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Swatch like you mean it

There’s a really great blog called Color Me Happy. It’s written by a talented decorator with an amazing color sense and a special gift for choosing just the right neutrals. She recently wrote about these enormous color cards she brings to her appointments to allow clients to see what a color will look like on their wall. The card is painted with the actual paint and covers 12 square feet of wall while a paint chip is printed with ink and is no more than an inch and a half square. It’s crazy, but we often choose a color for our entire house without really knowing what the color will look like with our furniture, our flooring, and our lighting.

Same thing happens when you set out to knit a sweater. Unless you’ve knit a really large swatch - 8”x8” minimum—you don’t really know what the fabric looks like or what your gauge is going to be once you get going. I tell customers to knit a swatch large enough to allow them to fall into their normal, ordinary knitting style. A tiny swatch is like a first date where everyone is on his best behavior. You can knit tightly or loosely for a 4” swatch, but you need to know what your knitting will do when you’re just being yourself and not focusing on the swatch.

You’ll also want to swatch the yarn in the stitch pattern your designs uses. While the gauge may be given in stockinette, and that gauge will be the metric for determining your needle size, you’d be very remiss if you didn’t swatch the pattern you’ll be knitting. You may find that the yarn you’ve chosen is too springy for the lace pattern – or too busy to for the cables. You need to know how the yarn behaves in all the stitch patterns you’ll be using for your project.

Ideally, you’ll give your swatch a little bath and block it out to see what the fibers when they’re washed. Does the fabric grow? Does it become limp? Does the dye bleed? This essential data you’ll need before you work up a large garment in multiple colors! Often, in the little bath, you’ll discover a glorious side of the fabric that simply doesn’t show up in the skein. Some of the best yarns are not flashy on the shelf - they don’t cry out for attention, but when you knit them up and give them a little bath they’re the kind of yarn you want to use for everything!

Felted Tweed is a perfect example of such a yarn. I asked Lynne to swatch up the sample skein, and she produced a large piece of fabric with a spectacular feel. It was light and delicate without being fragile. It had a hint of bloom brought out by a little bath. Who would have thought that the unassuming Felted Tweed would produce such a rapturously beautiful fabric? To think we almost missed bringing in this lovely fiber! Silky Wool and Silky Wool XL as well as Felted Tweed’s big sister, Felted Tweed Chunky, are similarly shy on the shelf, but so delightful to knit.

Whether you choose one of these standout yarns, or other lovely fiber, be sure knit a nice big swatch and see what it does for you.


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