Thursday, September 28, 2006

In Praise of Entrelac

I love entrelac.

First, when you say it, you sound French without even having to put on a fake accent.

Second, it looks really, really hard to do and it isn’t.

Third, it’s magic.

I say this because when I decided to take up knitting again about nine months ago, I wanted to make a shawl for my daughter, something I considered a relatively simple back-to-knitting project. The Nice Knitting Lady at my local yarn store showed me a whole book of shawls and, in all innocence, I picked the entrelac one because it was large and warm and I’m a sucker for anything that looks like latticework. She assured me that it was easy.

(Here's my daughter wearing her entrelac shawl.)

I started knitting the shawl in the store because there were some strange terms in the directions, such as “M1”, which I figured I’d need help with. But mostly I just followed the instructions slavishly without having any idea of what the stitches were supposed to be forming. All of a sudden I had a row of triangles. Where in the heck had those come from? Then I picked up some stitches and did some knitting together and--lo and behold!--I had a slanted rectangle attached to one of the triangles. Wow! It was magic.

Entrelac is a French term (duh!) which means interlaced. The pattern has other names such as basket stitch, trellis, lattice stitch or birch stitch but these are not nearly as sophisticated and cosmopolitan so I don’t use them.

(My latest entrelac project.)

It basically consists of a series of slanted blocks or rectangles framed by rows of triangles to give a straight edge. The finished project resembles a basket weave; it’s very three-dimensional. The pattern is amazingly easy to do and quite hypnotic. I consider entrelac my comfort stitch: interesting enough to hold my attention but not so hard that I end up cursing and frogging.

Entrelac can be done in garter stitch but is usually knitted in stockinette. It requires picking up stitches along one edge of one rectangle and then doing some knitting (or purling) together to slant it and attach it to the next rectangle. The end triangles are a bit more challenging but easily within a basic knitter’s grasp (once you get past the “M1”mystery).

I’ve seen entrelac patterns for afghans, sweaters, coats, vests, hats and, yes, socks! Some patterns turn it so that instead of being a diagonal pattern, it goes straight up-and-down. It’s particularly useful for using up odds and ends of yarn because you can get fabulous effects from knitting each row of rectangles in a different color. You can also felt it to create an intarsia argyle look although then you lose the three-dimensional lattice feeling.

So what’s your comfort stitch? What pattern makes you happiest?


Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

My comfort stitch? What a great question, Nancy! (And what gorgeous examples of entrelac.) I love anything with angles. I love anything that changes direction. Soft yarn, hard angles = knitting nirvana for me.

On the other hand, there's nothing comforting about k1p1k1p1k1p1 ad infinitum but I love seed stitch to distraction.

BTW, you must must must get a copy fo SOCKS SOCKS SOCKS, if only to see the gorgeous entrelac specimens. (Also check out Lucy Neatby's website and book.) And how about the Christmas socks knitted with thread on piano wires? They're smaller than a LOVE postage stamp! And even better, designed by a woman from our own Garden State.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Glad you like my entrelac, Barbara. But what do you mean by changing direction: does entrelac qualify for that since it goes diagonal? Give me an example, please.

Seed stitch! I haven't done that in ages. I love the way it looks.

The teeny Christmas socks are scaring me. I wouldn't even be able to SEE them, much less KNIT them. What makes people do things like that?

11:11 AM  
Blogger Cindi Myers said...

I am learning so much from you ladies. I've never heard of entrelac but I loved your pictures, Nancy. Another project to add to my list!

1:29 PM  
Blogger LauraP said...

I, too, am a seed stitch lover. I love the way it looks, and actually don't mind the knitting of it either since it gives my fingers a nice, well-balanced workout.

Your entrelac shawl is beautiful...yet another technique I haven't yet tried.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Jamie Denton said...

So...what's an M1?

2:38 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

I love knitting springing out of existing knitting. Picking up stitches along side edges, vertical lines next to horizontal, etc. Anything mitered. Pie-shaped wedges in a giant circle. Multidirectional scarves. Absolutely entrelac. Oh yes. It's one of the things I like most about doing a heel flap: when you pick up stitches after turning the heel you have that wonderful vertical/horizontal thing going on until you decrease back down to the original cast on # of stitches. And of course this whole thing looks best with self-striping yarn.

4:51 PM  
Blogger wavybrains said...

I just completed my first entrelac swatch last night! What great timing. I'm totally and completely hooked. There was a great tutorial in the latest Vogue knitting on enterlac. My other new comfort knitting is mitered squares. But, seed stitch is my main stay comfort stitch. Unlike Barbara, I find the steady rythem of knits and purls soothing. I love anything that combines knit and purl stitches in interesting ways, but seed stitch is absolutely my comfort stitch of choice. Comfort knitting that I just don't get: Garter stitch. I try to avoid garter stitch at all costs. I'm contemplating a seed stitch log cabin.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Wavybrains, I'm with you on the anti-garter stitch campaign! The baby bib I did my best to ruin was in garter stitch and it wasn't especially fun. That's probably why I kept throwing monkeywrenches into the works--to keep myself entertained.

I'm going to have to find a seed stitch project to do since you all are reminding me of how satisfying it can be. Do you think it would work for a baby bib?

I was afraid someone would ask what "M1" means. I'll try to explain but it's easier with pictures. It stands for "make one" and is a way of increasing, something I didn't realize when I first saw the term.

To do it, you insert the left needle from front to back into the horizontal "bar" of yarn (that stretches between the two needles when you're knitting) in the row below the one you're working on. Then you knit into the back of the extra stitch you just created. Voila! A whole new stitch.

You can also knit into the front to make it slant the other way. It's actually quite easy once you see a drawing. Mine's in the book ScarfStyle which has wonderful instructions on such things.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Yasamin said...

thats absolutely beautiful. For some reason, I couldn't knitt a freakin chain to save my life.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Theresa S. said...

What a coincidence! I just cast on the Lady Eleanor entrelac stole earlier this week. Entrelac is lots of fun despite all the turning. Do you knit backwards? I imagine that would speed the process up considerably.

But my comfort stitch -- plain socks. Around and around in stocking stitch, totally mindless knitting interrupted by brief flings with heels and toes. And at the end, you get socks. What could be more comforting than warm feet?

11:42 AM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Theresa S., OMG, that's the stole I made for my daughter. I love, love, love it. One of these days, I'm going to knit one just for me, something I never do.

No, I don't knit backwards--have no idea how to. I really don't mind the turning; it breaks up the knitting and makes me feel I'm making lots of progress.

Thanks, Yasamin. I'm glad you like the photos!

2:50 PM  
Blogger Dallas Schulze said...

Nancy - What a lovely shawl! Lady Eleanor is on my ever growing list of future projects and this inspires me to move it closer to the top.

Comfort stitch? I don't think I could narrow it down to just one. Like Barbara, I love knitting that changes direction. That's one of the reasons I like the classic heel flap sock. The area where the gusset takes off at a right angle from the heel flap never fails to make me happy. I also love cables - all that texture. But lace has all those pretty patterns. And seed stitch is so wonderful.

I guess, if I really had to pick just one, I'd agree with Theresa S. - plain socks. There's something so comforting about just knitting round and round. The knitter's version of a prayer wheel, maybe?

1:49 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Nancy, I keep coming back here to admire your daughter's shawl. (She looks so much like you! You must hear that all the time.) Where did you get the pattern? What yarn did you use? It looks so plush and luxurious. I'm totally in love with it.

11:21 PM  

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