Sunday, 23 October 2011

The importance of swatches

Guilty confession time...I know I should swatch every time I knit something but I tend to have even tension and usually hit the gauge without needing to change up or down so when I'm knitting from a pattern I tend to wing it. I will swatch if it has a weird gauge for the type of yarn, or it's in an unusual stitch pattern but even then only if it's for something that needs to fit. I don't think I've ever swatched for a shawl pattern even though I know there are lots of reasons why it's useful to spend that time swatching and blocking. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. It lets you know if the stitch pattern will make you lose the will to live (with frustration or boredom)
  2. It lets you know if your tension is wonky or if you need to make adjustments to the pattern or pick a different size to meet your gauge
  3. It can be an outward sign of inward stress that you've been ignoring
  4. It's an opportunity to practice the stitch pattern/s, see how they flow together, and find out if they block differently
  5. It lets you know if your yarn will work with the pattern which is particularly helpful when you're substituting yarns which I normally am
All that being said I still rarely swatch. The only time I remember swatching was as a relatively new knitter making a cardigan in Jaeger Roma. I swatched, came out bang on gauge, and then I picked up the wrong needle and before you know it I had a gauge square with perfect tension and a cardigan that was a size too small (also I learnt my lesson about knitting in pieces and not being able to try as you go). That cardigan has looked at me reproachfully for the last couple of years until I sent it to a new life with a smaller knitter in Sweden.

Even when I started designing I would do all the maths, sketches, pattern write-up and then knit the whole piece with much frogging, note making, and re-knitting. This state of affairs continued until the last few weeks when trying to put together multiple pattern submissions meant there was simply not enough time in the day to knit the whole piece and I rediscovered the joy of the swatch. As you can see I now have a small and growing collection:
The yarns here are (clockwise from top left) Wollmeise 100% Superwash, some generic 4ply wool of unknown provenance, I think DB Rialto 4ply striped with Noro Kureyon Sock, Rowan Creative Focus Worsted, RYC Cashsoft Aran and on the top Yarn Yarn Crannog

This little heap tells me a few things:
  1. I don't have an extensive palette of colours
  2. I need to find something to do with the swatches
  3. I seem to be on a texture binge at the moment
  4. I really don't like knitting with alpaca
Closer examination of two of the swatches reveals more about my 4th point. 

I had in my head a very clear idea of a design - shape, pattern, what to wear it with (even the shoes) and colour. For some reason, even though alpaca makes me sneeze and sheds so much that my knitting chair looks like it's been attacked by a moulting Fraggle, I thought and alpaca blend would be perfect. I'm not sure what I was think but it definitely had something to do with the alpaca sales pitch of warm, light and soft yarn. So I hunted on the great plains of the internet for an alpaca blend in the perfect colour and found the yarn on the right which is Rowan Creative Focus Worsted in New Fern. Now it turns out that I have knit with this yarn before under a previous name (Nashua Creative Focus) but I didn't realise it at the time. So I knit a swatch full of lovely cables and moss stitch and it didn't look too bad...and then I blocked it and like my hair on a humid day it fluffed up and obscured the pattern. It is soft and light and looks like a bowling green with a moss problem but it's not going to work for this pattern. Back to the hunt which took me all the way to a part ball of RYC Cashsoft Aran - smooth, plied, bouncy, round, soft and full of woolly goodness and look at the difference in the pattern definition - perfect! The colour is all wrong for my mental image but since I also don't own the right shoes I can come to terms with that. 

And the lesson of the day is...know your yarns and pick the right yarn for the right job, and don't forget to swatch and check. I'm not sure what the Creative Focus is right for but there must be something...any suggestions?


GirlAnachronismE said...

I agree the one on the left has much better stitch definition. Maybe you could use the alpaca for a fuzzy scarf that doesn't need definition? Though probably not if it makes you sneeze!

mooncalf said...

Mmn I agree, something with less texture. It is such a shame to waste hours of fiddly moss stitch knitting on a fluffy yarn.

Maybe something with large over-sized cables so that the fuzz softens the chunkiness of the cables?

P.S. I loved this reason to swatch: 'It lets you know if the stitch pattern will make you lose the will to live'

P.P.S. And I love the purple-blue swatch where the fan turns into a cable. Very nice!

Evelyn said...

If you have taught us nothing except that the most important reason to swatch is to see how the yarn washes and dries, you have been an excellent teacher!! Thanks for this great post.