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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.   
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Yarn Weights and Measures: What Do They All Mean?

grist1
I’ve been thinking a lot about what all those ways that yarn manufacturers, including myself, categorize the yarn.  There are so many ways of speaking about the size of the yarn. The standard yarn weight information is set up in a table with discreet squares. But I’ve been studying this lately and I’ve noticed that there is overlap,  a lot of overlap among the yarn weights. So it seems to me that this is really a continuum. Just look at the info about YPP, yards per pound, the overlap here is really large. Why is that? It has to do with the spinning process.

yarn weights

Was it spun in a woolen way with lots of air and softly spongy and so it has a bigger diameter? Or was it spun in a worsted way which compacts the fibers and aligns them all in one direction and so it appears thinnner. These two yarns could have the same YPP but a different grist or appearance and they will behave very differently. So use these as a guide, but the ultimate test is your own swatch. These two yarns were both supposed to be a DK weight. But the diameter is SOOOOO different. They knit up differently too. The green one knits like a lace weight yarn. It is our Heritage BFL yarn. And the turquoise yarn is Fingal’s and truly knits like a DK yarn. It is also made with BFL wool and both were made at the same mill.  Go figure!!

grist2

This really comes into play when you are wanting to make that special sweater. You are wanting to use yarn from your stash, not go out and buy the yarn that the designer used. Or maybe that yarn isn’t available anywhere near you. This is when those standard yarn weights become important. And even more important than that, is to knit up a swatch. Not only a stockinette swatch but also a swatch in pattern.

 

But is a swatch important when it is for a garment that doesn’t fit your body, like a shawl or a cowl? Well, I think getting the gauge close is important so that the stitches look the same. You may not need to get it “exactly” right if it isn’t going to “fit” your body. What is important to do is to check the size of the finished project, because many times the photographs used in the pattern, may be on a mannequin and not a person. It may be made for an extremely small or large person, someone whose body is vastly different than yours.  Sometimes making a swatch seems like wasting your time and a waste of yarn. You will probably only need 25-50 yards for a swatch. It will reduce the chance that you would need to frog your project.  I think it is important to make sure that the stitches look right. You may be a looser knitter than the designer or vice versa. So changing your needle size will be just what you need to get your swatch to look like the picture. Those are important questions to answer and it is worth the time to figure this out before you jump into your garment.