, blogger and dabbler of all things fiber. She�ll have her Master�s Degree as soon as she finished her thesis (which she�ll work on after this row).

Find her here.