Tutorial: Reading your lace knitting 1: Horseshoe Lace

This is my first tutorial. I decided to do this after someone on Ravelry got in touch to ask for some help with the Swallowtail Shawl, after seeing my completed one. I advised her to learn how to read her knitting, and then realized that I couldn’t find a single tutorial on it.

One of the most useful things I ever learned to do was read my knitting, and I pretty much figured it out by accident. I’m sure a lot of people do. I first realized I could do this when knitting a little pair of gloves in horseshoe lace, and figured out how to place my centered double decreases so they all lined up. (I submitted them to a magazine, but I never heard back. Sadface.) It was also instrumental in knitting Constanze, especially being able to spot a yarn over on the purl side, or place a centered double decrease for the lace ladders.

It’s particularly vital when working on patterns with a repeating or symmetrical structure, such as the budding lace from the lovely Swallowtail shawl. Between you and me, I made a few mistakes on that pattern, but I could usually fudge it by counting what stitches I had, seeing what stitches I should have had, and making up the difference somehow. Anyway, enough about me. On to the tutorial!

Reading your lace

Reading your lace allows you to use distinctive stitches you’ve already knit as a reference point, and figure out where you are if you lose your place.

I’ve used a very basic lace for this so it doesn’t cover every type of stitch you might need to recognize, but it should be a useful introduction. I plan to do this for the different lace patterns within the swallowtail shawl eventually, but for now here’s a variation on horseshoe lace. Something similar to this is used in the lovely travelling woman shawl.

Horseshoe lace

yo = yarn over, sk2p = centered double decrease: slip one stitch, k2tog, pass slipped stitch over

c/o 13 stitches.

Row 1 (and all wrong side rows) purl.

Row 2: k1, yo, k4, sk2p, k4, yo, k1.

Row 4: k2, yo, k3, sk2p, k3, yo, k2

Row 6: k3, yo, k2, sk2p, k2, yo, k3

Row 8: k4, yo, k1, sk2p, k1, yo, k4

Row 10: k5, yo, sk2p, yo, k5

Reading your lace

Say I get distracted and can’t remember where in the stitch pattern I am. I can either use the end of the knitting or a distinctive stitch as a reference point. (Counting from distinctive stitches becomes particularly useful 80 stitches into a 200 stitch row.)

For doing this, you need to know three things: what your stitches look like, how many regular stitches each type of stitch uses, and how many it creates. We’ll talk about recognizing stitches in a moment, but for now:

  • A single knit or purl stitch uses one stitch and creates one stitch.
  • A yarn over uses no stitches, but creates one.
  • A single decrease (k2tog or ssk) uses two stitches and creates one.
  • A double decrease (eg. sk2p, s2kp) uses three stitches and creates one.
  • Some increases use one and create several, eg. kf&b uses one and creates two, and when you’re making a nupp you can use one and create up to nine. But don’t worry about that for now.

It’s not rocket science – in fact, once you’ve knit one any of these stitches you’ll know how many it creates and uses.

Recognizing stitches

Yarn overs are probably the easiest thing to spot. Have a look at this picture, which is taken with the ‘right’ side facing. The second stitch from the left on the needle is a yarn over I’ve already worked. See how it doesn’t link in to a stitch from the previous row? That’s what makes it create an eyelet, or decorative hole in the knitting.

In the picture below, (‘wrong side’ facing), this is how a yarn over looks when you come to purl it. The yarn over is the first stitch on the left hand needle. Again, there’s nothing underneath it.

The other type of stitch in the Horseshoe pattern is sk2p. This is also quite easy to spot, as you can see the passed over stitch looping around the stitch that was formed by the k2tog. One central stitch is created from this. Here, it’s the seventh stitch from the left. You can see the passed over stitch looping around the base of it.

Counting from the right (worked stitches)

Aside from spotting the stitches, you can’t really start to ‘read’ your lace until you’ve knit the first three rows of this pattern, so I’m going to start with row 4.

Row 4: k2, yo, k3, sk2p, k3, yo, k2

If you lose where you are, it’s just a question of counting. Because this is such a short bit of knitting, I can just count from the right hand side. So say I have six stitches on my right hand needle, I can count them from right to left as:

1. knit
2. knit (so that’s the k2 done)
3. yo (should be able to spot it’s a yarn over)
4. knit
5. knit
6. knit (that’s the k3 done)

I’ve accidentally cropped off three stitches in this shot (stupid), but to the right of the three on the right hand needle there was a yarn over, and two plain knit stitches. So those three stitches must be the k3 bit of row 4, and I’m due to work the sk2p next – where I’ve put a red line below.

Row 4: k2, yo, k3, | sk2p, k3, yo, k2

Counting from the left (unworked stitches)

The other way of counting then is to count from either the left hand side of the work, or a distinctive stitch you haven’t yet worked. Back to this photo, which I managed to crop and still leave all the stitches on the left hand needle visible.

That stitch pattern again is:

Row 4: k2, yo, k3, sk2p, k3, yo, k2*

So counting from the far left of the left needle, (and bearing in mind you’re counting from the end of the row to the beginning – starting where the star is and working left, and counting how many plain stitches each stitch uses rather than produces), it goes:

1. knit
2. knit (that’s your k2)
Between 2 and 3: yarn over (this doesn’t use any stitches up).
3. knit
4. knit
5. knit (that’s your k3)
6, 7, 8. sk2p (it eats three stitches up).

So I’m at the red line:

Row 4: k2, yo, k3, | sk2p, k3, yo, k2

A quick double check

I can double check this because I know what it should look like when I’m placing a sk2p, or any kind of centered double decrease. (I’m using this photo a lot!)

You can see the sk2p from row 2 right in the middle of this photo. And out of the top of it, you can see one stitch emerging in the middle. (That’s the second stitch from the right on the left hand needle.)

