Some of the great minds in Toronto knitting have been taking about swatching, and I don't mean me. Funny thing was, I was on a swatching spree whilst this conversation was happening on Twitter. Kate and Steph, aka WiseHilda and The Yarn Harlot took apart the myths of swatching in a great thread and exposed the knitter's dirtiest secret: swatching is important. Knitters know it and most of us treat it like flossing one's teeth: they get that we all should do it, but most don't do it all the time, some don't do it at all.
For the record, I came around to daily flossing about ten years ago and almost never miss a day. I feel gross if I don't floss my teeth.
I haven't yet come around to feeling the same way about swatching.
I know the reasons:
- To make a sweater that fits
- To see how the yarn behaves at the pattern gauge
- To test stitch patterns, colours etc.-- if I hate the swatching process, I'll hate knitting the project.
- To figure out if I have enough yarn to make the project
- To avoid the anguish of any of the above.
All good reasons, all the bran of knitting. All good for you. Yep. Yawn.
That being said, I discovered this weekend it's not all that bad to do. I knew that, but sometimes I have to do it again to remember.
I decided it was time to figure out my Rhinebeck sweater and to knit from stash. I had some patterns in mind and some yarn I want to use and needed to see what fit in terms of gauge and design. I started with Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted in Brick. This is pretty and somewhat precious yarn that's been waiting for the right project. One ball was attacked by moths and was living in the freezer. I took it out and just knit with 5mm needles to see what would happen.
Here it is washed (washing your swatch is essential since water can change the yarn and I expect you will wash the project at some point).
I got really smart and attached a note so I know what I did. It's a fine swatch but I found the fabric too loose. That disqualified it from a few project ideas.
I decided that I wanted to try Oshima again so got out yarn two: Briar Rose Charity. It's not the colour I remember (I swore it was blue) but knew it was likely the right weight so I swatched away.
The bottom was knit on 6mm needles and was too loose to get gauge so I did a line of garter and went down to 5mm needles. That worked and stayed consistent after washing. I also swatched the brioche stitch which is integral to the pattern and got gauge there too. Swatching also made me warm up to the yarn and colour. It's a mix of greys and blues that I dubbed Stormy Seas. It'll make a pretty Oshima.
Then I thought it might be too hot to wear that sweater at Rhinebeck so I went back to the orange yarn and swatched in pattern for Brandied Cherry. The designer, Thea Colman does a great job explaining what to do if you want to substitute yarns including swatching the cables, thinking about the weight of the finished sweater and ease.
Up to the marker I used a 4.5mm needle and realized it was too tight so I went up to a 5mm needles. I like the cables so decided to focus on the twisted rib which is the pattern needed to establish gauge and worked on that until I was satisfied. I'm a tad worried I won't have enough yarn for the size I plan on making but that is another post!
You will notice that I'm a lazy swatcher. I do four inches to get stitch gauge but fudge my row gauge. I should stop doing that. One day it will cause me problems.