17 December 2006

Knitting with sewing thread

Pattern: "L" from Erich Engeln leaflet #1
Thread: DMC Tatting (6-cord cotton thread, size 80)
Needles: 1.5 mm

Pattern: #47 from Burda special 198
Thread: Coats and Clark #40 cotton sewing thread
Needles: 1.5 mm

I knit the fuschia doily with the DMC Tatting 80 first and then cast on and knit the white doily immediately after freeing my needles from the fushchia doily. The doilies were each about 50 rounds with fairly basic stitchmaking and were completed very quickly. I just wanted to see what knitting with finer thread would be like. These two doilies are the finest threads I've used so far now, and of course I'm still experimenting.

I know people joke that all knitted doilies must have been made with "wires and sewing thread," but I have also heard people remark, without joking, that crochet cotton in about size 50 is actually equivalent to "sewing thread" weight thread. That is not true. Even the usual threads from sewing kits are a lot finer than the typically used crochet cottons, even "size 50" crochet cotton. This picture shows the Engeln 7F doily in DMC Cordonnet 60 on the right and the Burda 198-47 doily in Coats and Clark #40 sewing thread on the left in the same shot for comparison.

So, those of you who are afraid to start knitting with crochet cotton--take heart! It really isn't like something you would put into a sewing machine.

Yet, I had to ask myself, what is knitting with actual sewing thread like? Well, it's surprisingly doable, especially when you have 1.5 mm circular needles! Not long ago, I used 1.5 mm (US 000) needles for the first time with DMC Cordonnet 60, and I realized that 1.5 mm needles would be small enough for threads at least a little finer than size 60 crochet cotton. As it turns out, I now think I could still use 1.5 mm needles with thread slightly finer than the #40 sewing thread.

Looking at spools of sewing thread, now I can see the confusion regarding "size 50" thread. The sewing thread is in fact labeled by sizes—#40, #50, #60—just like crochet cotton thread. But the size numbers clearly do not mean the same things in sewing thread and in crochet cotton. Having just knit with the #40 Coats and Clark thread, I can say it is definitely finer than the DMC Tatting size 80 thread, and it feels just a little finer than DMC Cordonnet 100.

I really want to compare sewing threads to crochet cotton threads by their respective yards per pound numbers, but I don't have enough information. Balls of crochet cotton are marked with yardage and weight, but spools of sewing thread only list yardages. The sewing thread size numbers might be related to the cotton count system (more info on that here, here, and here) but I'm not 100% sure that sewing thread marked "3-ply, #40" means it is actually "40/3 thread" under the cotton count system. So, maybe I'll just have to get a McMorran yarn balance soon to work out the numbers once and for all.

1.5 mm circular needles: Inox vs. Addi

After knitting Engeln 7F with grey Inox 1.5 mm circulars, I did purchase a pair of Addi Turbo 1.5 mm circulars. I still don't think the Inox ones (which cost only about half of the Addis) are bad, but yes, the join on Addis is much better. I think how much the join matters depends on several things, including your tension, but overall, I'm sure that the smoothness of the join becomes more important as the thread gets finer relative to the needle size. Also, it is always harder to scoot lace knitting across the join (when you have a bunch of yarn overs mixed with knit stitches on the needle) than all knit stitches in plain knitting. So, working lace knitting with the DMC Tatting 80 and #40 sewing thread, I think the smooth join of the Addi needles was essential and worth the extra $$$.

Sewing thread: Coats and Clark vs. other brands

In addition to the Coats and Clark #40 sewing thread, I plan to knit a few other basic sewing threads recommended for sewing and machine quilting, all 100% cotton. (I am not a quilter, but from what I understand, threads labelled as "hand-quilting thread" usually have a coating that makes hand sewing easier, so I deliberately avoided buying hand-quilting thread for knitting.)

The Coats and Clark #40 sewing thread I used to knit Burda 198/42 is very soft and somewhat fuzzy. I probably would not knit with this thread again, at least not any larger, more time-consuming pieces.

However, I've already begun knitting another small doily with Gütermann #50 machine quilting thread, and it feels sharp, crisp, and not at all fuzzy. So far, I'm very impressed! I'd say it's actually a lot like high quality crochet cotton, only finer, and the Gütermann thread is much higher in quality, from a knitting perspective at least, than the Coats and Clark thread.

There are also threads that are much finer than "regular" sewing thread, like cotton threads from sizes 80/2 to 170/2 listed in the catalogs of Lacis and other lacemaking suppliers. Although I would like to find out what is the finest thread that is knittable, I'm putting off buying any of these truly freakish materials for next time, after I explore knitting with some other regular sewing threads I currently have on hand.

In any case, I don't know how many pieces I would knit with these ultra-fine threads. I want to attempt a few just for the challenge and novelty of it, but as I've already seen with the Coats and Clark thread, not all threads make good, durable pieces. For me, that also means not all threads are worth investing the time and effort to knit into lace. I am more interested in finding and knitting the finest thread available that still has some resemblance to high quality crochet cotton in terms of durability and appearance.

11 December 2006

"Erbstüllgrund" doily by Herbert Niebling

That ball of Flora thread I photographed in my last post? It's now a doily.

Pattern: Burda Special 903/42, "Erbstüllgrund" by Herbert Niebling
Thread: Flora cotton thread, size 50 (available from Lacis or Handy Hands)
Needles: 2 mm

This doily was 94 rounds total, and I used very close to one ball of Flora 50 (300 yards per ball). I blocked it using four short blocking wires threaded through almost every crochet loop along the four sides and just a few pins at the corner loops. The final measurement is 14 inches square.

This pattern also appears in an older Burda lace knitting special called "Kunststricken Folge 1" but as a 76-round pattern without the final border.

I was specifically looking for a doily that was small and square, and this is one of the few I found that included a real Niebling-type floral motif. Most of the other small square doily patterns I have seen are more geometrical, like "English Crystal" from Marianne Kinzel's first book. In any case, I discovered that patterns for round/octagonal/hexagonal doilies greatly outnumber square ones, at least in the smaller sizes.

As always, I loved knitting the unusual Niebling-type floral motifs. I especially like the use of two different lace background patterns to frame the center flowers. I worked the hexagonal mesh in this doily using knit 1, purl 1 into the double yarn over (instead of k1-k1tbl into the double yo, which I have done in the past to make the mesh tighter), and I like its airy openness in contrast to the small holes of the other lace pattern.

