Posted on 2 Comments

Is swatching a dirty word?

Do you do it? Or do you just dive right into a project?

Newest swatch for handspun sweater made with BFLXCormo lamb fleeces
As many of you know, I started this journey as a weaver.  How closely you set your threads is the key to getting the fabric that you want.  And once you know that you can build the rest of your calculations and get your yarn on the loom.  But knitting isn’t quite like that is it?  Most of us try to match the yarn in the pattern and if that yarn isn’t available in your collection or in your yarn store? What then? Some of my friends, and you know who you are dive right in with enthusiasm and the dream of a great new garment, but as they knit they realize, hey this is just too big or this is just too small.  A shawl, a cowl or a scarf can be very forgiving. They don’t have to be a particular size.  But what if you want to make gloves, mittens, socks or a sweater, fit does matter.  

I’ve been having yarn spun for me for several years now. And one thing I know for sure is that a small mill spun yarn is very hard to get spun in those classic sizes of DK or worsted or sport. I can get a yarn that is on the line between DK and worsted. I can get a yarn that is between sport and fingering.  So how are you supposed to use these yarns to make a published pattern?

You need to swatch! And you need to swatch any particular stitches that are in your pattern.  If your sweater has a cable, swatch it. If your sweater is in a basket stitch or a double moss stitch, swatch it.  What I hear people saying is, it takes time!! It takes extra yarn!! And you may be perfectly lucky and your garment may turn out the right size and shape without it. But what if it doesn’t? Then how much time have your wasted? How much material have your wasted? Will you rip it out or will you just set it aside in disgust?  

Here is my current long term project. I want to make my first handspun sweater.  I have a pattern in mind. It is a cardigan. It has double moss stitch as the body and the sleeves are cabled.  I am using 2 lamb fleeces from my Blue Faced Leicester/Cormo crossed ewes.  And I need to figure out if I want a 2 or 3 ply yarn.  So I need to sample the yarn AND the sweater.  And I need to determine the best way to process this fleece, whther to card or comb.  This past Crafternoon, I knit my swatch out of 3 ply. I was also able to really get a grip on how to spin these fleeces to minimize the noils and bits of chaff. I am combing the wool and then spinning off the combs.

Fleece on the combs ready to be spun
And as you can see, the resulting yarn (on the right) is turning out more lustrous and smooth than the carded yarn on the left. 
left side is carded fleece and right side is combed fleece
So please, spend the time to swatch. You will be a happier knitter.   

2 thoughts on “Is swatching a dirty word?

  1. Swatching is indeed the best practice. But if you are an impatient person as I am – ready to dive into something with glee then here is an alternative idea. When I want to start a sweater or a vest – I start with the back at the bottom. This will then be my swatch. First I measure a sweater that fits the way I want this one to. Then I note those measurements on a small sketch that I draw. I cast on what is likely to be close to the right number of stitches. I base this on either looking at a pattern using a needle and yarn that appears to be close to what I am using or from experience with a similar project in the past. ( I keep notes). I then proceed in the chosen bottom – a rib, garter stitch or other stabilizing pattern for at least 2″. This gives me a good idea of the actual width of the piece. If it seems to be correct I then proceed with my chosen pattern. If it is straight knitting I may increase a few stitches evenly across the back. If I am planning stitches that I know pull in like cables I would increase more. Then I proceed to
    knit to an underarm length. Now I have a rectangle that I can use to see what my gauge really is. If it is not wide enough I can plan side panels for under the arms instead of doing an underarm decrease. If it is too wide I can decrease as much as needed at the underarm to provide a wrap toward the front which I would then knit appropriately narrower.
    Based on this rectangle I can successfully design the rest of the sweater or vest very creatively based on either an existing pattern or my own sketches and knit a garment that is a perfect fit.

  2. Swatching is indeed the best practice. But if you are an impatient person as I am – ready to dive into something with glee then here is an alternative idea. When I want to start a sweater or a vest – I start with the back at the bottom. This will then be my swatch. First I measure a sweater that fits the way I want this one to. Then I note those measurements on a small sketch that I draw. I cast on what is likely to be close to the right number of stitches. I base this on either looking at a pattern using a needle and yarn that appears to be close to what I am using or from experience with a similar project in the past. ( I keep notes). I then proceed in the chosen bottom – a rib, garter stitch or other stabilizing pattern for at least 2″. This gives me a good idea of the actual width of the piece. If it seems to be correct I then proceed with my chosen pattern. If it is straight knitting I may increase a few stitches evenly across the back. If I am planning stitches that I know pull in like cables I would increase more. Then I proceed to
    knit to an underarm length. Now I have a rectangle that I can use to see what my gauge really is. If it is not wide enough I can plan side panels for under the arms instead of doing an underarm decrease. If it is too wide I can decrease as much as needed at the underarm to provide a wrap toward the front which I would then knit appropriately narrower.
    Based on this rectangle I can successfully design the rest of the sweater or vest very creatively based on either an existing pattern or my own sketches and knit a garment that is a perfect fit.

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