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Knitted Edgings: Making the world a more beautiful place

May 6, 2011

My Great Gramma Sheehan's sewing box. This box is probably from the 20s; isn't it fab? I love the pin cushion on top and the unique way the spools of thread are secured onto the box. We use this sewing box to this day; quality products do last forever.
Gramma Sheehan's crocheting/tatting/mending kit. This kit snaps closed into a portable 3 X 6-inch silky green packet. It's in wonderful shape, but I don't use it. The tools are make out of Bakelite, I think, and I don't want to take a chance on damaging anything. Check out the ivory thimble at the bottom of the photo!
I'm a bit of a girly-girl—I love knickknacks, floral prints, and lace-trimmed pillowcases.

I have a few pillowcases that were trimmed with lace made by my Great Gramma Sheehan, as well as some hankies. I'm also lucky enough to have her crochet set and a wonderful thread holder (pictured at left).

I have just a couple of memories of my great-gramma, but she was my mom's best friend; Gramma Sheehan spent hours with my mom almost every day, playing Canasta and Kings on the Corner, crocheting, pasting Green Stamps into booklets, and generally being a wonderful and loving gramma. My mom talked about her so much; when mom and dad were talking about names for my little sister who was about to be born, they mentioned naming her after Gramma Sheehan. I was surprised to learn her name was Patricia Elizabeth instead of "Gramma Sheehan"!

The family heirlooms left to us by Gramma Sheehan are so special to all of us, and especially to me since I'm carrying on the handwork tradition.

I started thinking about this the other day when I was making my bed, changing the linens and getting out the freshly-laundered, lace-trimmed pillowcases. I noticed a tiny hole in the lace trim, and it occurred to me that these items aren't going to last forever, especially if I keep using them regularly. I need to think about carrying on the tradition in earnest by making some lace-trimmed pillowcases of my own!

Since my bed-making epiphany, I've been casually looking for a nice knitted edging pattern and finally found it in a place that I didn't expect—in Interweave's Compendium of Finishing Techniques (now available as an eBook!).

The Compendium has many, many edging ideas, but the one that caught my eye is the simple Pointed Lace Edging.
The Pointed Lace Edging

This edging is knitted horizontally, so cast on the entire length of your edge (see below for information on determining the number of cast-on stitches).

1. Cast on as many stitches as you need in a multiple of 13 stitches; add 1 stitch after the last multiple of 13 (for example, 3 multiples of 13 is 39 stitches; cast on a total of 40 stitches).
Row 1: Purl.
Row 2: *Knit 1, yarn over, knit 4, knit 2 together twice, knit 4, yarn over. Repeat from * across the row, ending with a knit 1.

2. Repeat these two rows to make the pattern and work to the depth required.

3. Bind off all stitches loosely.

How many stitches should you cast on? Well, the answer is probably something you can predict: Knit a swatch! Try knitting two repeats in your swatch—you'll need to cast on 27 stitches.

Say your swatch ends up being 2 inches wide and your pillowcase is 36 inches in circumference. Divide 36 by 2 and get 18. Eighteen is the number of times you'll need to knit two pattern repeats. Multiply 18 by the number of st in your swatch minus 1 (26) and get 468+1. You'll need to cast on 469 st to get a 36" border. (This is just an easy example, you'll need to knit your swatch with the yarn you want to use to determine your number of cast-on stitches.)

This edging can be knit with any yarn, but I'm going to use white crochet cotton and size 2 needles. I want the durability of cotton along with the delicate look of lace, and crochet cotton will give me that. Crochet cotton can be slippery to work with, so I like to use bamboo or specially coated lace needles.

If you want to add some charming lace edging to your plain-Jane pillowcases, download a copy of Interweave's Compendium of Finishing Techniques and start beautifying your world today! You'll not only get more edging ideas, but you'll learn hundreds of finishing techniques for knitting, crocheting, weaving, and knotting. The Compendium is a wonderful resource.


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Amontillada wrote
on May 11, 2011 8:47 AM

Kashbehnke, to answer your question about  how to add lace edgings to sweaters:

If the sweater pattern is worked from the bottom up, knit the lace pattern FIRST. Many lace edging patterns are worked vertically--one motif at a time, repeating until you have a strip of lace as long as you need. Then pick up stitches for the sweater from the straight edge of the long strip.  Incidentally, this is how the famous Shetland and Ohrenburg (spelling?) lace shawls are typically done.

If the sweater is worked from the top down, put the front and back or (easier for lace edging) tube on a circular needle as a holder. Using a separate pair of needles to work the lace, slip one stitch at a time from the holder onto the needle with the top lace stitch and knit the two together.