When I decided to knit a dark purple doily, I finally had a great excuse to check out some other brands of thread, since DMC Cebelia's color palette is pretty limited. Flora comes in many colors and is available in sizes 10, 20, and 50.

In certain ways, Flora in size 50 is a nice compromise between DMC Cordonnet and DMC Cebelia. DMC Cordonnet only comes in white and ecru in sizes 10-80 and 100 and DMC Cebelia comes in a variety of colors but only in sizes 10-30.

Flora 50, on the other hand, is a thread finer than size 30 that comes in a nice variety of colors, and even the hardness of Flora falls somewhere between razor-sharp Cordonnet and slightly softer Cebelia.

A definite disadvantage of Flora is that knots in the balls of thread are apparently more common. I encountered two knots in the ball I used to knit Erbstüllgrund. Another ball I purchased also has at least one knot, because I can actually see a few thread ends poking out from somewhere in the middle of the ball. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more knots I can't see yet. By comparison, I have yet to encounter knots in any ball of Cordonnet or Cebelia I have ever used. I'm not saying that none exist in any Cordonnet or Cebelia ball, but in my experience, they seem to be less common.

Relative abundance of knots is not a total deal-breaker for me, but it did stop me from stocking up on more Flora 50 for now. Plus, I'm still working on knitting finer and finer threads and finding my limitations. I won't know exactly what my favorite thread sizes and brands are until I knit many more pieces in different threads.

I haven't decided on what to cast on next, although I am fairly sure that the next thread will be either DMC Tatting (size 80) or DMC Cordonnet 100. I like having a small doily in progress all the time, but it seems like once I cast one on, I can't put it down until it's finished! I still have the large linen piece in progress, and I'm also working on the Melon Pattern Stole bit by bit during the commute.

01 December 2006

Melon Pattern Stole, in progress

Thread in balls just isn't nearly as photogenic as yarn.

(Flora 50 crochet cotton earmarked for my next small doily.)

Fortunately on the blog eye-candy front, I couldn't resist casting on a mohair shawl from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby (XRX Books).

I chose the Melon Pattern Stole (which happens to be the piece featured on the book's cover) because I wanted to have a take-along lace project with a stitch pattern simple enough to memorize. Melon is started on an invisble cast on (note my red-orange waste yarn); the small lace pattern is knit back and forth until the desired length of the stole, then a lace edging is applied all the way around the rectangle. There are no bound off stitches anywhere. Several other patterns in VLT are of this variety: all-over lace patterned rectangle + small lace edging around. I'm sure there are many knitters who could probably design stoles of a similar type easily with the aid of a stitch pattern book, and VLT actually has a short guide to designing your own. However, the advantage of following a pattern straight out of VLT is that each pattern is already carefully planned to ensure that the lace edgings fit around the shawls exactly and includes step-by-step instructions to get the edgings to work out with little to no calculations required.

The "melon stitch" itself is partly created by a yarn over at each side of the three stitches that are wrapped/pinched. The wrapping part is made from slipping stitches over other stitches from left to right and off of the left needle (in contrast, the more usual "pass slipped stitch over" move in decreases occurs right to left off the right needle). (The above close-up picture shows the piece as it is currently on my needles and totally not blocked or pinned out.)

In laceweight kid mohair, you can't really tell that a total of three stitches are slipped over each time—the wrapping stitches compress like a tiny knot. I'm a little curious about what melon stitch would look like in a thicker yarn.

The yarn I'm using is Elann Super Kydd, one of Elann.com's exclusives. Like several other laceweight 70-80% kid mohair and 20-30% nylon blends on the market, it's clearly intended to be a poor knitter's Rowan Kidsilk Haze or K1C2 Douceur et Soie (which are both 70% kid mohair, 30% silk). I have to say, having used the more expensive yarns, Super Kydd compares very favorably. It lacks the slight sheen of real silk at the core, but the kid mohair is just as soft and lofty (and just as hard to deal with when frogging, of course). And it costs only about a third of what Kidsilk Haze does these days, making it perfect for stocking up to knit the many pieces in VLT designed with laceweight kid mohair in mind. I hope it comes out in more colors eventually.

I'm using 4.5 mm (US 7) needles, which happens to be the needle size recommended in VLT for all patterns using laceweight kid mohair. Well, especially after knitting doilies on 2 mm and 1.5 mm needles, of course I think my stitches here are really, really loose and huge. I'm sticking with this needle size for this project, but we'll see how much I like the super-open look when all is finished and blocked. The stitch gauge also means that the stole is growing pretty quickly, though, so hopefully it won't be long until I'm done.

A little bit more about the book

This book is lavishly photographed and just a beautiful publication overall. There are several larger triangular or round shawls and many rectangular scarves/stoles with various types of construction. The rectangular pieces use stitch patterns that are easy to memorize or require only small charts to take along. By comparison, the shawls in A Gathering of Lace are generally much more complex with lace patterning that requires multiple huge charts. If you only like to knit the really mind-blowing stuff like Shetland shawls, Victorian Lace Today might disappoint you. But, if you are a relative novice at lace knitting, or if you just like having simpler projects in progress in addition to the complicated stuff, Victorian Lace Today is a very nice book to have.

21 November 2006

Duchrow 73/6

Don't ask me why, but "knitted lace" is a term usually reserved for patterns with lace patterning in every row or round, while "lace knitting" can refer to lace patterns with plain rows/rounds in between the pattern rows/rounds.

You can sometimes tell the two apart by looking at the yarn overs in a piece. In a typical "lace knitting" pattern, the yarn overs are followed by a plain round of knit stitches, so there are holes defined by two threads twisted together (one thread is the yarn over, the other thread is the knit stitch above it).

"Lace knitting":

However, in a "knitted lace" pattern, the yarn overs aren't always followed by knit stitches, so the holes are defined by single threads.

