Tag Archives: swatches

The “S” word

The other day I was browsing Ravelry and twice I was tempted to tell people to swatch.  I couldn’t control myself and replied to one of the threads, but found out that replying to the second thread with the same advice was a bit too much like preaching, so I didn’t – I saved the preaching to this blog.

You might find it funny that I’d be talking about swatches when all my patterns states that they aren’t of much importance.  So, why bring the ‘S’ word up now?  When doing shawls and stoles, chances are that a little difference in dimensions won’t matter, hence why I don’t mention gauge in my patterns, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t knit a swatch anyway.

Lets say you got some precious, fine yarn to knit the most awesome item everTM, but are afraid that you will somehow ruin it after months of careful knitting.
– Are you afraid that the yarn will break when you block the item?  Knit a swatch and block it first.  This way you’ll know how much you can pull the knitting.
– Worried that the yarn will felt, bleed or behave in an unexpected way when you wash the item?  Swatch and wash.
There are other reasons to swatch too.  We all had awesome yarn that doesn’t match the pattern we want to knit.  If you make a (big enough) swatch in pattern, you’ll be able to tell if the yarn/pattern combo is a good match or not.
When knitting lace, another reason to make a swatch is to figure out the best needle size for the fabric you want to get.  You will know, before committing to the pattern, how the fabric will drape, how it will block and, as a bonus, doing the swatch in pattern will help you memorize the pattern ;).

It took me a long time to accept the fact that swatches are not only necessary, but also very useful.  It wasn’t until I began doing commissions for a yarn company that I began taking swatches seriously.  As I’ve said many times before, I’m cheap leery of wasting, and saw swatching as a waste of both time and yarn.
I went on my merry way, knitting with abandon, only to find out – way into the pattern – that I didn’t like the fabric I was creating, or that the superwash yarn wasn’t so super after all.  I have piles of knitting that never became anything because I didn’t like how it was turning out.  Instead of frogging, I just cut the yarn and save the rest for something else.
In my eagerness to start knitting already, I was wasting time and yarn, and in the end all those false starts were nothing more than super sized swatches.

I have to confess I’m still tempted to only knit a swatch to the exact number of stitches and rows the gauge is stated, but I know that it would be a waste of time, as it won’t be an accurate example of the knitting.  Take the time to make a swatch that is big enough – 2 to 4 times the number of stitches and rows the gauge states.  Then wash and block this swatch the same way you will the finished item.

A little tip for those times when gauge is necessary and you’re working with a fabric where counting stitches and rows are hard – like cables, lace, felted items or yarn that makes seeing individual stitches hard – write down how many stitches you cast on and how many rows you knit.  Once you’re done with the swatch (knit, wash and block), measure the whole thing to find out how many stitches/in(cm) and rows/in(cm) you got.

A very special note on felting:  unless you don’t mind wearing a coat/slipper/hat that doesn’t quite fit, swatches are mandatory with items that will be felt.  Why?  Even if you are using the same yarn as the one in the pattern, chances are your washer or water heater is different from the one used by the designer and will felt differently.  If you decide to substitute yarns a swatch is even more important.

I’ll leave you with this very interesting post that prompted me to write this entry.  I too, feel like people claim to never swatch as a badge of honor, and I don’t quite understand why anyone would be proud of that.  Ravelry is full of wonderful examples of rebellion against the “rules” (knitting lace with variegated yarn, anyone?).  Being unique is great, it is even better when what you knit fits.

Pics, finally!

The whole lot

     The picture above is of the swatches that, at some point, I called my final swatches.  This was before I changed yarn and needles.  Once I had these swatches blocked, I wasn’t happy with them, but as I edited the images to place them here, I was in shock as how bad they really are.


This is the garter stitch swatch.  I’m ashamed at how uneven it looks.  Granted, I did block it with little attention (read: no attention whatsoever) to measurements.  Still, it’s an awful work – if you click on the image, you can see – the horror! – holes in the fabric.

Cable swatch

On this one, you don’t even need to click on the image to see the white of the background showing through.  Again, bad blocking, but most importantly, bad choice of needles – the cable just doesn’t pop the way it should.

I could go on and on, showing more photos of the lousy job I’ve done, but don’t want to scare you away.  I can knit better than that, I swear.  This post is just to show why I’ve decided to knit all the swatches again.
BTW, the new swatches (done with 4.5mm needles and Fishermen’s Wool) is soaking in the sink as I write.  I still need to knit one cable swatch and the color one and can then move to the project.

Did I do this crap?!

After some (a lot) of procrastinating, I’ve washed and blocked the swatches that were ready yesterday.  It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.  I found out a huge number of little sins on them and am leaning towards knitting most, if not all of them one more time.
One of the most interesting findings was that my worse swatches are the ones with the simpler stitches.  Some of the things I didn’t like I can explain, others I can’t (and so, I’m blaming the needle size).  Last night I did two new gauge swatches using 4.5mm needles, which are soaking as I write.  I’m hoping to get the proper gauge with those needles, as I like the fabric I get with them better.
I had a few d’oh moments while blocking, the first of which was when I realized that a gauge swatch has more than one use – as in: I know how many sts/rows I should get on an inch, so why am I not stretching the swatches to the expected measurement?  I figured that my simpler swatches (ST and garter st) have the most flaws because I go into automatic mode and don’t pay them the proper attention.  Speaking of the garter swatch, I might need to knit it by turning my work (sigh) as I got a somewhat irregular edge on the right side (can you say tension issues?).  Another example of not paying enough attention?  My YO swatch had the wrong number of YOs…
I’m torn between using a reverse long tail cast on or a normal cast on (normal for right handed people, not so much for me).  The reason being, when I do the cast on using my right hand, I get an uneven cast on, with some bumps being longer than others.  This issue can be somewhat fixed with proper blocking (which I also didn’t do), but my reverse cast on looks better.
The more I read the sanctioned group on Ravelry, the more confused I get about the expectations.  At some point, we’re told we need to show we can follow directions (so doing a reverse cast on would be a no – no), then someone else will say we have to show skills adapting the way we knit to come to the exact same result as everyone else ( read: right handed continental knitters).  How much of the first and the latter is acceptable is unclear to me, hence my doubt about which cast on to use.  I’ll keep on trying to do it using my right hand, but if I’m not satisfied with the results, I’ll just switch to the reversed long tail one.

Now, from what I’ve seen of the approved swatches, the ones I have right now are ok.  I’d probably pass level one with them, but (and a big one for me), these swatches are in no way, shape or form, my best work and this is why I’ll re-do them.  It’s a matter of pride ;P.

Something else that I found quite interesting is that the increases and decreases I like best (because I thought they were the best option) aren’t as nice as the ones I wrote off as not so good.  The swatches aren’t bad, all the increases and decreases are as they should be and the result is what is expected.  The thing is, by knitting them using larger needles (and thicker yarn) I could see more clearly which ones work better (as in, how much they show).  I’d heard of most, if not all, increases and decreases we have to do and have done all of them except for one decrease,  and still I learned from the process.

On an ending note, I have to say I’ve lost a lot of steam on this project as I got side-tracked by discussions that didn’t apply to me and doubts and worries that were silly to say the least.  Last night it finally hit me, I was too hung up on “but that’s not the way I knit” to realize that it isn’t about how I knit, but about my ability to do what I’m told.  My standards are different from others and looking at the swatches I can say, for sure, they are below my standards.