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Lace scarf: A short primer on making your own

Lace Blog-1454

Emily is a bit of a cheat in the design department, in that the stitch pattern, Fir Cone, comes right out of my falling-apart copy of Barbara Walker’s First Treasury of Knitting Patterns. The ‘design’ part is in the stitch pattern, which I didn’t invent. Other than adding an extra edge stitch on each end, I did nothing more to embellish the scarf. So there you have it.

Why bother? To have the excuse to write up the post below. As easy as it is to knit up a pattern from a stitch dictionary, when plunking a favorite stitch into a garment, a few considerations are in order. If you’re an experienced knitter, you can ignore the rest. If you’re new to knitting and designing, the following might be helpful:

1)    Swatch the pattern to see its possibilities. However a stitch pattern appears in a photograph, it will take on a new look, depending on the yarn and size needle you use. This is really the ‘design’ part. A pattern photographed in a crisp yarn will appear soft and muted in a fuzzy yarn. A pattern knitted on a much-larger-than-spec’d needle will be bolder than when knitted on a smaller needle.

One swatch on a size 3 needle, the other on size 7.

One swatch on a size 3 needle, the other on size 7

3)    Swatch your pattern to figure out gauge. Gauge will change from needle size to needle size. Only swatching will tell you how many stitches per inch you’ll get on a given needle. If you want to plan your scarf for a specific width (or length, if you’re knitting long edge to long edge), knowing what your gauge is will make it easy to hit your target measurement. (If you like surprises, just wing it and cast on. My daughter does this with great success.)

4)    Swatch your pattern to understand it. Knitting a trial run will allow you to master the stitch’s characteristics and quirks. For example, if the pattern waves in and out along the side edges, you might want to add a few stitches along the side edges in garter stitch to even out the waves. You’ll also find out how challenging the pattern is to knit. Can you work it in front of the TV or will you need to give it your full attention?

6)    Swatch your pattern to see how it begins and ends. Often, lace patterns create a scalloped cast-on edge. But the bind off edge is relatively flat. If you want a scalloped edge at each end, you can cast on and knit  half the length of your scarf. Then repeat. To finish, graft or work a 3-needle bind off at center. Some patterns have a strong up-and-down direction. Another reason to work half a scarf twice and join in the center.

7)    Swatch your pattern to see if you want to add an edging. Non-rolling stitches like garter, seed, etc., will encourage the scarf to lie flat. Swatching the pattern with attached border will show you how many stitches and/or rows to add. In the example below, I’d add a row to the bottom edging and subtract a stitch along the left edge border. I’d forget the rib. In Sparrow, which has no elasticity, the ribbed border looks sloppy.

Garter stitch along the bottom and left edges, a simple rib along the right.

Garter stitch along the bottom and left edges, a simple rib along the right

8)    Chart your pattern. Patterns are usually built around a one- or two-stitch center axis. Charting will help you to see the axis clearly. You can go with the ‘multiple’ information, e.g. of 8 + 4,’ and your pattern will end up centered. But charting allows you to set up a different center point, if you like, and to begin and end in other places, too. Charting is another good way to master the pattern.

Lace Blog-1522

Stitch pattern books are full of lovely texture and lace patterns, just there for the knitting. Of course you can cast on a certain number of stitches and follow the instructions for Row 1 and go on from there. But the only way to really understand your favorite stitch pattern, and to discover tweaks in it that make it your own, is first to swatch it.



4 Responses to “Lace scarf: A short primer on making your own”

  1. Arielle says:

    I love this post; so interesting, educational, and motivating. Thank you! I have wanted to try a particular stitch pattern and make a scarf with it; your detailed and thorough notes and suggestions are encouraging to those of us who would like to try. And yet another reminder of how important it is to swatch and to check gauge!

  2. Susie says:

    Thank you for a very informative post, especially the comments about side borders. This is a design aspect I had not taken into account. I just bought several skeins of Sparrow and look forward to knitting Emily.

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for another wonderful post! Such a great guide to creating with stitch pattern books, and pretty Sparrow swatches too!

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