"Knitted lace":

This particular knitted lace pattern is a traditional Shetland lace pattern called "Bird's Eye" or "Spider Lace." It's in more than one stitch pattern book, I'm sure; if you've got Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller, see page 132. Sharon Miller notes that it doesn't really look like it's a knitted pattern. I've always been fascinated by it for that reason, but I hadn't had an excuse to knit it up until a tiny picture in one of the Christine Duchrow books caught my eye. Two days later, I completed this doily:

Pattern: Pattern 6 from Christine Duchrow leaflet #73 (reprinted in The Knitted Lace Patterns of Christine Duchrow, Volume III by Lacis)
Thread: Cordonnet 40 crochet cotton
Needles: 2 mm

Part of the fun for me in knitting this doily was bringing to life a piece from a weird old photo that may have been overlooked for decades. It's also the first piece I've made following an original Christine Duchrow leaflet.

The other part of the fun of course was the pleasure of seeing the bird's eye pattern unfold. It's a small stitch repeat and not difficult to work in the round despite yarn overs in every round. This stitch pattern in a piece worked back and forth is probably a bit trickier to make. (I've since noticed that the other Christine Duchrow pattern I've knitted, Egeblad, also features a stitch pattern in its outer rounds that is considered a traditional Shetland lace pattern: print o' the wave.)

This doily isn't the most ingeniously designed I've seen. The center eight-pointed star pattern simply ends with several plain rounds, then the bird's eye pattern starts after that without a connection to the center pattern. In fact, bird's eye is not even repeated by a multiple of eight times around the doily—it's repeated 28 times around. At first, just going by the number of stitches to work in the chart, I thought there might be an error in the pattern, but it was simply a matter of realizing that the bird's eye repeats weren't going to line up neatly over the repeats of the center star.

As it turned out, this particular pattern did not have any true errors as far as I could tell but there were definitely some quirks and potential pitfalls which I've been trying to document in some notes. Stay tuned for "German Knitting Patterns, part 3: Christine Duchrow," which I hope will be coming soon to the blog!

Yeah, I intend to reblock this doily at some point. It has an excessive number of crochet loops (meaning: many, many pins crowded together!) so I just focused on pulling and opening up the lace during the first blocking without worrying about making perfectly neat crochet loops. Next time, I'll just moisten it slightly, and I'll be able to pin it out again more evenly since I won't have to pull hard on the piece then.

19 November 2006

Erich Engeln 7F

Pattern: "F" from Erich Engeln leaflet #7
Thread: Cordonnet 60 crochet cotton
Needles: 1.5 mm

This doily is my first one using thread and needles this fine. I chose this design because not knowing how well I'd do with size 60 thread, I didn't want to get too tripped up by the stitch-making (it mostly uses only yos and the usual left, right, and double decreases). It was also designed with three possible stopping rounds, so if I decided I couldn't stand knitting it, I could have bailed out early with a tiny doily featuring only the center star. I ended up knitting the full pattern.

With my other projects on 2 mm needles, I usually have no problems at all starting with a circular cast-on on 6-inch bamboo dpns, which are light and easy for me to manuever. However, the 1.5 mm needles I have are 8-inch metal double points and two 24-inch circulars (Inox "greys"). Starting this doily on the long, heavy dpns was tricky. During the earliest rounds, none of the needles would stay in place in the stitches by themselves, so I had to hold onto all of them. Every time I switched dpns, I had to put the entire work down and carefully pick it up again in the new orientation. Eventually there were enough stitches on the needles to keep things together, but then I just put the work on two circs because the needles still felt heavy and awkward. I would probably just cast on directly onto the two circs next time—I only grabbed the dpns first this time because I hadn't anticipated the problems.

To my knowledge, there are only two companies that produce 1.5 mm circular needles: Inox and Addi. I don't have the Addi version to compare, but I can say that the Inox ones are pretty good. I don't love the cables of regular-sized grey Inox needles, but in the 1.5 mm needles, the plastic cable is extra thin and quite flexible.

Once I was knitting the project with the circular needles, it really didn't feel much different from knitting with my usual Cebelia 30 thread. The Cebelia 30 felt, surprisingly, a little bit "fat" when I switched back and forth between knitting this doily and the final rounds of Weintrauben, but otherwise my ability to make and see the stitches was pretty much the same.

Of course, this piece is smaller than others I've knit with about the same number of rounds. This pattern was 76 rounds and the finished doily is less than 9 inches across.

However, I am very fond of the fineness of this doily compared to my usual Cebelia 30 doilies and could see Cordonnet 60 becoming my new favorite thread, except I'd hate not being able to use my favorite needle types with it (Crystal Palace bamboo dpns and Knitpicks circulars)! I plan to try knitting a small doily with the rest of my first ball of Cordonnet 60 using 2 mm needles instead, as an experiment in gauge and stitch size. Maybe I can still have my cake and eat it too. The stitches in this doily are somewhat densely packed and could have been more open; Cordonnet 60 might just work better with a larger needle for me.

I also currently have size 80 and size 100 Cordonnet thread and even finer needles on order. Although at some point I might have to use dpns throughout the project because circulars smaller than 1.5 mm don't exist, the smaller dpns will at least be lighter than the 1.5 mm dpns. And, based on this experiment with size 60/1.5 mm, it looks like I might be able to use 1.5 mm circulars with size 80 thread if not size 100.

13 November 2006

Doily math, part 3

No, no, don't run away! This math stuff comes in handy, I swear!

Laritza asked how much thread I used for Weintrauben. This pattern wasn't that big—it was 130 rounds. I used only one ball of Cebelia 30, which is about 560 yards per ball. I had a small amount left over, enough that I was never nervous about running out at the end, but I doubt I would tempt fate and start a 140-round pattern with only one ball on hand.

Now I have a personal benchmark for knitting with Cebelia 30. According to all that stuff that got worked out in Doily Math Part 1 and Part 2, it should take four times as much thread to knit a pattern with twice the number of rounds.

Whoa, whoa, slow down. Where did that come from?

Hmmm. There's a reason why I'm not a math teacher. Let me see if I can just boil it down to an easy-to-use general formula.

Let's say you know how many rounds you can knit with one ball of some thread before running out. (I strongly suggest subtracting say, 4 or 5 rounds from this number, just to give yourself some room for error and because you will need extra thread to crochet off the doily at the end.)

  • The estimated number of rounds you will be able to knit =

    √(number of balls you have * (the number of rounds you can knit with one ball)²)
In case the math symbols are hard to read: square the number of rounds you can knit with one ball, then multiply that result by the number of balls, then take the square root of the whole thing. That's how many rounds you can get out of the balls of thread you have.