Volume 2 of Barbara Walker's Treasury of Knitting Patterns has a chapter on lace edgings. Many of these are worked in garter stitch, so they don't curl up! Many lace edging patterns are easy, with the pattern appearing quickly because they are knit crosswise.

Edgings are a good way to try knitting lace for the first time. I did that as a teenager, with a pattern written down by a great-aunt (I think) and a pair of multiple-zero thin needles belonging to one of my grandmothers.  My other grandmother never learned to knit, but she crocheted beautifully. I have her tiny steel crochet hooks, as fine as American size 15!

on May 9, 2011 2:06 PM

Passionate Knitter: the box is about 7 inches square. I'm spending a week in Seattle right now, but when I'm back home in Spokane, I can take more measurements. Email me at with the measurements you'll need.

on May 7, 2011 9:47 AM

Your sewing box is fantastic!  Do you have the dimensions of it?  My dear Hubby would like to make one similar to it for me (plus show it off at his wood working club's meeting :-)), but needs dimensions.  Can you please share?  Thank you!

Vici wrote
on May 6, 2011 10:32 PM

Kathleen, I love your great grandmothers sewing box and I have one that my mother gave me as a gift.She found it at an antique show. I believe it is much older than the 20's. Mine had a little note in the drawer that said Christmas 1926".Belonged to your great grandmother Palmer., Aunt Josie.  Aunt Josie gave me this in 1926".  Figuring each generation at age 20 I estimated 1860?Sampler and antique Needlework also has featured these.  /any chance it could have been your great-grandmother's grand mother.Enjoy your column.  

Thank you,

Vici Fallin,

Ruston, Louisiana

Julietknits wrote
on May 6, 2011 9:37 PM

Your Gramma Sheehan's sewing box is a TRUE treasure to have!  I have never seen one quite like that before.  Enjoy it for years to come!

EllenK@30 wrote
on May 6, 2011 8:52 PM


I think  the pointed lace edging is beautiful, but how do you attach it to the pillowcase? Do you machine sew it on? Or do you just baste it and remove it every time you want to wash the pillowcase? I once used a crochet hook and knit it from the stitches I picked up on the edge. Thanks for your help.

Ellen K

Kasbehnke wrote
on May 6, 2011 2:54 PM

I would like to add these types of edgings to sweaters. Does anyone know a way to that without it being an add-on?

Betty Veysey wrote
on May 6, 2011 2:03 PM

what size needles does this edging call for?  It is beautiful. Thanks, Betty V.

ClaudiaC wrote
on May 6, 2011 12:49 PM

There are some lovely lace edgings in the latest issue of Knitting Traditions. I've been practicing one particular piece that is pictured being attached to a pillow case. It's not very hard, and will look lovely...once I get two pieces completed.

goze wrote
on May 6, 2011 12:08 PM


Thank you for sharing your family treasures. They are beautiful. Thank you also for sharing the Pointed Lace Edging. I am so intriqued with adding some lace to my pillowcases that I am on my way to pick up new needles.

Happy Knitting,

Jean of Santa Barbara

mrglass82 wrote
on May 6, 2011 12:03 PM

My grandmother used to crochet whole table clothes in beautiful pattrens and I wish I had them now,   Some how they were lost, and you should feel so privileged to have some thing that  she worked with.  Imagine the hours she spent using these things. My grandma used tiny hooks and miles of thread;  you are blessed tohave these great tools.

roseybee6 wrote
on May 6, 2011 11:11 AM

Kathleen!  I was so excited to see this today of all days!  I'm knitting a shawl/wrap for my sister, making up my own pattern, and wanted a way to end it that would give me points EXACTLY like the sample you showed!  I've been looking all over the internet for two days but haven't found what I needed, until now.  Now I'm off to count some stitches and knit the last bit of the shawl.  Thank you!  Carrie

jss1 wrote
on May 6, 2011 10:52 AM

Thanks Kathleen!

on May 6, 2011 10:51 AM

Hi Jane,

When I looked at my lace-trimmed pillowcases, the trim is simply whip-stitched onto the case. They've lasted years, so I think this is what I'll do to the new ones.

Good luck!


jss1 wrote
on May 6, 2011 10:12 AM

Nostalgic topic for me as well. My Grandmother used to crochet trim on pillowcases as well. Wish I had some. I do have a hankie she edged and love the memories it evokes. I have a question. How do you plan to attach the knitted edging to the pillowcase? Wouldn't a set of these make a great gift idea??

You've got me thinking Kathleen. Thank you.