The positives of negativity

When I was taking art in school, I had this teacher who was entirely and totally hung up on Negative Space. She was also totally hung up on what she believed to be the ugly vicious truth about cheese (hint: Google “rennet”) was entirely obsessed with pointillism, and knew a really disturbing amount about which famous artists had what sexually transmitted diseases. For me, this has resulted in guilt around cheddar, an interest in Maximilien Luce, an overwhelming fear of syphilis and the knowledge that what makes lace so interesting to knit is almost entirely negative space.

This teacher, for months and months, had us draw not the subjects of our work, but the space around and between them. It’s an interesting trick. Let’s say that you’re trying to draw a face. In your head, you have all of these ideas about what faces look like. You know that eyes go at the top, that noses go in the middle and mouths at the bottom… right? No. I drew this for you.


See that? Eyes in the middle. Check it out on a real person. (We will not include all of my hair to avoid throwing off the average. )


The first time someone showed me that, I can’t tell you how surprised I was. (And how much better my face drawing got, and how quickly.) Noses and mouths in thirds below that. When you are trying to draw the positive elements of your subject, all of this stuff that you think you know that you actually don’t know (like that eyes are in the middle of your face) influences the way that you draw, and you might not draw as well, considering that you’re fighting a battle with what you’re seeing (eyes middle) and what your brain knows (eyes top). Drawing the negative space in a face… the space around the eyes, nose and mouth, lets your brain give its presumptions a rest. You might have some really specific ideas about where eyes go.. but I bet you’ve never spent a lot of time internalizing what the space around your eyes looks like. We just don’t look at it- we’re human. We focus on the present objects – not the space around and between them. Drawing the negative space lets you draw more accurately sometimes, because your presumptions don’t leap up and guide you.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking … this is a knitting blog. Please stop talking about drawing and your art teacher because frankly, the drawing part is boring and that teacher sounds like she shouldn’t have been around young minds.. but stay with me. Knitting lace is like drawing negative space.


I’m knitting the positive. The present “subject”. The yarn and my stitches are making a thing… and that thing is what you see here. Very nice, pretty colours, looks soft and clever – but it’s not breathtaking, not gripping, not something that you’d be missing sleep to work on. (I may have stayed up a little late last night doing that just one more row thing) Looking at the positive, this is pretty ordinary, but if you look at the negative.. the space between and around the stitches….


Knitting lace is all about negative space. When I knit it, I feel like I am just putting yarn around important and select parts of air, and when I look at it that way, it knocks me senseless.

(This is the Peacock Feathers Shawl, from Fiddlesticks Knitting (best charts in the world) yarn is Midnight Rainbow, from Perchance to Knit.)

173 thoughts on “The positives of negativity

  1. Thank you for that insightful lesson! Your lace is lovely. I am knitting my first lace scarf. It is not so bad after a few inches, eh?
    I also really enjoyed visiting London through your experience…Merci!

  2. To add to the face drawing, eyes are generally one eye width apart — that means you could stick a third eye in between. Fascinating what you learn from an art teacher father!

  3. Art concepts are always interesting and applicable. Whether you’re knitting, quilting, cooking, gardening, dressing, building a house – it applies and makes the difference between something nice and Zowie!

  4. I was looking at a self-portrait my daughter had done in high school when I realized there were no outlines. The “edges” of her face were revealed by what lay behind them. It was quite a revelation, as is your insight about lace knitting. It *is* about what is not!

  5. Rembrandt’s rule of composition I believe it’s called. Having drawn for most of my life, it’s necessary to understand all the rules and guidelines in making a realistic portrait. I’ve never thought of applying the same to knitting design. Thanks!

  6. I learned the same thing in figure drawing class, and from that moment on, became very aware of how big my forehead was (and is).
    I will second the comment about Fiddlesticks having the best charts EVER! Well written and I have yet to find an error…

  7. I found this fascinating!
    It kills me that a lot of the organic, price-of-a-small-suburban-home cheese at my local health food store has rennet in it.

  8. Wow, I never would have thought about lace that way in a million years but you are absolutely correct. Thanks for the deep thoughts!

  9. Wow, perfect yarn, perfect pattern!
    I took a drawing class in high school, and I’d forgotten what you showed us today…

  10. The shawl-in-progress looks amazing, love the yarn!
    As to the post…does this mean if I start knitting the negative space lace knitting will start to happen for me?
    As opposed to the deliberate snarling of perfectly delightful yarn that is happening now.

  11. That space around MY eyes? . . . wrinkles. Amen to Fiddlesticks patterns. I did the lotus in hand-dyed silk and it was gorgeous. Now maybe I need to do a peacock, too.

  12. WOW, is that why I can’t draw? Give me a needle and thread or needles and yarn, but never ask me to draw anything!! That positive and negative space is amazing!

