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Five unexpected reasons to swatch

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Five unexpected reasons to swatch

At the shop, I say “You’ll have to swatch it and see,“ at least fifty times a day.  That guidance is always met with a groan or at least a heavy sigh.  Knitters hate to swatch.  I get it.  We want get started NOW, because the project is going to take a while, and swatching feels like a waste of precious knitting time. 

Casting on a big project without swatching is like marrying someone we met at the bar last night.  It might work out great, but maybe not, and it could be a while before we figure out that it was a horrible mistake.  By then, we’ve already invested so much time and energy that we’re tempted to just soldier on and hope it gets better and turns out okay. It doesn’t.  As painful as it is, just cut your losses and head to the frog pond – Rip it, rip it, rip it. 

Love it or hate it, swatching is important, and here are five things to help you do it better, if not actually enjoy it.

  1. Have a few dates: Swatching is a way to get to know the yarn.  Sure, it’s gorgeous, but do you even like knitting it? Is it easy going or high maintenance? If it’s a lot of trouble to knit, will the end product be worth the effort? (Think most 100% linen yarn)  The way the yarn looks in the skein is often nothing like the way it looks and acts when you’re knitting it.  Best to know whether or not you like it early on. 
  2. Choose your tools: What needles go best with your yarn? Some yarns are slippery, others are sticky, and the needles you use can significantly affect your gauge as well as your knitting pleasure.  Your swatch gives you a chance to try out different needles to find the one that’s the best fit for your yarn.
  3. Play to the strengths: Some yarns have great stitch definition and really showcase fancy knitting. Other yarns are so textures or variegated, or just plain dark, that they overshadow all your hard work.  Your swatch gives you the chance to see if your yarn should take the lead or play a supporting role.  to your stitchwork.  needs to be center stage- If you’re doing a plain project and need a yarn that will take center stage, great, but not so much if you need more of a supporting cast member.  The swatch allows you to figure out that out early.
  4. Get muscle memory: If your project has a fancy stitch pattern, a swatch lets you figure out and practice that pattern – develop the muscle memory and the mental rhythm of it across all the rows before you embark on that same pattern across a hundred stitches. 
  5. Check care instructions: Many yarn labels these days advise you to dry clean, when we know that many, if not most, yarns are perfectly happy being hand washed, or even washed in the machine. Your swatch is a perfect place to experiment with washing options.  If the label says dry clean only, try handwash.  Try tossing a handwash yarn in the washer on gentle.  Dry flat?  See if it can take a tumble in the dryer.  Then you’ll know for sure. 

As you swatch, relax and be yourself.  If you’re a tight or loose knitter, it’s tempting to tell ourselves that we can change.  We can’t.  We are who we are as knitters, and the way we knit is just right for us.  Rather than vowing that you’ll loosen/tighten up, relax and knit your swatch naturally, wherever you plan to knit your project.  If that’s on the sofa in front of the tv, that’s where you should knit your swatch.  A comfortably knit swatch is a much better indicator of your actual gauge than one done on your best behavior.  Plus it’s more fun. 

Does that make swatching any more palatable?  I hope so! Looking foward to seeing you in the shop soon!  You are always welcome here.



Back to 14 July 2020 Newsletter

Comments on this post (10)

  • Jul 27, 2020

    You made valid points about swatching. Thanks for the reminders.

    — Susan

  • Jul 16, 2020

    Hi Pat, I will send you this same info in an email, as well as answer here, just in case anyone else is interested. I know Mykonos well! We carried it in the shop when it first came out – I loved the shiny effect and silky feel of the fabric. It is tough to knit, though because it has a mind of its own and can be a little stubborn. I believe that Gedifra makes a yarn that is similar, and it is called Riviera. You can see the colors on the Knitting Fever website, as well as shops near you that have ordered it, on their website here
    Hope that helps! Miss seeing you in the shop, and hope you are staying safe in Florida. ~Ellen

    — Ellen

  • Jul 14, 2020

    Ellen, your article was very timely. I lived in Huntingtown (Calvert) and would patronize your shop. I now live in Silver Springs Florida. When I knitted a swatch today for a project I did not like the mixture of yarns. I’m wondering if you could assist. This is my problem….I have swatched Lana Grossa Ombra 005 which is a green and white(cotton/poly) with the Berroco Mykonos 8526 (linen/nylon/cotton) which is a sagey gray green. I thought that they would be complementary.The pattern is Shibui Knits Amos (a boxy tee which is striped). I have swatched this pattern 2 ways: Ombra as the “lead” yarn with Mykonos as the “secondary” and the Mykonos as the “lead” and Ombra as the 2nd. (See your article did come in very handy!)Unfortunely, NOW, I don’t like the Mykonos with the Ombra. The sage green turns more blue.Here’s what I’m asking (finally you say) I’ve searched substitute yarns for the Mykonos. The substitutes are:Katia Ibis White (70) which is apparently out of stock everywhere,Lana Grossa Capri.Lang Filo. Can you suggest another substitution. I like the “shiny” aspect of the Mykonos. It goes well with the Ombra. I’m thinking White. I need 480 yds.

    Thank you for any help you can give me. I appreciate your time.


    — Pat Tantum

  • Jul 14, 2020

    Le “Sigh”. Swatching. Great article! Still don’t like it LOL!

    — Taryn

  • Jul 14, 2020

    I always learn something from your blogs! You’re amazing!

    — Gilda Ongkeko

  • Jul 14, 2020

    You are singing my song! I love this post and especially your analogy about marrying the person you met last night at the bar!

    — Alison Green

  • Jul 14, 2020

    Rip it out!! I just learned the hard way how important this advice can be.

    — Barbara Bershon

  • Jul 14, 2020

    Great advice as always Ellen!

    — Susan Dyer

  • Jul 14, 2020

    Hey, Lori! I’m so glad it worked out for you. Did you block your swatch? That makes such a difference. Can’t wait to see you in your beautiful new sweater!

    — Ellen Lewis

  • Jul 14, 2020

    I swatched twice on this current sweater. The first time came out ok, but the second time, I tried a larger needle, and corrected some of my mistakes from the first time….big difference! I’m glad I took the time to do a second swatch.

    — Lori

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