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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Swatch?

Swatching is something designers & knitting teachers go on & on about; it's also something most knitters rarely bother doing. I rarely took time to swatch before I started designing. I was always too impatient to get straight into the knitting.

Since I became a designer I've completely changed my view on swatching. Magazine editors want to see swatches to see what the proposed fabric will look like & before I can calculate sizes I need to know the tension which means swatching is essential.
Above is the swatch for the Pamela sweater published in Lets Knit using Debbie Bliss Paloma. On this occasion the editor agreed to use the same yarn I'd used in the swatch.
Other reasons designers want to swatch is to try out different stitch patterns, yarn & needle combinations. I need to know if the stitch pattern I've chosen will work with the yarn I want to use. Sometimes I may discover that a stitch and yarn combination just won't work together & I'll need to try a different yarn. Sometimes a stitch pattern looks nicer in my imagination than it does in reality.

I also need to try out different needle sizes to decide which size will give me the fabric characteristics I want for a particular design.
Sometimes I even have to knit 2 different swatches for the same design. These 2 swatches show stitch patterns on front & back of the cardigan below.
The Tilly cardigan was published in Lets Knit. This time the editor chose a different yarn brand from my swatch but the yarn had similar properties.
So that's some of the reasons I swatch but why should you swatch? Well the no 1 reason is to make sure that you knit to the same tension as the pattern requires. My patterns are written to my personal tension or if one of my knitters knit the sample for me then I may write it to their tension if they knit very differently to me. If you ignore the tension info then there's no guarantee your garment will fit. I could go on & on about this but I won't.

There are other very good reasons why you should swatch. If the pattern uses stitch patterns or techniques you are unfamiliar with, wouldn't it be a good idea to practice  first? A friend of mine showed me a beautiful cable cardigan she wanted to knit for her daughter. I knew she was an in- experienced knitter and I didn't want her to waste money on buying yarn for a garment she couldn't complete. So I advised her to get one ball of the yarn & knit a swatch of the cable pattern. The cable pattern was complicated & used 2 cable needles at the same time to work the cable. When I next saw my friend she told me she'd found the cable too difficult & had chosen an easier design & was relieved she hadn't bought all the yarn or started the knitting before discovering it was too advanced for her.

You could also use a swatch to practice any shaping techniques you are unfamiliar with.
Above is my swatch for the Sorbet shawl for Lets Knit. The swatch shows all the stitch patterns used in the shawl but I only knitted the edging on half the swatch to save time. 
The design you want to knit may use a yarn you've never used before. It may use an expensive yarn or a yarn with fibre content you're unsure of. You may be sensitive or allergic to certain fibres. In cases like this it would be a good idea to buy just one ball & try knitting with it. What if you don't lime the yarn, or its giving you an allergic  reaction, it'd be a shame to waste the money on buying a sweater's worth of yarn if you decide you don't like it or can't knit with it. of course buying just one ball may not be practical if you have to buy online or if the design uses yarn which has a huge yardage, a one skein lace shawl for example.
When Debbie Bliss asked me to design a snowflake themed shawl for her autumn/winter issue of the Debbie Bliss magazine, I knitted 2 different swatches using different stitch patterns, a different shape and a different edging. Again I only knitted the edging on part of the swatch to save time.
My finished Snowflake shawl made the cover.
Many knitters have a selection of needles. Most of the time I use my ChiaoGoo Red Lace circulars or interchangeable needles but some yarns suit different needle types. For slippery yarns like silk or bamboo I may want to use my wooden Knitpro needles instead. It's always a good idea to try your needles & yarn to make sure they work nicely together. Chances are you'll be spending weeks or maybe even months knitting your project so you want to make sure you enjoy both your needles & yarn.

So that's a few of my suggestions for why swatching is a worthwhile task. You can even keep your swatches & sew them together into a blanket. I donated a bag of my old swatches to a friend who does yarn bombing. She's always in need of knitted pieces she can use in her yarn bombing & I had a drawer full of swatches I wanted to clear out. I felt good about someone being able to use them. 

When Em was younger she had a small teddy & several of my shawl swatches became Teddy's shawls. I also use them to explain how to achieve different shawl shapes when I teach.

So have I convinced you to take the time to swatch? Can you think of any reasons I've forgotten? Let me know in the comments.


Melissa Lemmons said...

Swatches are also important for colorwork. You want a chance to make sure that the colors work in those placements the way you see it in your head. Is there the right amount of contrast? Should you switch the foreground and background yarns? Do you need to switch with yarn is in your dominant hand?

And if you're doing a colorwork garment, you want to be especially careful w/ gauge since colorwork gauge is more square than standard stockinette.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes I forgot colourwork. Great advice, Melissa, thank you x