  13. It looks lovely and makes me feel guilty.
    Many moons ago when you blogged about receiving the yarn I bought some of the same from Perchance to Knit and the peacock feathers pattern-I have not yet started mine-hence the guilt as only you and I know how long ago that was……….

  14. So, I got caught up around cheese and rennet. In case anyone is worried/guilty about cheese, rennet is mostly (especially in the US, and I’m assuming, Canada) microbial made now. So you can worry about cheese the same amount as you would yogurt…. Yes, my energy in life is going toward rennet and microbes as opposed to knitting. Obviously I have some misplaced priorities….

  15. Is this like one of those magic eye things? I could never get the hang of those, no wonder I can’t draw. But I can knit. Lovely pattern, lovely yarn. Not much striping that I can see.

  16. Haha, as I was scrolling down, I thought “Hmm, that looks like a peacock” and lo and behold, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like! Well done to both you and Fiddlesticks! =)

  17. Hah, I learned that eyes-in-the-middle thing just this summer! I was working in a summer camp for kids and this was covered in an art class. It was a total eye-opener for me. It’s also amazing how some 9-10 year olds just don’t. get. it. but others do with flying colours.
    also, your lace looks beautiful! So true about the negative space.

  18. I had an art professor who must’ve been related — he obsessed about negative space too — and once I got my brain wrapped around the concept, I found myself drawing better when I took both positive and negative together and considered each as I drew. Ten years later, this concept has come back to help me tremendously as I work on my masters degree in landscape architecture, which is less about the plants themselves and more (99%) about creating space(es) with the aid of plants (putting plants around important and select parts of air, if you will).
    Wonderful post, thanks!

  19. Wow love the lace. That’s funny about the STD’s. I remember my daughter telling us a funny story about one of her film teachers telling her that a film without an ending is like sex without an orgasm.

  20. Just smashing – “putting yarn around important and select parts of air” – that absolutely says it all. I have that pattern lying around here somewhere and hope to knit it one day. The yarn is stunning – you introduced me to Perchance to Knit all that time ago, and I have been a loyal patron of hers ever since, although I haven’t fallen for your colourway just yet – my oldest son is leaving for college next week. They call it “leaving” because he is leaving us the tuition bill!
    Can’t wait to see the lovely negative peacock spaces!

  21. I like the phrasing about putting yarn around air. It gives a word weight to lace knitting (I’m sure that makes more sense in my head than to the world at large).

  22. “I feel like I am just putting yarn around important and select parts of air.”
    Wow, I love this. I’m knitting my first lace shawl currently (Shetland triangle), and this is such a cool way to look at it. Lace kntting is teaching me to enjoy the process, because when I think about other things or try to do too many rows at once, I make extra stitches and disaster follows. So I’m going slow and trying to be mindful. And now I can be mindful about the air at the same time! : )

  23. I’m usually struck by the space between some people’s EARS, but this was fascinating! Dangerous, too, as I now need to go and buy more yarn for some negativity testing.

  24. I have never thought about the negative space of lace in that way…I just think of it as part of the design that doesn’t require work…another great thing!

  25. Enzymes such as are found in rennet are perfect to settle your stomach after a meal. They usually work much better than antacids, and you can get them in chewable (mint flavored) form in most health food stores.
    They should (if you find ones with lactase in them) prevent you from having a problem with milk and dairy products if you have a problem digesting them.

  26. Daughter of an art dealer, and sister of an accomplished watercolorist, and I did not know that about drawing faces. Thank you for teaching me something new.

  27. How did I not know that? I know Fiddlesticks patterns are good (this pattern was the second piece of lace I ever knitted) but the thing with the proportions is new to me. That’s what you get for being a semi literate chemist instead of an arts student.

  28. I love reading about your thoughts with art. I love reading about your thoughts on art in its relation to knitting. It makes me happy. I knit and I draw and I love reading about how the two are joined. Intertwined. Related.

  29. This is why I love to pull out my antique lace on occasion, spread it out on a dark cloth and just soak up the spaces. The “betweens” are critical.

  30. Wow, I love the color of that yarn! I wish it came in a heavier weight, though. That would make an amazing sweater!

  31. I thought I was the only person who used ‘negative space’ in any sort of common conversation. When I said it to clients of my home dec business, they looked at me like I was totally insane. That was an excellent description of how to think about negatives – and the lace is lovely, too!

  32. Didn’t know about the microbial (thanks, Michelle,) but I did find out a while back that there’s synthetic rennet. Chow down in piece.
    And Betty Edwards/Drawing on the Right side of the Brain should have gotten a Nobel Prize. Eyes are farther down than you think. Necks are wider than you think. Ears are bigger than you think.

