Skip to content

Shape of Lace : part one

June 12, 2012

Do you love lace?  Do you have a secret belief that you could be a brilliant designer (…but you just haven’t tried it yet).

This is the first of several posts to guide you as you develop a design from inception through to completion.  Join me, and lets go on a design adventure together!


At the beginning, when I’m thinking about a new design, I’m usually thinking about SHAPE, COLOUR, and CONCEPT.  There are no rules in design (I love my job!), you can just go with what appeals to you.

I would like to say before we begin that design is not a linear process.  This is not a step-by-step how-to, but more of a series of useful tutorials / inspirations to guide you on your own design adventure.  Designing a lace piece requires a willingness to make mistakes and try out bunch of different things until you discover what works.  This requires a large degree of patience, concentration and commitment.  But if you already knit lace then you know about hard work, concentration and commitment – so you are well prepared. Let’s get started!

C O L O U R – we knit (and design) to bring beautiful and unique things into the world.  So much of the beauty I see in the world is in vivid colour.

When I am designing, sometimes start with colour, picking a yarn that I think is amazingly beautiful, and developing a design to show it off.  What colours do you love?

The inspiration for the Photosynthesis Shawl was a combination of COLOUR (a fabulous green) and CONCEPT (I wanted to design a leaf-lace shawl).

Another example: my mother looks so beautiful in blue, so when I designed a lace pattern for her 60th birthday present (this wave lace scarf) I worked with a beautiful blue skein of Cashsilk Lace by SweetGeorgia Yarns, and the wave lace stitch pattern I developed was a result of the colour decision.  Green = leaves and blue = water… yeah, I know that’s not really very creative, but you have to start somewhere!

S H A P E – sometimes I begin with a distinctive idea about the geometry I’d like to use, and the shape of the end result.  Or I think… hey… I’ve never designed a circular shawl, let’s see what happens if I do!

There are many ways to form a square or rectangular shawl: working end to end, lengthwise, working in the round to form a square or rectangle, or working from a central point out to to two ends.

EXAMPLES: The Thistle Scarf is knit very simply from end to end, and Norma (new free pattern in Knitty) is a great big lace square, knit from the centre out.

Shawls or lace blankets can be knit in a few different ways to form circles or almost-circle shapes.  Typically they are knit from the centre out in rounds, with a number of increase points to form a spiralling octagon / pentagon, or with increase rounds at increasing distance from the centre, as in the pi shawl.

EXAMPLES: the Brooklyn Tweed’s Girasole blanket is knit with a pi formula, and Felicia Lo’s Shattered Sun Shawl is knit as a half-pi shawl.

Chrysanthemum Shawl by Tin Can Knits

Chrysanthemum Shawl (or Blanket) by Tin Can Knits

Using the same logic, and structure, you can form a semi-circular shawl, working 180° or more.

EXAMPLES: my Chrysanthemum and Botany designs can be knit as circular shawls or blankets, or as semi-circular pieces.

Botany Shawl by Tin Can Knits

Botany Shawl (or blanket) by Tin Can Knits

The triangular shape is simple and classic – it is one half of a square, and is formed knitting back and forth, increasing at 4 points.  You can develop / tweak a triangle shape to make a Batwing shape, which increases more often at the start and end of round, causing the fabric to flare wider and the arms to curve upward.

A crescent shape can be formed in a few different ways; either with short-rows and subtle decreases which curve the fabric into a banana shape, or by knitting end-to end and creating a curve by the way stitches are increased and decreased along the edges of the piece.

EXAMPLES: My all-time favourite triangular shawl is the Swallowtail Shawl by Evelyn Clark (free!), and a great example of a crescent shawl is Annis by Susanna IC (another fabulous free pattern).

You can also form a shawl or blanket using modular construction, by making a bunch of smaller pieces then sewing them together.  You can work with squares like I did in the Dogwood blanket and the Vivid blanket, or hexagons like Norah Gaughn’s Medallion Shawl.

Vivid Blanket by Tin Can Knits

Vivid Blanket by Tin Can Knits

C O N C E P T – sometimes I don’t just start with COLOUR or SHAPE or a favourite lace stitch pattern, sometimes I start with a bigger, more general, over-arching IDEA.  Mmmmm ideas… yum! as it happens have a shoebox full of them.  Wanna peek inside?


The design of my lace piece Estuary was a case of a strong concept which I developed into a finished piece.

I grew up next to the ocean. I love the way that when you look out over the water, at the horizon the waves are tiny and indistinct and form horizontal lines.  Nearer you they become more shapely until the waves at your feet or under the deck of your boat are big, curving, organic lumpy things.  In response to this idea I developed the two lace patterns; one small scale, one large scale.  And I knit the shawl lengthwise because it would not have looked right otherwise: the structure of the stitch patterns themselves dictated the form that the shawl would take.

Estuary Shawl

Estuary Shawl – a free pattern by Tin Can Knits


From your initial concepts, get started by learning how to create lace charts from text instructions, and then how to create shaped lace charts, how to transition from one lace pattern to another, and how to design edging patterns that work with your chart repeat!

Like this?  Share on Facebook and get our email updates! Thanks for your support, ♥ Emily & Alexa

Some Lace Patterns you might like:

Bonny Shell by Tin Can KnitsVivid Blanket by Tin Can Knits

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April Anderson permalink
    July 29, 2018 6:06 am

    I love the way you start with drawing simple representations of ideas, or shapes in nature, or colours (the sketching and doodling first steps of designing something are the most exhilarating!) and then apply the “rigour” of knitting – the techniques that will turn the idea into a piece of fibre work. Very interesting and effective creative process, Thank you!

  2. Vicky Diodati permalink
    May 30, 2014 8:11 pm

    I purchased a pattern and took a class for your snowflake pattern. I haven’t had any luck with the completion of this little sweater. I first took a class in Los Gatos, Ca. but unfortunately, the owner had to sell. I was unaware and didn’t return for some help. Now I have gone to another shop and I hope that I will be able to complete this project. I am not a beginner but with this pattern that is exactly what I feel like. I have been looking in your web site to see if there was anything mentioned about this pattern and I had no luck.
    I did however find hopefully 4 shops that carry this pattern, Los Altos, San Francisco, Oakland and Napa. I am willing to drive more than an hour to see if anyone can help. Next week I will be going to Napa to visit a friend and I am going to see if (Yarns on Frist) can help me. after that I guess I will try the others one at a time, I really hope I can finish this.
    If by any chance you have Skype maybe we can talk on the phone and get some suggestions. Thank you Vicky D

  3. June 15, 2012 5:53 pm

    I love the design idea shoe box, I love your colors, your process – and how you present it! I love love love it! So fresh and clean and original. Love your work, will follow with interest and tap into your inspiration! thank you for sharing!

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: