Like parenthood, this freaking baby blanket project offers ample opportunity to learn and grow. Happily, unlike babies, yarn can eventually be bent to my will.
I bought and swatched the Estonian Lace baby blanket pattern, and it just doesn't look all that great:
It's probably a brilliant pattern, but it needs to be knit with a tightly plied, springy yarn (cotton or wool - I bet Zara merino would look great) - something with a lot of give but also something with a lot of stitch definition. Also, obviously, lighter, unsaturated colors are better for most small lace patterns with surface texture - darker and saturated shades make it hard to see these textures.
With this lace pattern in particular, a springy yarn is essential in order to knit the 3 into 9 portion of the pattern on a small enough needle to ensure crisp definition of the lace pattern as a whole. I am not sure if I am being clear enough, but basically, I can't knit the alpaca on a needle small enough to both keep the knitting tight enough to preserve the crispness of the lace AND successfully execute the 3 to 9 stitches - the alpaca doesn't have enough give.
Alpaca in general has fabulous drape, but by definition this means it's not going to hold most small or tight lace patterns well (in laceweight, alpaca may perform more crisply, but not in worsted or sportweight). So for the past few days I've been scouting for a pattern that will make the most of what is best about alpaca. I actually really liked this pattern on Ravelry:
But it is only in Danish. No thank you.
Still, the idea of a solid, drapey square center with a slightly more open and angular lace border seemed like a good idea for the alpaca. Coincidentally, Brooklytweed just posted an improvised blanket based on this principle, and while I don't love the bias garter he used for the center or the feather and fan pattern he used for the edge, I like the basic idea.
So I went through my Reader's Digest Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet stitches and, after swatching a bit, decided that perhaps the humble moss stitch was the best choice for the center panel. Moss stitch in alpaca has amazing drape; it looks slightly lacy when blocked, and (bonus for blankets) it's reversible.
The below swatch has moss stitch at the top and bottom; the bottom moss is done on a 5 and has better drape than the top moss, which was done on a 3. From top to bottom, the swatch contains moss on a 3, garter on a 3, stockinette on a 3, Feather Lace (p. 105 of the Digest) on a 5 and then on a 3 (no difference in quality of lace despite change in needle), stockinette on a 5, and then moss on a 5. I like the Feather Lace and I think it works in the Alpaca, but again, I don't want that much openwork in the body of the blanket.
For the border, I think I will choose something from this massive great free online collection of charted Victorian borders:
I think the alpaca will look best in something somewhat open and angular - something that will look great as a silhouette and echo the diamond-like angular quality of moss stitch. These are three initial possibilities, but with a knitted on border I have lots of time to decide.
This one -
from http://www.yarnover.net/patterns/laces/beyer/b2.html - is also an option (minus crochet loops at bottom edge), but it's not possible to modify it to be a knit-on border like the others, and that makes me less excited about it - it seems I'd have to knit the whole border separately and join it to the square using mattress stitch, and that has a lot of potential to go wrong or to look lumpy. Probably.