  33. I sooo get what you’re talking about. That’s maybe one of my favorite things to have learnt at art school, draw what you see, not what you think you see. I’m working on my first lace shawl right now and am so blown away by how cool lace is. I may be hooked!

  34. The lace is beautiful. I’m knitting my first lace project, and have to say it is a bu**er to sort out each time I go wrong! And I have to undo it, as even if no one else knows there’s a mistake, I would, and it would bug me!

  35. Poetry, as ever. My mum, who did an art degree, told me about the eyes thing when I was about 5 (early on, anyway). I can’t claim it’s helped long-term.
    The peacock lace is next on my laceweight to-knit list after I’ve finished obsessing on the Sivia Harding Diamond job I’m on at the moment, which you also put me onto (DH says thanks for that, by the way, he’s looking forward to having another proper meal when I’ve finished & BTW the kids have turned feral). I’m planning on a less imaginative peacock blue (duuuh) to let the negative space “speak”.

  36. Lovely shawl and pattern, and I love the jewel tones of the yarn.
    And about the eyes in the middle of my head, is it still in the middle if your glasses are bigger than your eyes? Do we deduct space or do I have to live with the fact that my forehead is as large as a highway billboard?
    Your teacher was tough!

  37. I think I need to lie down…that was deep. Actually now I think I need to go draw a face! Very interesting topic and the lace is gorgeous. And tomorrow we’ll see you wearing Hey Teach, yes? ๐Ÿ™‚

  38. As an art teacher, I loved today’s blog because it combined those pesky proportions and the fun of negative space! Also, as I’m sitting in a hotel room hoping my house it still there after Ike passes through, reading your blog is a lovely, welcome diversion from CNN and the Weather Channel. Thank you for blogging today – it’s a real treat, even more so than usual.

  39. This makes me think of the golden mean – a selling point of The Da Vinci Code. Nothing to do with lace but reminds me that eyes are usually in the middle and everything fills in proportionately.

  40. I love that pattern. Knit it awhile ago.
    And if you really want to know about cheese making and where rennet comes from there is a rather explicit passage in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods (or one of her books, anyway).
    there are probably good reasons you are a vegetarian. But rennet is in almost all cheese. They can make it with some weird genetic engineering technique now. Not sure if that makes you feel better or worse. (We have some in the fridge. Because Mat is now into making his own cheese.)

  41. Lovely lace as usual. It’s an interesting way to think about lace. At least your art teacher gave you some guidance even if it was weird. I took Introductory Oil Painting with Pat Passlof. She is a well regarded abstract painter and the wife of artist Milton Resnick. I spent the whole semester completely lost. She knew her stuff. She just didn’t know how to convey that knowledge to her students in any meaningful way. One day about two thirds of the way through the semester she came to look at the work on my easel. She gasped, grabbed my face and kissed me on the forehead. “You got it!” Then she moved on. She never did elaborate. To this day I have no idea what I ‘got’.

  42. No way! I’m working on this very same shawl, in Zephyr merino laceweight (color “Peacock” – how perfect is that?). It’s a gift for my mother’s 60th birthday. See, when I was a kid, my mom used a fountain pen instead of a ballpoint pen. This was in the days before fountain pens had cartridges for the ink. Instead, she had jars of ink that she would dip her pens into to refill them. And she always used peacock blue ink (that was actually the name of the color ink made by Shaffer). That color of blue is what I always think of when I think of my mom. Her handwriting is forever burned into my memory in that color. So when I saw that shawl pattern, I knew I had to make it for her, and it had to be in that color.
    I’m about 10 rows into chart 7 and have about 10 days to finish. I’ll be knitting like a mad woman this weekend.
    Can’t wait to see how yours turns out!

  43. Oh I love that! Right now I am making the Sheep Shawl, so I am wrapping my yarn around the air to make little trees and houses and flowers and sheep!

  44. What a wonderful pairing between yarn & pattern!
    I have that yarn; and that pattern; but it hadn’t occurred to me to make a midnight rainbow peacock. Wow!
    (they are both gorgeous, obviously, I agree)

  45. Hm… I’ve never really thought about lace that way. I just always looked at the actual shape that the yarn takes and used that to make the picture. ^_^

  46. I believe it was Stravinksy who said “Music is what happens between the notes”. Just like negative space. Just like lace. lovely.

