Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To Swatch or Not to Swatch? That is the Question!

technically, this is not a swatch. it's a neck warmer we made on Monhegan Island last year. but it's smallish like a swatch and boy did i learn a LOT.

Hey Y'all,
Lisa recently took a little survey over at our FB page, asking: Who likes to learn new techniques by working on a project and who prefers swatches? This, in turn, leads me to ask you for your best swatch (or failure to swatch) stories. Back when I was strictly a garter-scarf knitter, swatching didn't matter. And even when I tentatively stepped into the world of patterns, there were definitely moments-- let's call them Lessons Learned the Hard Way Moments-- when I thought, "Swatch? Who needs to swatch?" So yeah, let's just say I wound up with some very interesting sizes in the end.

When I interviewed designer Deborah Newton for the Summer 2009 issue of Interweave KNITS, I remember her going on about how much she just loves swatching. At the time, her proclaimed love didn't really resonate for me-- I had learned to tolerate swatching, but love it? Really? Maybe something that factors into Deborah's love is that she does have a team of dedicated knitters who take her designs and swatches and crank out the prototypes. But I suspect that, more than this, she really just likes playing with little squares of textures and weights and colors and patterns. I try to bear her attitude in mind whenever it's time for me to make a swatch, to set aside whatever impatience I'm feeling to work on the actual project, and to just take my time and enjoy the preparation.

What about y'all-- did you ever ignore the advice to swatch and just dive into a sweater only to have it turn out eight sizes too big? Do you always swatch? Do you stick with projects that don't really require swatches? (I love making socks with yarn I know well, so I'm guaranteed that they will turn out the size I want w/o having to stop and swatch.)

Or maybe you just like swatching because.... well, because you've dedicated your life to only knitting swatches and nothing else. Can that be possible? I guess it could be-- you could eventually sew all the swatches together and make a sort of quilt. Hmm...

Please, your swatch tales-- share them!


  1. I'm with you! I'm not enamored of making swatches but it is a necessary pain in the ba-too-tee. That said, I usually make one that is 4 stitches longer than the proposed number of stitches to give you 4 " . I start each row with 2 knit stitches (RS and WS) and I start and end the swatch with 4 rows of garter stitch... so that just the stockinette part that I want to measure is clearly visible. (Probably everyone knows this technique).
    But that said... I think you still must keep really good NOTES on each pattern... re: gauge. For instance, in following this one baby sock pattern, my gauge was a tiny bit off but the sock came out perfect. I forgot to make note of that, and after doing a swatch to perfection for the next pair, I started the sock and it looked like it would fit a very small doll. Then I remembered... I shouldn't trust their gauge on this pattern! I should go with slightly less stitches for the 4" so it will be a little bigger. Sheesh! It's definitely one of the trickiest parts of knitting!

  2. Your article made me chuckle. I have a penchant for loosing passion in knitting. Like taking a wrong turn and wasting so much time to get back on track that you've ruined your day, I have lost my way in knitting and retired a knitting project (or two) to my growing pile of UFOs. Having the requisite swatch done...perfect gauge to boot...I knitted a sweater. But when I got to the second sleeve I didn't have enough yarn to finish the sweater. Astute Susan who works at my LYS in Dallas, TX, Shabby Sheep, put her trained eye on the sweater. You didn't have the right gauge, she said. I had measured the stitches in the swatch, but not the rows. The yarn no longer existed. To no avail I called every yarn shop in the States, posted on Ravelry, called the manufacturer in Great Britain who put me in touch with its stockists and another place that handles out of stock yarns. Two years later I had a look-see on Ravelry and found the dye lot in some stashes. I thought posting your stash meant you wanted to get rid of the yarn; I didn't mean to pry or be nosey. (Not all knitters are nice.) Through a young woman who had a partial skein and another full skein in her stash I learned that her mother who owns a yarn shop had more of the dye lot I needed. I am happy again. Now to find the sweater.

  3. Years ago when we called it shrinking, it was preferable to fall on the point of your knitting needle than to let anything shrink to a thick matted surface. Always those hand knitted mittens would start off as identifiable shapes until the first snowfall, then gradually they became a thick mass but it was a warm mass that helped made great snowballs. But early training stays in the blood forever and I still have avoided the dreaded felting, the darling of haute couture knitters. I am sorry about the sad state of your Grim Reaper sweater - have you considered what comfortable seat cushions it would make for your car on a cold wintry morning? Still keeping you warm, just not quite the way you intended.