Shaping in lace

Our Chicane Summer Knit-A-Long is well underway, and over in our very active Ravelry KAL thread there’s a stream of tempting pictures and reports.

Chicane is made with a lovely lacy stitch pattern, starting straight and then decreasing for the sleeves and body while continuing the lace. We’ve had requests for help on doing the decreases while in pattern, so that’s today’s blog topic: decreasing in a lace pattern.

So here’s our little swatch, with two repeats of the pattern across the row. We’re at the end of the second set of pattern rows, though you can reach the decrease point at any row of the lace. We’ve marked the centre, unmoving stitch of the pattern repeat closest to the edge with a stitch marker, following Jimi’s excellent suggestion in the pattern.

We want to work a decrease on both sides of every right side row. There’s two ways of integrating the decreases with the lace which each look a little different, so we’ll deal with them in turn.

For the first way, let’s go back to the very basics of lace. Lace knitting is made up of yarn overs which make the pretty holes, and decreases which compensate for the additional stitches made by the yarn overs. If you want to make a straight piece of lace, you need each yarn over to be balanced by a decrease. When you add a shaping decrease in there, you need to be sure that it’s in addition to your lace decreases.

It’s always a good idea to make your decreases a stitch or two in from the edge – it gives a smoother result and your seaming will be much neater. So your first ssk decrease happens after the first two stitches of the row, and neither of the stitches involved in the ssk are near any lace yarn overs or decreases, so you make your decrease and then work the lace bit when you come to it later in the row.

In this picture, we’ve made the shaping decrease and worked over to the lace yarn overs and decreases. At this point, nothing has happened near the lace, so there’s nothing interesting here at all.

But a few rows on, we reach this situation:

After the first two edge stitches, we’re due to make the shaping decrease. But now we’re right up against the lace, and the lace decrease would be using the same two stitches. Simply, the shaping decrease is more important, so we make a shaping ssk and ignore the lace decrease.

But remember, lace is yarn overs and decreases balancing each other. So here, where we can’t make the lace decrease, we leave out its yarn over too. Otherwise, we’d be adding a stitch with the yarn over and not taking it away with a decrease. The net result would be an extra stitch from the yarn over that we don’t want.

So that’s the trick to this way of shaping lace. If you can make both the decrease and its yarn over independent of the shaping decrease, then make all of them. But if you can’t, then make only the shaping decrease. Any other lace decreases and yarn overs in the middle of the row get made as usual, until you reach the far side and work the other part of the shaping:

This way of decreasing will give you lace that carries up as far as it can towards the edge of the knitted fabric – here we have our little swatch a bit further on, with the shaping well established.

You can clearly see where the shaping has nibbled progressively into the lace.

The second way of combining lace and shaping gives you larger sections of stocking stitch near your edges. In this method, you declare everything between the edge and the stitch marker that marks the centre of the lace pattern a No Lace Zone, and you just work it in stocking stitch. In other words, until you get to the marker, you ignore any lace instructions in the chart or the written instructions.

This gives you a result like this:

Both of these will give identically shaped pieces of fabric, so which you use really is knitter’s choice. Why not try out both on a small swatch like ours and see which you prefer?

Thank you for asking us to clarify how to do the shaping! And if you can think of any other techniques you’d like us to help with here, please ask!