  47. Negative space is a funny thing indeed. I’ve thought about it when making quilts (it’s a huge component of pattern and fabric selection), but I’ve never applied it to knitting. Makes perfect sense, though. And also very lovely lace ๐Ÿ™‚

  48. Let me just say, rennet? Ewwwwww. I don’t want to know about these things – especially while I’m eating some Babybel ๐Ÿ™‚

  49. I never know what I’m going to find when I come to your blog. It could be a crazy story about how you are human and make mistakes like the rest of us. It could be some amazing part of the world that defies the normal expectation of natural beauty. It could be a greater understanding of faith (that was a wonderful post yesterday). It could be a deeper appreciation of babies. It could be the ethical consideration of managing non-thinking people on subways!
    And today it’s negative space. Not something I think about often. We’ll see how long I’ll consider that in the next moments, days ahead as I knit my own lace, adding necessary design beads.
    Thank you for being the knitter you are!

  50. No wonder I can’t draw worth crap. I never knew that eyes in the middle thing.
    And I’m doing a Peacock, too, in Blue Heron mercerized cotton. The charts are simply splendid.

  51. I love this post! I am one of those crazy art teachers who constantly talks about negative space.
    I haven’t tried knitting lace. It might be time….

  52. I was awestruck when I read Betty Edwards’ book:
    “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and subsequently:”Drawing on the Artist Within”.
    That’s her teaching direction–drawing the negative spaces. Because if our brain says “chair” we will draw a stereotypical chair
    rather than the chair we actually see. She suggests as practice to draw from a picture held upside down so that our brain doesn’t send stereotypical messages. I really appreciate the
    info you’re delving into and sharing with brain work and function and how knitting relates to it.
    Very profound and informative. Thank you. And I guess knitting “knits together” both brain functions with the left side following instructions, organizing, systematically making the required stitches, and the right side meditating and drifting in and out with the shapes and colours and tactile textures. Knitting Rules, as you say!!

  53. I was an English major and I love a good metaphor, finding a connection between the truths in two seemingly unrelated concepts or experiences. Writing has taught me that white space on the page can be as meaningful as the words themselves. Yoga has shown me that the moments between poses are essential to the practice. And now you’ve shown us the negative space in knitting…brilliant!

  54. I keep telling my watercolor teacher (watercolorists are BIG into negative space) that my knitting informs my painting. Now I can tell her the reverse is also true!

  55. Stephanie, I’ve been lurking on your blog since the days when the only people who commented were your personal acquaintances. And I finally realized why. You are a natural born teacher. I’m not even a knitter! But your passion, strong family and community values, and mindful, integrated life inspire me and keep me a faithful reader. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  56. I really like drawing, especially horses. In my art class we are doing optical illusions which is interesting. Your lace is really pretty!

  57. This may seem apropos of nothing but as much as I love you lady, I think somehow this post will only help with my present predicament – which is how I managed since the onset of the menopause to somehow lose all sense of gauge – if I actually was knitting lace or drawing my face, and currently I’m scared to do either, as since I started getting regular “power surges” nothing matches the swatches, knitting is tighter and garments are getting smaller. Instead of having lovely things to wear, I have accumulated what can only be described as either “stock” or, more worryingly, Christmas Presents. I now understand why the British call it “tension”. Has anyone got any theories that will placate me until the next incoming shipment of 72% dark chocolate from Ecuador?

  58. I did that same shawl a couple of years ago. It turned out awesome and I get raves every time I wear it. And yes, Fiddlesticks’ charts are awesome!

  59. I’m with your art teacher on the rennet.
    And I love your beautiful description of lace knitting. I’m a real newbie at lace; I’ve trying to psych myself up to tackle a shawl. This post has moved me a bit closer to the ready position. ๐Ÿ™‚

  60. This is seriously cool. I’m not even a knitter and I get how cool this is. You and Franklin will convert me, I’m sure of it. Cheers!

  61. What a lovely idea, and I can’t wait to get home now to work on my numerous lace projects.
    I haven’t thought of negative space theory in a long time, and it’s a nice musing for the weekend.

  62. I, also, must leave out a lot of the hair.
    One of my girlfriends used to introduce me by saying “this is my friend Leslie, and this is her hair”.
    Hope to run into you in Kitchener.

  63. mmm…negative space… I’m an art school survivor too, and thank you for just making me much more interested in knitting lace then I’ve ever been ’til now!

  64. Very interesting…..I always thought the nose would be in the middle. The lace is lovely!

  65. I was most startled when one of my art instructors had me hold my hand in front of my face to teach me why my (drawn) hands always looked ridiculously small in proportion to the rest of the figure.

  66. Oh, and this vegetarian has long been grateful for rennetless cheeses, but will confess to having guilty moments of Parmesan pleasure.

  67. I just looked in the mirror and checked. Yep. How about that?
    (And I’m so glad I finally stopped eating cheese last year. Nasty stuff.)

  68. Man, I wore that to a when you came out here two years ago and you’re only just NOW getting to it? ๐Ÿ™‚
    I still love that shawl.

  69. Thanks for the drawing lesson, I never really thought about it that way. I guess its human nature to just focus on the things that catch our attention and not really even notice the space around it. I love the lace you are knitting! I love it when patterns reflect things in nature.

