Sunday, December 29, 2013

In Praise of Swatches

It seems that among knitters “I never swatch” is some sort of badge of honor.  Admittedly, I also rarely knitted a swatch when I was younger – I was impatient to get my project started.  However, I often ended up having to rip out what I had started – which lowered the probability I would ever finish – or live with the results or give my hard work away.

Quilting made me realize that you need to try things out and practice a bit before committing expensive materials and hard won free time to a project.  I almost always make a practice block, especially if it is a pattern I have not done before.  Sometimes I discover easier, more accurate ways to make the block or realize I don’t like it (and therefore will not waste my time with it) or I discover where I have to be careful, if it is to come out right.

I always first quilt a sandwiched practice block or larger practice quilt sandwich. I check the thread tension, audition threads, practice the pattern I think I want to use and get warmed up.  Way less frustrating than ripping out threads!

So when I started to knit again, I realized that swatches were very important.  You practice the pattern (maybe it’s too big of a pain or doesn’t look like you thought it would), you determine the correct needles to make gauge or realize you’ll have to change the pattern a bit, you see if you like how the yarn knits and if it will look good for your project.  Since knitted swatches need to be washed and blocked, you also get an idea of the kind of care the finished project will need.

When I swatch, I tag the little block and write down everything I think is pertinent as well as staple the skein sleeve to the tag.  I feel comfortable not swatching, if I make a similar project with the same yarn (albeit, a different color) and needles.  So I use my building collection of swatches as a sort of reference library.  In the long run, this will save time and money.

Swatch from commercial yarn

Since I started spinning (more about this soon), swatching has become even more important.  In this case, I first spin and ply about 12 to 15 meters of yarn (about 6 to 10 grams of unspun fiber).  I save samples of the singles, the yarn after plying, several meters of untouched yarn and knit a swatch. Normally I cast on 24 to 30 stitches and go from there. I determine the needle size to use by doubling the yarn and seeing which hole in my needle gauge is just covered.  Afterwards I know if I will probably need to go smaller (usually) or larger for a project.  I record the length of yarn used for the swatch, the squares inches of swatch and weigh it.  From this I can determine about how many meters I will need to spin and how much roving I will need to start with.  I build in about 10% slop to ensure I have and make enough.  This swatch also tells me how the yarn will look knitted and whether I want to make changes.    I record all the info, including which spindle I used, on a tag.  This should help me stay consistent throughout the production of the yarn as well as serve as a library for future work.  What doesn’t work is as important to know and record as what does.

Swatch from a project I have just started.

Especially when I am blending colors, this swatch tells me if this is what I want. 

Another current spinning project using 3 different colors blended by carding.

If you have avoided swatching in the past, I would recommend you give it a try – you will find it worth the effort!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Moni you're such a great, and scrupulous quilter and knitter. I admire your talent so much, and your make a very good case for swatching and preparing properly. -Letty