Lace is a delicate balance between positive and negative space. Light and dark, stitches and holes, being and not being.

Lace is a delicate balance between positive and negative space. Light and dark, stitches and holes, being and not being.

Important lesson of the week: In lace, as in many art forms, negative space is more powerful than positive space.

Look at the fragment of a design that you see below.

What does your eye notice?

The holes. The patterns in the negative space.

The positive-space leaves are dark, solid areas full of knit stitches, and they attract almost no attention. There are strong lines in the negative space that pull toward the center of the pattern, and that’s where my eye focuses. On that single yo right in the middle. As far from the main motif as I can get.

To be fair, this is partly because the leaves are at the sides of the piece rather than in the middle, where your eye is most prone to spend its time. But still. Too much open space, and too much going on in the open space to allow your eye time to find the “dominant” motif.


In that swatch, all of the leaf motifs are pretty equally spaced, so that there is lots of empty space to fill between them. I had tried to fill that empty space with partially-solid areas, which I hoped would pull it together and keep the design flowing through rather than getting stuck in the openwork.

That didn’t work quite as I’d intended, obviously.

Next, I tried squishing the motifs together a bit to close up some of that huge central region. I also removed some of the more solid parts of the “open” center area. Instead, I placed the two motifs as close together horizontally as I could without changing the increases and decreases around the border of the leaf. The design went from 40 st wide to 31.

This helped quite a bit.

In this swatch, the faggoting rows really lean into the pattern and help to draw your eye back into the positive space. Here, the strong lines of the negative space feed into the curves of the pattern and reinforce rather than distract. This is particularly interesting because I thought that those same lines were distracting when the motif was by itself on a stockinette background. (Walden knew that they were right all along…)

In a way, the faggoting columns are giving me the same central motion that I’d wanted to achieve with positive space in the first swatch. But here, negative and positive are working together, rather than competing.

I didn’t finish knitting the last few rows of this swatch, because it was clear that I still need to do some more re-designing. At the very beginning of the leaves, I had left some solid spots, thinking that they might make nice accent areas to balance the three leaf tips.

Well, to put it simply, they don’t. They might if they were further removed from the pattern, but here I think that they completely obliterate the leaf tips. I need to rework that section, though I’m not yet sure what to do with it.

It’s also interesting how the fabric is behaving when not pinned out. I made sure that my stitch count stays the same on every row, because I thought it would be easier to keep track of things. No need to make the first pattern too complicated, right?

However, I am going back and forth between a very open lace background and a very solid motif, which necessarily causes changes in my gauge. This is what the swatch looks like without pins:

(That’s also a lot closer to its real color, since I didn’t use the flash.)

Over a large piece of fabric, these puckers will all balance one another out because of the diagonal motif arrangement, but in a single pattern repeat, it’s a pretty drastic change.

With some rigorous blocking, I think the piece would lie flat, but it’s interesting to see just how differently these two areas stretch. I don’t know if the fabric will pucker in a larger piece after blocking. That’s definitely something to consider, but I’m not really sure how to test it without just knitting a big piece, and I’m not ready to do that yet.

The fabric shape also has implications for how the faggoting looks. At the top of the leaf, the fabric is narrowing quickly, and so all of the yo’s stretch sideways rather than looking round. I like what that does to the pattern, but it’s not something I’d have planned.

The yo’s between the leaf fronds, on the other hand, are in the area that has a lot of openwork and so is very stretchy. They stay very round, and very small. I’m not sure that this helps the pattern, but that’s what they do.

The gauge distortion is enhanced by the decreases at the leaf base. I wanted the base to pull in quickly to the stem rather than stretching out for several rows, and so I added extra decreases in the main leaf motif. That’s also what gave the it those beautiful, swirly lines in the upper fronds. I balanced the rapid decreases with increases, but not fast enough, apparently. Since the leaf area doesn’t stretch much, changing its size has a much bigger effect on the overall fabric than do changes in the lace area. Also, from the stress points, it looks like I really should have added those extra increases a row or two before starting the decreases. Good to know.

Replacing the solid areas by the tips with more openwork might help to alleviate the gauge issues, as well as helping to define the tips more clearly. I’m not even sure that the gauge thing is an issue to alleviate, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s pulling in too much and might pucker if given the chance.

So, to summarize: I like the area between the leaves. The motifs are better closer together. The tips still need work, and the fabric might pucker.

In general, negative space is even more important than the motif that it highlights.

And we’re only on swatch #4!