Every book takes an immense amount of time, energy, dedication and hard work (I'm speaking from experience here), but sometimes you look at a book and the effort involved in producing it kind of blows you away. That's the way Susanna E. Lewis' Knitting Lace: A Workshop with Patterns and Projects hits me.
This book is such an amazing work for people who want to learn more about lace knitting, make their own lace designs or simply understand better why a certain lace configuration will come out looking a certain way.
Knitting Lace begins with a dissection of a knit lace sampler of unknown origin that is housed in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum that dates from the 19th century. This staggering piece is 15 feet long, averages about 14 stitches per inch worked on 0000 US needles (1.25 mm) and includes 91 different lace patterns. It was never bound off.
The first part of the book charts each of the 91 patterns, including a picture of the original, instructions in chart and written form, and notes about any changes Lewis made to the original design.
This alone would make for a really interesting book, but Lewis has much more in store for knitters eager to learn the secrets of lace.
Part Two of the book covers the basics and not-so-basics of lace knitting, including what makes it lace, how patterns work and helpful hints for knitting lace.
Lewis goes on to further deconstruct the sampler by looking at the different elements of the patterns, including eyelet and decrease placement and the basic chevron shape so common in lace knitting.
The book goes into great detail describing and illustrating how different combinations of increases and decreases create different effects in lace, an indispensable guide for people who want to design their own lace patterns.
Lewis shows, for example, that it isn't the slant of the decrease that determines whether and how a piece will bias. Instead, it is the orientation of the decrease relative to the increase that makes a difference.
To further emphasize that point, charts in the book indicate which way the stitches around increases and decrease lean, which can be a little confusing because it's a symbol you don't do anything with.
Just reading through these explanations and carefully studying the samples will teach knitters a lot about how bias works in knitting, but actually knitting some of the swatches will provide an even deeper understanding of the mysteries of lace.
The book also covers different ways to make allover patterns in lace, how to deal with patterns where increases and decreases happen on different rows, using faggot lace patterns as allover patterns or as insertions and using diamonds in the background of lace patterns, among other topics.
Designing Your Own
As if all of that weren't enough, a detailed chapter on charting lace designs takes knitters through the process of developing their own lace designs by drawing their own charts (which was a lot more difficult when this book was first published in 1992, before there were computer programs to help).
There are also tips for making charts from written pattern instructions and from a knitted item (like the charts in the book were made from the sampler).
Lewis also describes how lace knitting charts can be used in other crafts like needlepoint and crochet. There are even tips for working lace on a knitting machine.
Patterns for a pullover, socks, a girls' dress and a shawl reinforce all that has been learned from the book.
Knitting Lace is not a book that can be fully absorbed just through reading -- certainly not through one or two readings, anyway. It must be studied, worked through, examined, pondered, revisited through the years.
Each time you're sure to gain a deeper understanding of lace and how to use it in your own knitting, whether you chart your own designs or work from patterns.
This is a book that belongs on the shelf of every knitter who is interested in knitting lace, from beginner to pro. It may be a little overwhelming for newer lace knitters, but keep going back to it, and in time you'll be richly rewarded with much more confidence in your knitting -- lace and otherwise -- because you really know how the stitches work together to make lace or anything else.
Publication date: Original Tauton Press edition, July 1992; Schoolhouse Press edition, December 2009