  70. Ditto! to the fine person that said silence is the negative space in music…it does define and set the notes apart. Sound is just noise if it were not for regularly spaced silences. (Blessings on all artistic expressions!)

  71. Speaking of lace, There is a new fiction book out called “The Lace Reader” by a new writer named Brunonia Barry about women in Salem, Mass. who make Ipswich lace or bobbin lace. It is beautifully written and fascinating with some fact thrown in(they say) to make it real.

  72. OMG I am knitting that same shawl! I’m using Sundara’s silk lace and it’s coming out amazing. I should update the photos on Ravelry.
    Your teacher sounds awesome. The idea of drawing negative space is what helped me with my drawing, too. Only I didn’t have a teacher, I had a book. (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.)

  73. No, I was not thinking talking about art was boring. I was thinking how it just goes to show you that you can learn something interesting even from teachers who drive you up a wall. Nice to know that I’m not the only person that happens to.
    And to know that the eyes are supposed to be in the middle instead of in the top 1/3 explains why my drawn heads always looked so out of whack.
    Learn something new almost every day.

  74. I think of lace as joining holes with thread.
    I usually design the holes, then can sometimes be surprised as the background of solids forms unexpected patterns. Obviously, I’m not endowed with good mental imaging skills!

  75. Seriously, this is why so many people read your blog. I *heart* this description of lace knitting – pretty much sums up why lace is so addictive – it’s all based on what’s not there.

  76. I was going to mention Betty Edwards, but rams (4:07 pm) and Marlyce (6:13 pm) beat me to it. The upside-down experiment was one of the coolest things I came across in art school.

  77. I think I finally understand why I love knitting lace so much. I’m stitching around the air spaces in my head! I mean, I’ve always known they exist, but to be able to decorate them…
    Very good lesson, Teacher!

  78. OKay–I was into it, I was buying it, I was actually GETTING ART THEORY.
    And then I saw that colorway and got distracted like a bird with a pretty ribbon.

  79. Erg. It looks like you’re right in the middle section of the pattern. So I must warn you – that part gets old pretty quickly and seems to last forever until at last you reach the very end of the feathers, which is more interesting. The finished product, though, is of course absolutely gorgeous and totally worth it (especially with the yarn you’re using, it looks really scrummy). So if it starts to drag on you…hang in there!

  80. This is all pretty basic art stuff – excellent. My Grandfather always refered to my Grandmothers lace crochet as “stringing a bunch of holes together”. Lovely lace!

  81. Peacock feathers– stunning!
    I didn’t stay up late to knit, tonight. My husband told me not to– “You’re not going to stay up all night to finish those socks, are you?”
    Instead, I knit all day until bedtime. Then, I stayed up late to do my chores.

  82. The Peacock shawl looks as if it’s coming along beautifully. When you mentioned it before your trip to London I just had to go and look at the pattern and was inspired (I wonder how many others have been inspired by you to try something new). I have been knitting for more years than I can remember but have never tried lace knitting before – now I am well into the georgeous Peacock and have plans to make more lace shawls and stoles as I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this type of knitting. I cannot thank you enough for introducing me to Fiddlesticks patterns and for giving me the inspiration to ‘have a go’.
    I hope you’re enjoying knitting yours as much as I am knitting mine :o)

  83. Hi, Stephanie!
    It is really breathtaking to read you compare these techniques of drawing and knitting and what you make me think of only holes with yarn around them.
    Think your drawing teacher has done a lot of good work by letting you do so much disliked drawing… isnยดt it always that we notice great experiences that we made as young people decades afterwards?
    Love your “open range” to these thoughts!
    With best wishes from germany (please ignore my bad english)

  84. Great… the shawl done in multi-colors … makes me want to do another one. And it took me 4.5 years to do my first!!
    I’m going to be showing my daughter that face thing; she’ll love it .. and it’ll improve her drawing a little bit.

  85. such pretty lace!
    Negative space is used in so many ways. My favourite peppermint candy is called Polo (in the UK) and the little round peppermint has a hole in the middle of it, and somehow this makes it taste so much better ( and you can poke your tongue in it, adding to the play value!!)

  86. it’s like looking at one of the optical illusions where you can see 2 different things depending on what you focus on. I also had a teacher in art school who emphasized negative space (as well as contour drawing) and an art director who insisted on plenty of negative space in ads (unfortunately, the advertiser would want to fill that space with LOTS of information, so they would feel they were getting their money’s worth, but the ads would end up looking like a listing in the white pages.
    Little kids are always amazed at the face thing. Did you know, that in profile, your face only occupies the first 1/4 of your head? (not counting your ears of course)

  87. Hey, Pat, I took painting at NYU from Milton Resnick! He wasn’t any better about conveying what he meant. It was my freshman drawing teaching who taught me about negative space. I don’t always think about it, but I know when a piece of furniture or a plant or a picture looks “right” and that’s usually because of its relationship to the space around it.