Note that the above formula works with fractions of balls too (i.e., number of balls you have can equal .5 or 1.5 or whatever). If I can knit one 130-round pattern with one ball of Cebelia 30, according to the formula, I should be able to knit one 90-round doily out of half of one ball. (Since I'd never know if I have exactly half of a ball, what this really means is that I can get two 90-round doilies out of one new ball.)

Ok, I'm done with boring math stuff for now. Knit on!

12 November 2006

Burda 198/16: "Weintrauben" by Herbert Niebling

Fresh off the needles and crochet hook:


The finished result:

Pattern: Pattern #16, "Weintrauben," from Burda Special 198 ("Wine Grapes")
Thread: Cebelia 30 crochet cotton
Needles: 2 mm

This table center (it averages about 21 inches across, so I think it's a little big to be called a doily, yet it's not a tablecloth) was designed by Herbert Niebling, and he's given credit for the design in Burda 198. Sadly, doily designers don't always get credited in publications. Burda 554/5 and 554/6 were uncredited. Either the names of designers are really lost to history, or equally unfortunately, the publishers of doily patterns don't care about giving credit where credit is due when they could do so.

Some of Niebling's designs feature botanical motifs on a hexagonal mesh lace background. Not all of them, but these designs are the ones knitters tend to identify most with Niebling. (Well, the knitters who give a hoot about doilies, anwyay!) Burda 418/50, the nameless doily with the little oak leaves, was designed by Niebling too. Although the leaves are differently shaped, the lobes in the leaves in both 418/50 and Weintrauben are formed in the same way, using [yo, k1-p1 into the same stitch, yo] to make the spaces between the lobes, and [k2tog, k1, s1-k1-psso] followed by k3tog in the next pattern round to finish off each lobe tip.

Weintrauben was a fascinating pattern to knit. It has six large sections, which means that the stitch repeat was huge. My eyes didn't wander from the chart too much—there was no blindly getting into a rhythm of repeating stitches here except in the final rounds of the border. The "grapes" are formed by an ingenious combination of many different types of stitches: make 1, k1tbl, k1-p1 into the same stitch, k6tog (which I executed as sl3-k3tog-psso), and 1x1 crossed stitches (which adds a bit of a 3-d texture to each grape!). On top of it all, the grapes are arranged in a staggered fashion through the "bunch"—each round you are working through different grapes at different stages. In the same round, you may be finishing off the top of one grape located in the center of bunch while working the middles of grapes located at the outside of the bunch.

The hexagonal mesh is not unique to Niebling patterns (see Engeln 17D). It's a basic lace "ground" pattern basically formed by a double yarn over, usually followed by k1-p1 into the double yo in the next round. However, I find knitting k1-k1tbl into the double yo much faster for me (I knit English-style, throwing the yarn with my right index finger). The overall holes are also smaller when k1-k1tbl is used instead of k1-p1, because the k1tbl twists a part of the double yo thread and pulls it in, while k1-p1 wraps itself over and under the double yo thread. I think hexagonal mesh using k1-p1 results in a more open and slightly neater appearance, which I also like, but there is a definite trade off for me in terms of additional time and effort.

I also decided on k1-k1tbl mesh for this pattern because when I examined the photograph in Burda 198 before casting on, it vaguely looked to me like the cloth was pulled a little too taut in the rounds near the top of the grape bunch. If it was in fact taut there, there may have been too few stitches for being that distance from the center. Since the center of the doily is all hex mesh and k1-k1tbl would make the mesh smaller overall, I thought I could maybe avoid any tightness around the top of the grape bunch by ensuring that the whole pattern of grapes would be closer to the center. So, I just made the decision to start knitting the pattern using k1-k1tbl.

Since I was never certain that the original sample was flawed, my cloth may have been fine with k1-p1 mesh after all. In fact, right after taking it off the needles, I was afraid that I had made a huge mistake by possibly overcorrecting the issue (which would have given me a loosely ruffled cloth). To my relief, it easily blocked out flat without any problems.

Coming soon

Even before I had cast on Weintrauben, I had knit up to the 90th round of this cloth, which will be even larger than Weintrauben:

That's a cone of 40/2 linen mounted for easy dispensing on a straight knitting needle in a modified shoe box.

Knowing too much about "doily math" can be a dangerous thing, since according to my calculations I am only 44% done. But other than the thought of having to work a lot of hexagonal mesh using k1-p1 this time, I am looking forward to finishing it. The pattern is not explicitly credited to Niebling, but I can definitely at least say it is in the same style. Huge leaves over mesh. More details when I am done.

Yes, the next big thing on my blog is going to be yet another table center/doily. I realize doilies don't get as much love in the online lace knitting world as shawls, but I'm trying to make up for some of that with my blog here.

10 November 2006

Knitting a German doily pattern, part 2: Erich Engeln patterns

Erich Engeln leaflets are still available and are a fabulous source of lace patterns. I have noticed that there are plenty of patterns in those infamously hard to get out-of-print German lace knitting magazines that are actually Engeln patterns. The more current magazines may showcase the doilies in lovely color pictures that are more attractive than the somewhat murky black and white covers of the leaflets, but hey, the patterns are the same. For the price of one book, you can pick and choose a nice selection of them and have your own custom Engeln lace knitting pattern portfolio with exactly the patterns that appeal to you the most.

First, see Knitting a German doily pattern, part 1. The same stuff applies in terms of deciphering the chart symbols, since it's still a matter of translating German knitting terms into English. The charts in an Engeln leaflet are a little harder on my eyes and brain than others, but only because in an Engeln leaflet, the chart symbols are capital letters, instead of abstract shapes or lines. Also, the charts don't always make good use of the "no stitch" blank spaces used in modern charts that help the other stitches line up clearly in the chart, but overall they are not badly laid out.


Each leaflet is four pages. The cover includes pictures of all of the patterns, and the back page has the chart symbol key and other instructions. The middle two pages contain the charts. Many of the leaflets feature doilies having the same center motif extended to several different sizes which share a common chart. For example, in this pattern, you knit the center beginning from round 1 and then you can follow the crocheting-off notes after round 56 for doily "E" or ignore the crochet and continue through to crocheting off after round 76 for doily "D." It's pretty obvious which chart corresponds to which doily pattern.

