Thoughts on swatching

by Elizabeth Sullivan August 18, 2016 3 Comments

Thoughts on swatching

As designers and yarn dyers, much of our knitting time is spent swatching rather than working on full projects. In fact we have boxes of swatches!

Big jumble of knitted swatches

A big messy jumble of knitted swatches.

We swatch when we try out new yarns to see if we want to add them to our yarn line.
We swatch when we dye new colourways and want to see how they knit up.
We swatch when we have an idea for a new design. Often many, many times.

Many knitters avoid swatching and I admit that I used to be one of those knitters. I was always impatient to get to the good part of starting a project instead of wasting time swatching. "I'm usually close enough to gauge, right? I'm sure it will be fine."

Things started to change as I began designing my own projects. Yes I can sometimes wing it (Leif the Lucky was designed on the needles with no real plan in mind), but the vast majority of the time I need to swatch as part of the design process. And somewhere along the way I've grown to love swatching for its own sake.

Purple, blue, and green swatches pinned on board

Swatches on display at the studio, artfully arranged by Sarah.
Many of these are for Sweet Paprika patterns we've designed over the years.

For those swatch-avoiders among you,  I encourage you to think of swatching beyond whether or not you get perfect gauge for a project. Instead, consider swatching as a way to get to know a yarn, to understand the structure of a stitch pattern, to decide which needle size will give you the fabric and drape you're looking for. You certainly don't have to be a designer to find it helpful to know these things before starting a project. You don't even have to swatch for a specific project! You could pull out a skein of yarn from your stash and swatch with it before you decide what project it should be paired with.

Swatch of the month - waffle pattern

August Swatch of the Month - Waffle pattern in Minuet DK

Because we want to share our love of swatching with you, Debbie and I have started a Swatch of the Month feature as part of our monthly email newsletter. (If you haven't already joined our mailing list you can subscribe below.)

Each month we’ll be sharing a little bit of our behind-the-scenes swatching. Many of the swatches you’ll see will show up in future designs. Some of them may be stitch patterns that we love but just didn’t quite work for the design we had in mind. We'll provide a PDF download with full swatching instructions for those of you who feel like swatching along with us.

Look out for this waffle pattern in a new design next month!

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Elizabeth Sullivan
Elizabeth Sullivan

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3 Responses

Anna Dorner
Anna Dorner

October 24, 2016

I never understood the idea behind “swatching” although I attended a session with you in Ottawa. Now I get it. Thanks!
Anna

Kelly
Kelly

August 18, 2016

Ooh! Great idea with the swatch a month. I so agree with your swatching sentiments, and my journey of learning to love the swatch is similar.

Lucie
Lucie

August 18, 2016

Excellent idea. I must admit I don’t like swatching and avoid it whenever possible. Did I also mention that often, my projects turn out too small or too large? LOL LOL.
This will make swatching more interesting.

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