  88. I had a creative writing professor who was much the same about ‘white space’ – where and how you orient your words on the page and what impact it has upon how others interpret your writing. She could also converse about the sex lives and perversions of writers (there was something about Hemmingway and cats, I was too afraid to pay close attention), and instead of cheese, she was pretty much against all meat and a vegetarian.
    I for one found your quick drawing lesson quite interesting, I intend to pass the idea on to my daughter as I teach her to draw.
    And lace as positive space, outlining the negative. Love it. And that’s beyootiful yarn.

  89. It’s funny how the negative space thing works, and it’s not something that would have occurred to me without taking an art class. (I had a teacher -in grad school, not high school- give us a whole lecture on hidden sexual objects in art. It just seemed to be all about him, and this need to talk about bananas. You know BANANAS.)
    Anyway, for a different class we had to draw a wheelchair and look at the negative space. I’m not sure how I could have done it without seeing the different sized triangles with round ends, and not just wheels with spokes.

  90. I am aware of negative space more than most. I have a little bit of art stuff in my background. I didn’t know about the eyes thing though. But I do notice the space between, and around the features on the face. I never knew why but I’m guessing it’s that art stuff coming back to haunt me.
    I love how you explained the negative space thing and related to something that is every day for us knitters.
    Thank you.

  91. hi, don’t know if you’ll read this or not, but for your Peacock Feathers, if you photocopied the chart be sure to make sure the grey boxes (no stitch) in the original of the center-border chart copied. They didn’t copy for me and I spent hours tearing my hair out trying to figure out the stitch count til I searched the Fiddlesticks yahoo group and found a mention of the photocopying issue.
    Also, when you get to the end of the feathers and you are knitting more and more stockinette around the feathers… it is to make the negative space in the finished design… the negative or background space is the stockinette fabric around the lace holes and yarn-overs!
    I’m so glad you finally started yours. I remember when you bought the yarn and I knew I had to make the shawl for myself. Mine is in Peacock Zephyr like so many others. Yours will be magnificent when it is finished. It is really, really worth finishing. Mine was a joy to knit all the way from top to hem.

  92. The negative space of lace is what inspires me not only when I knit, but when I block the lace. It’s like the shapes become apparent once you let in more “air”

  93. Great lesson! The shawl is beautifully colored. I will have to disagree about the cheese, though, since I cannot seem to live without it! (my husband would agree) ๐Ÿ™‚

  94. Thanks for the art lesson! I never had art in school, so I learned a lot from your post. I really must learn how to draw one of these days. (I stopeed drawing at 5, when my kindergarten classmate told me the fingers on the person I drew looked like candles (they had nail polish on ) and nothing like fingers. I never drew again.

  95. I hope this doesn’t post twice. Anyhow, I enjoyed your face-drawing lesson, since I never had art in school. And a critique by a classmate in Kindergarten stopped my drawing forever more….
    I can’t wait to see your shawl, I’ve been eying that one for years. I just wish it wasn’t a triangle.

  96. I feel the same way about music (I’m a musician). When I’m playing really well it feels like I’m just drawing the right kind of attention to the notes/rhythms I didn’t play. Framing the holes, so to speak.

  97. what an interesting perspective on lace. i’ve been thinking about making a lace shawl, and now you gave me an excuse to buy yarn! all in the name of art and science!

  98. That is wonderful – the lace you are knitting is beautiful too. When I started knitting (three years ago now), it felt as if I were drawing in mid-air. I love the analogy.

  99. Beautiful and informative.
    But I swear, the weasel rats are about. I have that shawl in my design notebook, just haven’t gotten around to writing it out and knitting it yet. (Along with the 745 other patterns and ideas in there)

  100. I always read you blog and am wondering what do you do with all the things you knit? I can’t believe you wear them all. All those socks, lace, sweaters. I know you give the baby things to friends but what about the rest.

  101. So, is the shawl Christmas knitting? It’s getting to be that time you know ๐Ÿ˜‰ All teasing aside, gorgeous stuff that!

  102. Further to what seizuresalad had to say, music and knitting are alike, because music notes frame silences called rests (or maybe its the other way around). There are really short rests (little holes in the lace) and really long ones (big holes.)Lace really wouldn’t be lace without all those carefully designed holes. It would just be…a bunch of stitches. And music wouldn’t be music without the rests, which give the music time to “breathe”.Thanks for giving me a new way to think about music and knitting, both of which I enjoy, and of course art, which I love.