I've deliberately chosen to show only a section of the pattern, but I hope this picture will also show you its hand-drawn yet neatly presented appearance. In my opinion, the symbols themselves are clearly distinguishable and just as readable as the ones I've seen in modern magazines and books. It's mostly a matter of wrapping your head around the different characters. As you can also see, the charts also clearly indicate how to crochet off the doily after knitting one more plain round after the last pattern round—the numbers below the arcs indicate how many stitches to group, the numbers above indiate how many stitches to chain between groups. Near round 1 of each chart, the patterns also indicate "X Maschen Anschlag" ("cast on X stitches").

Quick summary of chart symbols specific to Engeln leaflets with English translation

Engeln chart symbolEnglish
Rknit 1
Lpurl 1
Aslip 1 purlwise
Vknit 1 through the back loop
Üslip 1-knit 1-pass slipped stitch over
Zknit 2 together
Iyarn over
2(knit 1, purl 1) into the same stitch
[black triangle]slip 1-knit 2 together-pass slipped stitch over
[black square]slip 2-knit 2 together-pass 2 slipped stitches over

In an Engeln pattern, there are also two symbols (+ and •) that might appear in the chart next to the round number to indicate shifting the pattern. (The picture above shows a few rounds with + symbols.)

+ Before the beginning of the round, slip the first stitch from left needle to right needle to shift the beginning of the pattern (if there are multiple +++ symbols, slip that many stitches).

• Before the beginning of the round, slip the last stitch worked from right needle to left needle to shift the beginning of the pattern (if there are multiple ••• symbols, slip that many stitches). You can also stop working the last round short of the number stitches indicated, instead of working them and slipping them back to the left needle.

Not every pattern will include every one of these different stitches, of course. This list is based on looking at symbol keys from multiple leaflets. (I should note that I don't have a complete set as I personally didn't want to buy them all at once, but I have been collecting them gradually.)

The most awkward things for me are yarn over being an "I" instead of a circle and the mirrored decreases k2tog and sl1-k1-psso being "Z" and "Ü" instead of more intuitive slanting lines or triangles (/ and \). However, the symbols are not as randomly chosen as they may seem to a non-German knitter—they are based on abbreviations for German knitting terms. For example, "Z" is knit 2 together because "zusammenstricken" is German for "knitting together." As I get more used to German knitting terms, I remember these abbreviations more easily and Engeln charts become a little more intuitive.

If you've been able to get used to reading any other chart for a previous lace project, you can handle this. If you have been wary of Engeln leaflets because you have seen how sketchy the Christine Duchrow reprints are, rest assured that the Engeln leaflets are vastly superior in terms of legibility and organization. I highly recommend them to anyone wanting to take some first steps into the world of foreign lace patterns.

Knitting a German doily pattern, part 1: German knitting translations

There are many doily patterns available in English, including Marianne Kinzel’s first and second books, Gloria Penning’s six books, and Knitted Lace by Sonja Esbensen and Anna Rasmussen. A doily-obsessed knitter could get along quite well working from those books alone. However, there are also many interesting patterns that are only available in German. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are knitters who have German lace patterns, or even collect them, but have never knit from one. I was one of those people for a long time! However, I think it’s getting easier and easier for me with every doily I’ve worked. It's not hard to work out a charted German lace knitting pattern—there isn't that much text.

Note #1: There’s a knitter’s dictionary called Knitting Languages by Margaret Heathman. I have the first edition; perhaps the second edition is better. For me, its usefulness was limited and could only give me a start with translating a few terms in lace patterns. I put together the information in this post mainly by correlating many different German publications with some English-language Burda publications and my own knitting experience.

Note #2: This guide is primarily designed as a guide to German lace knitting patterns, which are almost always largely based on a chart. I can't necessarily help you to decipher, say, written-out German instructions for knitting a short-row sock heel, because I can't actually read larger sections of German text.

Note #3: Don't forget that there are awesome groups on the web like Laceknitters on Yahoo Groups that have knowledgeable members from around the world who are always willing to help with translations (as well as all kinds of other lace knitting issues!).

We'll start with patterns for knitting a basic doily or tablecloth in the round that is essentially a circle or a regular polygon knitted from a point in the center (not an oval, oblong, or rectangle). Ok, I'm assuming that if you are interested in working out how to read German doily patterns, you have knit at least one before from a pattern in a language that you did know how to read. So, you probably already know that the instructions for a round doily almost always go something like this:

1) Cast on X number of stitches in the round. Divide stitches onto dpns, etc.
2) Follow the chart. All rounds that are not spelled out on the chart, knit around.
3) Make sure you have knit one more plain round after the last pattern round, then cast off by grouping the stitches with single crochet and making crochet chains of Y number of stitches between them. Block.

The trick is to simply work out the key to symbols in the chart. First, the basics:

1 Umschlag = yarn over
1 Masche rechts = knit 1
1 Masche links = purl 1
1 Masche rechts verschränkt = knit 1 through the back loop
2 Maschen rechts zusammenstricken = knit 2 together
1 Masche abheben, die folge Masche rechts stricken, die abgehobene Masche darüberziehen = slip 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over

From the above, you can also see that:

Masche or Maschen refers to "stitch" or "stitches" in general
rechts refers to "knit stitch"
links refers to "purl stitch"
verschränkt refers to "through the back loop"
zusammenstricken refers to "together"
abheben refers to "slip"
die abgehobene Masche darüberziehen refers to "pass slipped stitch over"

If you are aware of just these basic terms, you can work out more. For example, take a guess at "1 Masche abheben, 2 Maschen rechts zusammenstricken, die abgehobene Masche darüberziehen." It's slip 1, knit 2 together, pass slipped stitch over. Or how about this abbreviation: "1 M. re." It's 1 Masche rechts, or knit 1.

Here is a more complete list. It's a work in progress, and I'll be adding to it from time to time. Right now, I’m focusing only on the most common stitches in lace knitting—like yarn overs and decreases. I might cover other stitches like cables later.

If you find errors or have other concerns, please, please leave comments!