Sk2p uses three stitches and creates one. So to start working it, you need to identify that stitch emerging from the middle, and start your double decrease one stitch to the right of it. It will also eat up the stitch to the left of that central stitch. The picture above is taken at that point, just before you knit the sk2p.

Back to counting

So you’re doing great at figuring out where you are. Here’s a slightly more complicated one, where I’ve lost where I am in the row and I don’t even know which row I’m on.  Have a look at the photo below.

I’m lost, but all is not lost. I can tell this is row 8 because I can count three sk2p stitches in previous rows, and I haven’t got that far in this row yet.

Counting from the right

So if you’re counting to see where you are compared to a stitch you’ve already knit in that row, you need to know how many stitches each of the stitches you’ve worked creates. Here’s row 8.

Row 8: k4, yo, k1, sk2p, k1, yo, k4

I know (from looking at them carefully) that the three stitches on my right hand needle are just knit stitches. So I’m three stitches into the pattern, and need to work k1, yo, k1, ssk, k1, yo, k4.

Row 8: k3 | k1, yo, k1, sk2p, k1, yo, k4

Counting from the left

I could count from the far left of the work, but instead I’m going to count from a distinctive stitch that I haven’t yet worked. And to make it feel authentic, I’ve cropped off the left hand stitches. Imagine this is three stitches in to a 200 stitch row, and I really don’t want to count from the far left.

Row 8: k4, yo, k1, sk2p, k1, yo, k4

I can see those sk2p stitches on previous rows, and I can see that the single stitch created by the last sk2p on row 6 resulted in stitch number four on the left hand needle (you can see the passed over slipped stitch around the base of it, which is the real tell). That stitch, and the two either side of it, are going to be used to make the sk2p. So start counting to the right of the stitch directly to the right of the centre stitch, ie. directly to the right of the stitches which will be included in the sk2p.

Row 8: k4, yo, k1 | sk2p, k1, yo, k4

So counting towards the right, there’s a k1, then a yarn over (which doesn’t use any stitches), and another k1. That puts me here again:

Row 8: k3 | k1, yo, k1, sk2p, k1, yo, k4

Which is helpful, as that’s what we figure out by the other method as well.

An alternative method for placing yarn overs

This is actually just the same as before, but you spot the stitch that grows out of a yarn over and place your yarn overs relative to it. No counting is involved because in this case, your yarn overs are always directly next to the stitch created by a yarn over.

When you’re knitting this stitch pattern before the sk2p in a given row (or any stitch pattern where the yarn overs shift by one stitch to the left every time), look for the stitch that has been created out of a yarn over. In this picture, it’s the first stitch on the left hand needle. See how it emerges out of the eyelet created by a previous yarn over?

What you don’t want to do is work a yarn over before that stitch, because then you’ll be working the yarn over directly above another yarn over. There are patterns where you need to do that – but not this time. So what you want to do for this stitch pattern is knit that stitch, and then work the yarn over. Here, I’ve knit it and then brought my yarn in front so I can work the yarn over, but not yet knit the next stitch.

But if you’re working a pattern where the yarn overs shift by one to the right every time (like they do in the second half of this pattern after you’ve knit the sk2p), you look for that stitch growing out of a yarn over and work a yarn over before knitting it. The key is symmetry – because you always knit from right to left, you have to work the yarn overs on the opposite side of the stitch-emerging-from-the-previous-row’s-yarn-over to make the yarn overs travel in different directions.


7 Comments to “Tutorial: Reading your lace knitting 1: Horseshoe Lace”

  1. I just stumbled upon your site while trying to figure out where I am losing stitches in my current WIP. This is so detailed!

  2. Hi have just found your site,and its wonderful, but am having some TROUBLE with LACE PATTERN staying correct once i have decreased for the arm holes. No matter what i do, still can’t work it out, tearing my hair out, or going to cut it up and bin it, if I am not able to get some formula for making this work. Have asked many friends, and no once is able to help me. Have been knitting for many years, since 5 and 74 now but this it the first time I have been absolutely unable to get this simple thing to come right. Would love some help,and willing to pay small fee, if possible. thanks for your help. Miranda.

    • Hello! I’d be happy to help you- i’m afraid i’m not in the uk at the moment so haven’t been checking my blog much, sorry for slow response. I’m back tomorrow so will have a look then. Alyssa

  3. Hi Alyssa, thanks for your reply as above.. Am living in Australia, and really don’t know how to respond to your kind reply, so hoping that this is the right way to be in touch with you. Would dearly love some help, with simple problem but not for me, as having posted my request and dearly would love some clever person to at least be able to give me a formula, to keep the pattern after the dec correct. At present still not able to decipher the information that is posted in the pages, in relation ship to my problem. So sorry for the knitter who has put the tutorial on the page. Thanks once again for any help given Miranda.

  4. Hi Miranda. Happy to help – could you email the problem to me at knittingglasses@gmail.com and I’ll take a look?

  5. Hi Alyssa,
    I have a question that I’m hoping you can assist me with. Everyone seems to focus on getting the lace pattern correct on the “right side” rows, but I’m having trouble figuring out which stitches to purl on the “wrong side.” I’m actually using a different pattern with very fine yarn, and the slipped stitches and the yarn over stitches are hard to separate on the wrong side. Do you have any suggestions about how to ensure I don’t purl too many stitches? For example, is there a rule about purling only the yarn over stitches, but ignoring others that have been added on the right side?

    Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

    • Hi Diane, sorry it has taken me so long to respond!
      Usually your pattern should tell you what to do on the wrong side – if there’s nothing stated, generally they mean you need to purl all wrong side stitches. But if you could give me a bit more information about the pattern (maybe the link if it’s available online?) I’d be happy to take a look.

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