  103. Wow, that was really interesting! I never figured that out about the proportions of the human face, but I also went through my whole life thinking I can’t draw, but not anymore! Also, the lace is lovely. Thanks for keeping your blog so thought-provoking, without being merely offensive. You are awesome!

  104. You remind me of a math class I took in college — topology and knot theory and such. I remember thinking of the torus as a donut, spending all my time thinking about its properties, how it was kind of a tube, only bent…
    … and then, I realized that all the interesting math happens in the space around it — and in the hole. Particularly in that hole. It was an eye-opening experience.

  105. I laugh. Yes, we art teachers can be a “scary lot”. We can get away with quirkiness in: beliefs, ideas, conversation, dress and what we create. People explain it away with “Well, she IS an ART teacher!” Being an art teacher = FREEDOM! Again: I laugh. With glee…. Everyone should be so blessed.

  106. So many art students never listen and never understand the point of observation of negative space. I am so very proud of your obsessive compulsive art teacher who did not give up on the students! Now the “zillions” who read this blog will understand the concepts you took the time to point out. Teaching, be it, art or knitting..wait, knitting IS art…is something we all must do. Thanks so much for the lovely blog today. The sketch wasn’t half bad, either!
    BTW, lace I can do…socks, no. Lack of neg space, prehaps???

  107. my college art teacher said it is best to look at the ratios on a bald head … faces are made of shadows not lines (thus the reason I like b&w films the best) – once I learned this little trick, my face drawings became much more realistic.

  108. Wow that’s your best post yet! Thanks for that artistic info…it really opens up another way to look at your knitting, and everything else around you!

  109. I wish my high school art teacher had taught me interesting things instead of throwing paint around to make Blue Poles! I love knitting lace and watching that negative space take shape before my eyes!

  110. I don’t often comment on your posts because I think it will just get lost in the dozens (or hundreds) of other comments but this post really stuck out.
    I typically read knitting blogs to learn something new. I’m always looking for a new pattern, a new yarn, a new inspiration. I never really heard about negative space, or if I did I never applied to knitting and certainly never to drawing. I have to say, I read you post and started to copy a photo of my son. I had no idea that eyes were in the middle of our faces! I am terrible at drawing but by focusing on the area around his eye instead of the eye itself, I got really good results.
    Thanks for tweaking my brain and having me see things a new way. That always feels good.

  111. This post really got to me. I was working on the Peacock shawl when my latest bout with trigger finger hit. Yes, it is the best lace printout of a pattern I’ve ever done. Doing it in Malabrigo Lace, Emerald. The only thing I’ve been able to do this last two weeks is spread it out on top of a white pillowcase so I can really see what I’ve knit. Thanks for reminding me about negative spaces. I, too, remember learning about it in art classes. Did you know that it is the white spaces about a bar code that give the reading to the computer, not the black lines?

  112. Ooooo! That shawl has been on my list for YEARS. I LOVE it. The colors are great, can’t wait to see how yours turns out.

  113. Whats funny is that where there’s supposed to be a pic of you, all i get is a little red X and ‘Stephnormal’ which made me spit out my coffee.
    I could get all esoteric and spout off about being normal in a negative space…

  114. Brilliant!
    Not like you need another three-line comment declaring how wonderful these ideas are (although I’m not so sure about the cheese thing).
    I think that art teachers probably have to be certified in Negative Space Theory before they’re let loose in a high school classroom.

  115. Interesting concept…making me think. When teaching knitting, I try to get my students to ‘look past the pattern’ – to learn what pieces of sweaters look like and use the pattern as a guide to get those shapes. It’s hard for them to see, sometimes, that if the armhole decreases are on this side of a cardi front, then the neck decreases have to be on the other side. They will do both decreases on the same side, then point to the pattern and say “but is says….” It’s so hard to get them to think a little differently, to ‘look past the pattern’; I draw pictures and everything; I’m not sure how to explain it, but it sounds like you are heading in that direction with this. A little mind-bending, but interesting…maybe something like this will work?

  116. Fascinating post. I remember the first time I learned that eyes were in the middle of the head. I was such a doubting Thomas. Your post would have been helpful then! I never really thought about lace being negative space. Very interesting concept.

  117. I’m an art teacher and I think it’s funny to hear how you remember your art teacher! It makes me wonder what kinds of things my students say about me- she was that crazy teacher who… I teach my kids about portraiture and it’s so cool to see the tricks to drawing the human face based on where features fall in relationship to other features. Very cool entry!

  118. Does the rule apply to elephants? My daughter always wants me to draw elephants and they have not infrequently inspired the question “what is that?”