German-English Knitting Translations

German knitting terms (with alternate text)German abbreviationsEnglish knitting terms
1 Masche rechts (1 Masche rechts stricken) 1 M. rechts/1 M. re.knit 1
1 Masche links (1 Masche links stricken)1 M. links/1 M. li.purl 1
1 Masche rechts verschränkt (1 Masche rechts verdreht stricken indem man sie von inhrer Mitte nach hinten hin abstrickt)-knit 1
through the back loop
1 Masche links verschränkt-purl 1 through the back loop
1 Umschlag1 U.1 yarn over
2 Maschen rechts zusammenstricken (2 Maschen rechts zu einer Masche zusammenstricken)2 M. r. zusammenstr/2 M. r. zusstr.knit 2 together
1 Masche abheben, die folge Masche rechts stricken, und die abgehobene Masche darüberziehen (1 Masche abheben, dann 1
Masche rechts stricken, und die abgehobene Masche überziehen
-slip 1-knit 1-pass slipped stitch over
2 Maschen rechts verschrankt zusammenstricken-knit 2 together through the back loops
3 Masche rechts zusammenstricken3 M. r. zusammenstr.knit 3 together
1 Masche abheben, 2 Maschen rechts zusammenstricken, die abgehobene Masche darüberziehen (1 Masche abheben, dann 2 Maschen rechts zusammenstricken und die abgehobene Masche über diese zusammengestrickte Masche ziehen)1 M. abheben, 2 M. rechts zusammenstr., die abgehobene M. darüberziehenslip 1-knit 2 together-pass slipped stitch over
2 Maschen abheben, dann 2 Maschen rechts zusammenstriken und die 2 abgehobenen Maschen über die zusammengestrickte Masche ziehen-slip 2-knit 2 together-pass 2 slipped stitches
1 Masche rechts verschränkt aus dem Masche-Querdraht herausstricken-make 1 by lifting the thread between two stitches and knitting it through the back loop
aus 1 Masche, 2 Maschen stricken [1 Masche rechts, 1 Masche links]-[knit 1, purl 1] into the same stitch
1 Masche wie zum Linksstricken abheben-slip 1 purlwise
1 Masche wie zum
Rechtstricken abheben
-slip 1 knitwise
x Maschen
x M. anschl.cast on x stitches
x Lftm./x Lm.x-stitch crochet chain

In any language, there are always several ways of saying the exact same thing, and so your German knitting pattern might not use these exact same words. I have tried to provide some alternate German wording as well as possible abbreviations for some of the terms.

Note that for now I have deliberately not matched up these knitting terms to any specific list of symbols from a German publication (like an Anna/Burda magazine, or a Diana/Lea magazine). In my opinion, if you want to really want to get into the multitude of German lace knitting patterns out there, it's best to learn to recognize the actual knitting words that will appear in all of these publications regardless of the symbols used. Soon, you will be able to pick up any German knitting chart key and be able to at least work out the basic stitches from memory. Also, in order to have a better shot at understanding abbreviations you may encounter in German patterns, you should be familiar with what the words might be. If you've never seen "1 Masche rechts" before, it can be difficult to get what "1 M re" is since you can't look up that term in a dictionary.

Special situations in lace knitting patterns

Casting on and crocheting off

GermanGerman abbreviationsEnglish
x Maschen
x M. anschl.cast on x stitches
x Lftm./x Lm.x-stitch crochet chain

Instructions for casting on will either appear near the beginning rounds of the chart or in the notes to the pattern—look for “anschlag.” At the end of the pattern notes, look for “Luftmaschen” or numbers above the final round of the chart. In an Engeln pattern, for example, there are two rows of numbers of above the final round—the lower numbers are how many stitches to group with single crochet, the upper numbers are how many stitches to chain in between groups. It also helps to know that “häkeln” means “crochet” (and “stricken” means “knitting”).

Making stitches into multiple yarn overs

Multiple yarnovers (such as [yo]x3) in a pattern round are usually treated on the following round by either working [knit 1, purl 1, alternating] or [knit 1, knit 1 through the back loop, alternating] into the multiple yarnover. The number of stitches worked into the yarnover varies depending on the lace pattern and is not always the same as the number of yarnovers made. For example, a pattern might say: [yo]x3 in one round, then work [k1, p1, k1, p1, k1] into the yos in the following round.

There are several ways to describe this situation in a pattern. One is to simply show multiple yarn over symbols in the pattern round, then explicitly spell out the next plain round in the chart with [k1, p1] or [k1, k1tbl] symbols where necessary above the yarn over symbols. Another way is to provide special written instructions in the accompanying text (e.g., "In round 54, make 12 stitches into the yarnovers by alternating k1, k1tbl”). Other times, a chart will have a big complex-looking symbol in a pattern round that represents a multiple yarn over and the stitches made into it on the next round (e.g., in the symbol key, you might see “Yarn over 3 times and in the next round, make 18 stitches into the yarn overs by alternating k1, p1”).

I can't list every possible example here, but the key is to figure out how the pattern you have describes what to do about multiple yarn overs, and then from the following translations you should be able work out much of what is specified.

GermanGerman abbreviationsEnglish
UmschlagU.yarn over
1 Masche rechts, 1 Masche links1 M. re., 1 M. li/rechts-links/r.-l.knit 1, purl 1
1 Masche rechts, 1 Masche rechts verschränkt1 M. re., 1 M. re verschränktknit 1, knit 1 through the back loop
folge Rundefolg. Rd.next round

Shifting the beginning of the round left or right

Sometimes in the chart, a symbol will appear next to the round number indicating to shift the start of the rounds by a certain number of stitches right or left. The symbol will either include a number (such as “3 Mv” in Burda patterns) or be repeated for how many stitches (such as “+++” in Engeln patterns).

There are different ways to describe this situation in a symbol key, so it can be hard to see exactly which symbol means shift right and which symbol means shift left. Some examples from Burda and Engeln publications:

Before the beginning of the round, slip the first stitch from left needle to right needle (or knit an additional stitch) to shift the beginning of the pattern to the left:
Burda: nach dem Ende der Zwischenrunde die Zwischen runde eine Masche weiter stricken
Engeln: vor einer Runde bedeutet, daβ die erste Masche der Runde auf die vorhergehende Nadel abgestrickt wird

Before the beginning of the round, slip the last stitch from the right needle to the left needle (or don’t work the last stitch) to shift the beginning of the pattern to the right:
Burda: die Zwischenrunde 1 Masche vor dem Schluβ der Runde beenden
Engeln: die letzte Masche der vorhergehenden Runde auf die nächste Nadel herübergehoben wird

If you haven’t been able to work out the exact translation, just look at your knitting to see which direction to shift makes more sense.

