It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes I catch the lace bug. It happened several summers ago, and then ever since I've been concentrating on my main love: socks, mittens, hats, even scarves and shawls, but not complicated lacey ones. It's not that I draw a definite line, and lace will totally slip into my work sometimes.
This week I found myself paging through stitch dictionaries, and then grabbing needles and swatching. Then I went through the library catalogues and requested a gaggle of lace books.
This was partially fueled by a general lace excitement, and partially a search for the best way to knit up my skein of tainted love.The yarn was slim and twisty, and was in no way appropriate for socks. (Or rather, I'm not willing to knit on a size 0 needle or smaller, which would have been required to make this a decent pair of socks.)
The pattern Gail (aka Nightsong) jumped out as the Right Pattern For The Yarn, and I cast on right away. Knitting lace is a completely different experience than my usual knitting. I can't put the needles on automatic pilot while watching a show or chatting with friends. I can't use the chart for a few rows and then memorise the pattern. I can't read my knitting and know just by looking at what stitches I've already knit what stitches I should knit next. I can't forget my pattern at home and blunder ahead anyway.
Also, knitted lace is never very pretty while still on the needles. It's scrunchy and bunched up and all messy. When it grows up, it should be lovely. That's the intent, anyway.
The little orange lines snaking through the pattern are "lifelines". These are threaded through the stitches and left there as a safety net. If I ever screw up royally, I can pull out the needles and rip out the stitches down to the lifeline. That will hold the stitches securely and allow me to carefully put the stitches back on the needle. With a sock, I can just rip out stitches and put them back on the needle without too much difficulty. It's time consuming, but simple. With lace, there's so many complicated stitches that ripping out is a headache, and can sometimes be so unrecoverable that the entire project has to be scrapped. The lifeline is there to prevent a project-dooming calamity.
Experienced and daring knitters knit lace with a lifeline. I'm not that experienced with lace, and decided the extra time and fuss of putting in the lifelines was a worthwhile use of my time. With careful attention and good knitting, I will hopefully have no need for them.