  119. When I was in art school one of the hardest concepts for me to imagine was negative space. My art instructor took a chair on the first day of class, about thirty seconds into class time, and put it on the table in the front of the room. Without giving any explaination, she said simply “Do not draw this chair. Draw the space around the chair.” My head exploded. Everyone else started drawing.
    To this day, any concept I have a hard time grasping becomes ‘the space around the chair’, and when I started knitting lace and working from charts I had the same realization: that lace is the knitting equivalent of the space around the chair.
    Also, the shawl is gorgeous.

  120. The useful part of a bowl is the space where your soup goes. There should be a shawl entitled “Negative Space,” though I’m not sure what that pattern would be. I’ll have to think on that (you know, in my copious spare time).
    My high school art teacher always told me, “Draw what you see, not what you think you see.” That stuck with me and has transformed into not only my philosophy regarding drawing and painting, but also my philosophy of science. I try to represent my study organisms as they are to the best of my ability and not as I’d like for them to be – a common difficulty amongst biologists. Rather than representing what is as it is, some tend to try and make observations fit some story or idea that may or may not be accurate.
    Negative space is what makes things useful and beautiful both . Represent what you are observing as it really is rather than how you think it is. This, dear Harlot, is why art needs to be taught in school. Needs. To. Be. It’s not to make every student a good artist, per se, it’s to help the student understand these ideas. Observation, negative space, balance, the importance of “imperfections.” I could go on.
    Here’s to all the good art teachers of the world. Cheers.

  121. I liked reading about the art school teacher, but the negative space part “knocked my socks off”.
    Now I am off to earn about rennet……..

  122. Negative space and lace. Steph that is great. Does it also count for the negative time – whereby time spent knitting lace looks like zero progress then all of a sudden WHAM you’ve knitted loads.

  123. Gorgeous lace!
    My high-school art teacher told us all about how she used to do a lot of acid, and that she sometimes had flashbacks. It explained a lot about her, really…

  124. Stephanie!
    Please don’t stop talking about the negative space in the body(physical and knitted). This is what makes your writing all that it is….insightful, global, and delightfully down-to-earth. Keep it coming.

  125. Please, PLEASE do not make knitting lace about art and/or math (both of which I love)! I do not need a reason to start knitting lace, really I don’t, isn’t it enough to be starting my first pair of socks while simultaneously teaching myself to knit continental style? God help me…

  126. I’ve been reading your blog for ages now, but never got the guts to post a comment ๐Ÿ™‚ But I saw that Peacock Feathers Shawl, and had to put my $0.02 in. I knitted that shawl a few years ago and absolutely loved it. I love the yarn that you picked! Can’t wait to see the the finished product in all its glory.
    And I completely understand your point about negative space. I took a pencil drawing class for the heck of it a few years ago, and when we did the exercise where we had to draw the negative space, I was really astounded at how much more realistic my pictures were looking.

  127. I think I knew that about eyes and faces, from a long-ago art lesson, but I hadn’t ever applied it to knitting before. I am currently obsessed with the math of reversible cables, where one side’s positive’s being the other’s negative gets used in all kinds of intriguing ways.
    Also, the US financial system is in danger of collapse. Good thing I have lots of yarn.

  128. Stephanie, that was a lovely and insightful thing to write. I had never looked at it like that before, but you’re totally right.

  129. That shawl is on the top of the ‘to be started soon’ bin. I LOVE the yarn you’ve chosen, I’m afraid my version will be in plain old peacock zephy – which I love and I don’t have any shawls in that colorway yet, but seems so pedestrian by comparison to yours!
    Advice – Be careful on the crochet edging. One of the knitters I know recently used that edge on a Herbert Neibling pattern and her crochet is so much tighter than her knit that she made the edge ‘rumple’ somehow. Getting that puppy back on the needles to redo the edging without a total lace disaster was NOT fun. She believes in lifelines now!

  130. My mom and I were talking about drawing faces last night. How my teacher in 6th grade said “draw the person across from you” but did not help us see the proportions as you just did in a few paragraphs.
    That was the day I gave up drawing for decades. I drew Madeline and did a terrible job. The teacher let the kids make fun of my drawing.
    Teacher had the guts to come to an art fair once where I was selling things. She bought something (I took her money happily) and told everyone how she had taught me. Bah. Taught me how 6th graders are mean.
    I still don’t draw but use the computer and photography. I’ve had a self-portrait blockprint published. I knit a self portrait. So glad for PhotoShop which for me is a better tool than a pencil.
    Love the discussion. I’ve had two good art teachers as an adult and I always drew better when they were talking negative space. I’m still not much into knitting lace, however. Too girly for me, as a rule. Sometimes for little ones, though.

  131. I remember when i first used lace so long ago I can barely remeber. I used to hate it so much but now I find it one of the easyiest in creating things!
    oh and does anyone know if ‘peacock-blue’ a metaphor?

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