Columns of twisted or purled stitches

The pattern notes might further indicate is what do to in the plain rounds when the pattern rounds make a column of twisted stitches, purls, 1x1 crossed stitches, etc. The middle vein through a lace leaf shape, for example, might be column of twisted stitches in the pattern rounds. Well, I would just keep doing whatever the stitch is in the intervening plain rounds (twist the twisted stitches, purl the purled stitches, etc), no matter what it said in the notes (gasp!!). I think I have encountered instructions in German patterns that do specify maintaining twisted stitches in plain rounds, but until I am certain, I don’t have examples to list here right now.

Pattern repeats

Sometimes the text will also note something like "From rounds 1-52, the chart is repeated 5 times in each round. From rounds 53-76, the chart is repeated 10 times in each round." Think of a doily having ten petal shapes repeated in the center which grow into twenty leaf shapes repeated around the outer perimeter (hint: see Egeblad!). As you can probably see, this information isn't critical to knitting the doily, since the way the pattern repeats itself around the doily is usually evident as you knit the pattern (or, just look at the picture of the finished pattern).

Finding all the pieces of the pattern

Sometimes if the pattern chart isn’t obviously right next to the photo of the doily, it helps to know “seite” means “page,” and “bogen” or “musterbogen” means “pattern sheet.”

Non-round doilies

What about oval, rectangular, or oblong doilies that aren't just knitted around and around a center point? Yes, the pattern notes will have some instructions on how to do that. But I will have to go into those issues in a later installment, as I think I've crammed enough into this post! The stuff above should give you enough info to knit a round doily or cloth, though, so if you haven’t tried a German pattern yet, just go for it!

29 October 2006

Burda 554/5

Pattern: Pattern #5 from Burda Special 554
Thread: 40/2 linen
Needles: 2 mm

This doily in linen thread blocked out more evenly than my Burda 554/6 doily, probably because it doesn't have large stockinette stitch sections or a lot of unusual textures.

28 October 2006

Swallowtail Shawl

Pattern: Swallowtail Shawl by Evelyn Clark in Interweave Knits Fall 2006
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr (color Elderberry)
Needles: 3.75 mm

This shawl is fairly small, less than four feet across the top edge. I enjoyed knitting this design very much—it's the second shawl designed by Evelyn Clark that I have made (the other being the Shetland Triangle from Wrap Style, which I knit last fall). Swallowtail is begun from a few stitches at the neck, and the increases are placed so that the shawl grows out diagonally to the left and right to form the triangular shape. There is no separately knitted on sideways border—the stitches are simply bound off along the left and right edges.

There are some p5togs as part of the nupps making up the Estonian lily-of-the-valley lace pattern border. For ease of knitting, I chose to execute these decreases as slip 3 knitwise, purl 2 together, pass slipped stitches over.

Anyone who has this issue of Interweave Knits should also check out editor Pam Allen's note on page 2—she quotes some fascinating notes from Evelyn Clark about why the scallop pattern on the edges of her triangular shawls cannot be created just by using a slightly wavy lace pattern in the final rows. In the Swallowtail Shawl pattern, the number of stitches in the very last row is increased by about 25% and a particularly loose kind of bind off is used to in order to ensure that the scallops develop. Shetland Triangle, which is also scalloped at the edge, is finished off using the same method.

25 October 2006


Pattern: Egeblad, available as a free pattern online (written instructions only, no charts)
Thread: Cebelia 30 crochet cotton
Needles: 2 mm

This pattern was originally designed by Christine Duchrow and is pattern #1 in her 64th leaflet (reprinted in The Knitted Lace Patterns of Christine Duchrow, Volume 3). It does not appear to have been named "Egeblad" by Duchrow.

I'm including a picture of it on the blocking foam. If you look very closely, you can see that I don't trim my thread tails until after I have finished blocking.

I knit the doily from the online pattern, not the original Duchrow charts. Despite the fact that I prefer using charts, the knitting was quick (I started and finished it within a single weekend, albeit an obviously lazy one!). It's a classic example of a doily that uses only single yarn overs and the basic decrease stitches (k2tog; sl1-k1-psso; and s1-k2tog-psso) to acheive a beautiful effect. There are no special increases, crossed stitches, tricky k5togs or k7togs, or a bunch of double yos to slow you down. The stitch repeats are small, and it's easy to stop looking at the pattern so much and just get into a rhythm (you end up with 20 repeats around the doily, so each repeat does not have too much going on even in the larger final rounds). I can definitely see why it's a popular lace knitting pattern in the online knitting world, and I would highly recommend it to knitters who are new to doilies.

Dark red Cebelia thread bleeds. A lot. I know red dyes usually bleed a bit during washing, but this thread turned my fingers red while I knit! I rinsed it five times before I was satisfied that not too much dye would continue to come out.

A word about the blocking foam in the picture: It's an item imported from Germany that is available from Lacis in California. I like that it has circles and ovals drawn in already—it seems designed for blocking doilies. But it's a flimsy lightweight foam. Since it has creases from being folded into quarters, I have to weigh it down at the corners during use just to keep it totally flat on the floor. And, a white doily on its white surface is practically invisible, making it harder than usual to block out. I much prefer the quality of this blocking board instead, which is heavy and very tough and...gray! It's actually made by a company that makes table pads for protecting dining tables, and no surprise, is quite similar to a table pad.

24 October 2006

A belated introduction

Well, now that I've gotten this blog started and actually put its address in my signatures in knitting list posts, maybe I should say a little about what this site is supposed to be about.

I hope to use this blog to put out some of my thoughts about knitting for public discussion. Or, if I don't have much of a regular audience, that's fine too. Maybe someone searching for a particular knitting topic one day might find a useful tidbit of information archived here.

I also intend to use this space to assemble some pictures of my finished projects in order to keep some records for myself. I can only dream that my projects might inspire anyone as my favorite knitting galleries on the web have inspired me over the years, but if they did, I would be thrilled.

Please feel free to say hi and let me know your thoughts!

By the way, I promise I'll get into some topics other than "doily math" soon! :-) I'm currently working on information on reading German lace knitting patterns, and Erich Engeln patterns in particular. I think it's a pity that Engeln patterns don't seem to be knitted often when the leaflets are still in print and not that hard to obtain, and they are really pretty clear (much easier to read than the Christine Duchrow reprints, I think, although I will get around to tackling those someday too).

