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Knitting lace and learning charts (and kicking ass, and taking names)

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I am working on my first knit lace project this week, which also happens to be my first attempt at learning to read knitting charts. For those who don’t know what that means, it is basically a visual representation of written knitting instructions. It can turn:

R 31: k3, yo, k5, sk2p, k4, yo, k1, *(yo, k2, sk2p, k4, yo, k1)*, yo, k2, sk2p, k4, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, K1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, k4, k3tog, k2, yo, *(k1, yo, k4, k3tog, k2, yo)*, k1, yo, k4, k3tog, k5, yo, k3 (79, 119, 159, 199, 239…..)
R 32 K3, Purl to last three stitches, K3
R 33: k3, yo, k6, sk2p, k5, yo, *(k1, yo, k1, sk2p, k5, yo)*, k1, yo, k1, sk2p, k5, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, K1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, k5, k3tog, k1, yo, k1 *(yo, k5, k3tog, k1, yo, k1)*, yo, k5, k3tog, k6, yo, k3 (83, 123, 163, 203, 243….)

into:

(click to see full size)

This is a snippet of the pattern I am working on, the Luna Moth shawl by Elann (must log in to view/download pattern, but here is a blog post with pics of someone’s completed work). These are rows 31-33. Imagine what it looks like all written out for all the rows of this shawl!

Charts are done on a graph paper “framework” as seen here, and does a great job of parsing long sentences of instructions down to a simpler, cleaner readout, which also happens to help one envision better the pattern as it is supposed to appear in real life. On larger, complex projects, the descriptions of what you are supposed to do can get quite long and involved, and as you can see can take up three or four lines of text to describe one line of stitching. It can be hard on more complex patterns to keep your place as you’re reading (“Wait, was I on the K1 YO K1 in the first sentence or the second…”) Charts are pretty much line-by-line representations, with minimal written directions on how to use the chart (a key), and any special instructions for repeats (say, when making a triangular shawl like this one, which gets larger as it goes along and thus repeats the pattern more as it grows). This also makes them a bit more portable, and in my opinion easier to chat and knit simultaneously, as I can track my progress and keep my place much more easily than if I were reading the longhand instructions. Why didn’t I try charts earlier? I coulda’ had a V8! *thunk*

Being that this was my first time, I was bound to make some mistakes. And I did! Good for me! Essentially, when knitting flat, you are going back and forth, right? You knit to the end of the work, turn around and knit back the other way, and so on. So naturally the CHARTS do the same thing. Every other row is read right-to-left. I hadn’t quite grokked this, and as a result, began my work as if I were reading the written instructions. Natural, no? Read left-to-right on every line. I can see now how foolish that was, and perhaps a more complex pattern would have knocked me upside the head much earlier on to help me realize my mistake. But this pattern is a mirror image pattern–that is to say, each side is identical to the other, just in reverse. So it wasn’t immediately apparent that I was doing every other line backwards from its intended design. Not until I had gotten a good 6 hours of knitting into the project. Oops!

So I frogged it out (frogged=rippit in knitspeak) and began over again yesterday afternoon. I am about halfway back to where I was with the incorrect interpretation, but far wiser in the ways of lace knitting from a chart. It’s a good thing I am a “process knitter”. That is to say, I enjoy the process of knitting, and learning new techniques and seeing new patterns unfold, and am not as invested in the outcome. So while I indeed hope to finish this shawl, and gift it to someone special, for now I am enjoying just keeping busy with my hands and my mind while I wait for this new stage of my life to unfold.

Shay
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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

Shay
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