KW Sweet Summer Sweater: Swatching

The next installment of our Sweet Summer Sweater (#kwsummersweater) contest is swatching, editing and planning. These steps  - that some may deem as "unfun" - are actually the most crucial steps to a successful end product, and make the actual knitting a pleasure!

Swatching for Pattern, Texture, Color + Gauge:

Once you get your inspiration down on paper and have some sketches worked out it's time to cast on and get swatching. I know, I know, many of you dislike the swatching process, but trust us: it's the most important thing you can do for the sake of your knitting. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

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In order to find stitch pattern, we usually start by flipping through pattern books like the Barbara Walker stitch collections, Japanese stitch pattern books, or any of the many knitting books on our shelves. This phase of the process is one that really gets the creative energy flowing: as you knit your mind may start to wander, allowing your design to begin taking shape. Often we find that during this stage our design idea changes slightly as we realize that what we planned in our sketches may not work out in a 3-dimensional object. Let your knitting take you where it wants to go!

We often knit multiple swatches, using different stitch patterns and needle sizes until we find something that really clicks. Remember, this swatch is not to simply determine gauge, it is also for finding the perfect knit fabric for your sweater. Don't try to get away with a tiny swatch of 2" of fabric. If the garment will be knit in the round, Courtney often swatches sweater bodies by knitting a child sized hat as it is a large enough item to give her a sense of how the fabric will behave when gravity is in play. If changes in stitch pattern are made, or increases/decreases made to make a stitch pattern work, its no big deal - it's just a swatch, and her son is not too picky about his hats!

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A {very small} sampling of Courtney's Swatches:

Top (l to r): A swatch for Freyja, a swatch for a failed sweater, a swatch for Whitby Stockings, a color swatch for a personal sweater in Road to China Worsted, a failed (and ugly) handwarmer.

Middle (l to r): Jackson swatch, Kiva Hattu swatch, Carina swatch, Acadia swatch that didn't become anything and an Organik swatch that also didn't become anything. 

Bottom (l to r): Waylon swatch, random color swatch, Bramble Beret swatch, failed hat swatch, Frejya color swatch.

Kate also knits copious swatches but tends to be happy with just swatching and doesn't feel compelled to knit entire hats or mittens! Often when she gets through the initial swatching phase, she will begin her sweaters by knitting the sleeves just in case something doesn't work out right. It's easier to let go of a sleeve that isn't working than the entire body of a sweater! (Or in one case, turn them into a pair of legwarmers!)

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A {very small} sampling of Kate's Swatches:

Top row (l to r): Some colors of Canopy Fingering + Canopy Worsted held together in a broken rib, not sure why; Tundra swatch that never became anything (but we like it!); Acadia swatch for a sweater to be released 2014 - Keep an eye out!; swatch in Acadia for the East Falls hat; Road to China Light swatches for a failed shawl circa 2008.

Middle (l to r): Avery Cowl swatch, Magnolia swatch, Amaranth swatch, Fargo swatch, more playing around with Tundra.

Bottom (l to r): Margarethe swatch from Vintage Modern Knits, swatch for Auckland, another random Tundra swatch, Mountain Ash Shawl swatch.

You may notice that we still have all these swatches, even if the end result never transpired or was a total failure. It is a lovely thing to be able to go back and double check something you tried before in case you want to use it for something else. I'm not suggesting you become a swatch hoarder, but we have a 6' x 6' wall covered in cork at the office at the office where we keep swatches that may hold future potential.  

Swatching Elements:

Think about your sketch. Really look at it. Look at all the curves, colors, and textures in that sketch. Now think about a line of stitches on your needle. How will you get what you've drawn to work once you have the stitches on the needle? We are big proponents of swatching 'elements.' If you are unsure of your armhole shaping, cast on 1/2 of your estimated body stitches, knit an inch or so in pattern and work the armhole shaping.Then you'll know exactly what to expect when you get there. Working top down? Cast on 1/4 of your stitches (or so) and work the yoke in it's entirety. You can always call it a doll sweater or turn it into an ornament. Don't leave elements you are unsure of to the last minute. The worst thing is finding out that it won't work the way you want after you've put in 20 hours of knitting time. 

Editing:

Once you really get going with your swatching you should know what is working and what isn't. Don't rip things out, just set them aside and cast on again until you create something that works. Be sure to block all of your swatches, it is the only way to really know how the finished fabric will behave. Go with your instinct. If you don't like the look of it, don't force it. If you don't like it now, you're not going to like it after hours of knitting!

Once you have picked a swatch you like, don't hesitate to ask for feedback. We cannot underestimate the importance of having critical, opinionated, and talented knitting friends in your life. Go to a knitting circle, join a Ravelry forums, find fellow knitters at the office, and asking for their feedback is vitally important. We have been know to text pictures of swatches or sweaters in progress to each other during off-hours to ask advice or opinions. Sometimes someone can spark a great idea that really makes your project work perfectly. And, sometimes you have to take people's opinions with grace and a grain of salt!

Once you have picked your shape, stitch, swatch + gauge, it is time to get knitting! Stay tuned next week for tips and tricks on fit, ease, basic calculations you should know and how to figure out yardage requirements.