Math for doilies and shawls, part 2

Let's compare the estimates from part 1 to a stitch-by-stitch calculation of a simple hypothetical doily having 16 total rounds. This doily starts with 8 stitches in round 1, increases to 16 stitches in round 3, 24 stitches in round 5, and so on (8 stitches increased every other round, a "standard" increase rate that produces a flat doily). There are 64 stitches in each of final rounds 15 and 16.

The total number of stitches in this doily is (8+8+16+16+24+24+32+32+40+40+48+48+56+56+64+64) = 576

After round 8 of 16, the total number of stitches is (8+8+16+16+24+24+32+32) = 160

160 stitches/576 stitches = .277 (i.e., 28%) In other words, after round 8, about 28% of the stitches have been completed, which more or less corresponds to the "25%" quick estimate from above.

Also, 70% of the total number of rounds (16) is about 11 rounds. After round 11, there are 288 stitches. 288 stitches/576 stitches = .5 (i.e., 50%) In other words, half of the stitches have been knitted, just as predicted by the estimate from part 1.

Of course, increasing eight stitches every other round can produce a square or a circular shape depending on where the increases are placed in the pattern. As far as estimating the number of stitches left to knit, it doesn't matter what shape the pattern is, so long as it is basically flat.

What about triangular shawls, the kind knitted back and forth from a few stitches cast on at the center of the neck with rows getting longer and longer? Like the Kiri shawl by Polly at alltangledup or the Flower Basket shawl by Evelyn Clark? Well, they are essentially half of a square knitted from the center out, where 4 stitches increased every other round is a good rule of thumb for producing a flat triangular shape. The percentages are the same for a triangle as if you were working all the way around a square—when you have knitted half of the total number of rows, you have completed about 25% of the shawl, and when you have knitted 70% of the total number of rows, you have completed about 50% of the shawl (not counting any additional knitting like a sideways-knitted lace edging).

Math for doilies (and shawls) knitted in the round, part 1

Say your doily is 100 rounds. You have just finished round 50 and are "halfway" through the pattern, but of course you're not actually halfway through the knitting because the rounds so far have been relatively small and are only getting bigger and bigger. Question #1: Well, how much of the doily have you completed, then? Question #2: How many rounds will you have to finish before you're really at the halfway point?

For exact answers, you can count up all the stitches in the doily round by round (a spreadsheet would help!). You can then divide the number of total stitches by the number of stitches completed so far to find out how much of the knitting you've done. However, there is an easier way to estimate the answer instead, based on the fact that the area of a circle is equal to pi times the square of its radius. Think of comparing two circles—one circle is the finished, whole doily; the other circle is the doily in progress.

Note that we also have to assume that the doily is flat and increases more or less evenly and gradually (like eight stitches increased every other round—but the exact numbers are not critical). This math doesn't quite apply so well to an Elizabeth Zimmermann "Pi shawl," where there are many rounds with no stitch increases and a few rounds where the stitch count suddenly doubles. (I'll have to look into pi-shawl math some other time!)

Estimated answer to question #1:

  • The fraction of the finished doily you have so far is equal to about (the number of rounds completed so far)²/(the number of total rounds in the finished doily)².
Plugging in the numbers from our example: 50²/100² = 2500/10000 = .25 (i.e., 25%)

So, in a doily with 100 total rounds, you have knitted about one fourth of the doily when you have finished round 50.

Estimated answer to question #2:

  • The number of rounds completed before you get to a certain fraction of the finished doily is equal to about (the square root of fraction of the finished doily)*(the number of total rounds in the finished doily).

Plugging in the numbers from our example, √.5 * 100 rounds = .707 * 100 rounds = 70.7 rounds

For a doily with 100 total rounds, you have knitted about half when you have finished round 70 or 71.

Based on the results above, here are some easy to remember generalizations:

  • When you have knitted half of the total number of rounds, you have knitted about one fourth of the total doily.
  • You have knitted half of the total doily when you have knitted about 70% of the number of total rounds.

Other examples:

To estimate how many rounds it takes to complete 80% of a 125-round doily, use equation #2: √.8 * 125 rounds = 111.8 rounds.
Or, to estimate how far along you are when you have just finished round 85 in a 96-round doily, use equation #1: 85²/96² = .78 (i.e., 78%)

Remember that every pattern is different and these are just general estimates. However, if anything, the math demonstrates that you should not understimate the amount of time (and thread!) you still need when you may be "only" a dozen rounds from finishing a large doily.

23 October 2006

Burda 554/6

Pattern: Pattern #6 from Burda Special 554
Thread: 40/2 linen, available here.
Needles: 2 mm

This pattern is full of interesting stitches beyond the basic left and right decreases and yarn overs. There are k3togs, k7togs, 1x1 crossed stitches, and one I haven't seen too often: slip 1, knit 2 (not k2tog!), pass slipped stitch over the 2 knit stitches (a 3-into-2 decrease).

I plan to post some closeups comparing the 40/2 linen thread with a smooth crochet cotton like DMC Cebelia soon. Even from this doily picture, you can see how this linen thread itself is uneven and how the stitches are imperfect, probably because of the thread's "crunchy" texture. In my experience with this and several other doilies, this 40/2 linen thread doesn't seem to pull into perfectly even stitches as readily as a smooth cotton thread does. However, I think the slightly wobbly-looking stockinette stitch sections are rather interesting and not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your taste; it's just different from the usual die-cut look with the high quality crochet cotton. I also love how the linen makes the blocked doily feel slightly rigid without any starch. It's a little like a piece of paper.

Doily by Erich Engeln

Pattern: "D" from Erich Engeln leaflet #17
Thread: Cebelia 30 crochet cotton
Needles: 2 mm

This pattern is available here. It's in German, but everything is well charted.

Also note that this doily and the one below are knitted in a light green shade of Cebelia. Do not adjust your monitor—they're not supposed to be white!

Doily by Herbert Niebling

Pattern: Pattern #50 from Burda Special 418
Thread: Cebelia 30 crochet cotton
Needles: 2 mm

This doily is credited to designer Herbert Niebling in Burda 418. Unfortunately, the Burda magazine is out of print, but this pattern is still available as a leaflet published by Coats Intermezzo.

In the original pattern, two of the six corners have double the number of small diamonds, resulting in a pointy oval or "eye" shaped doily. I knit all of the corners the same way.