On swatching, part 3

A small swatchlet, with regular eyelets around the edge to make it easier to block.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a series of posts about how I knit the swatches for my stitch pattern posts. First I wrote a general description, then I provided charts and written instructions for the borders, and today I’m going to talk about blocking.

It is important to note that these are not gauge swatches, and so I take a shortcut that I wouldn’t use when making swatches to plan a finished garment.

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On swatching, part 1

A small swatchlet, with regular eyelets around the edge to make it easier to block.

I get occasional questions about how I knit my stitch pattern swatches, and since I’ve finally settled down into something consistent, I thought I’d write up my full process.

The first thing to know is that there are actually several categories of swatches in the world. The swatches I’m going to write about in this post are not my rough draft design swatches (here’s an old, somewhat out of date post), where I figure out what the heck I’m doing, make changes as I go, and learn from a variety of mistakes. They are also not the kind of swatches that are used to help work out a full-size design. And they are definitely not gauge swatches.

These are finished objects, the swatches I knit to photograph for my stitch pattern posts. The example I’m using here is a traditional mesh patter, Star Rib Mesh. I found it in the first of Barbara Walker’s treasuries.

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Swatching stitch patterns

Swatching serves many purposes in knitting. There is the basic gauge swatch, which should (in theory) help the knitter pick the correct needles to go with a given yarn for a specific project. That is a story often told in many places, with many associated difficulties and the lament that swatches lie. That’s as may be, but it’s not the focus of this post.

For designers of finished objects like sweaters or socks or shawls, swatches serve other functions aside from measuring gauge. They can be used to work out the transitions between a stitch pattern and a ribbing, to figure out which buttonhole is best for a given situation, to decide which complicated lace looks best with which simple mesh. These swatches can be quite large by comparison with the gauge swatches that most knitters make.

Another kind of swatch is one that I like to use: a practice swatch to learn a new technique before incorporating it in a finished object, or to see if that mistake from a work in progress could actually be used as a purposeful technique. Here the swatch only needs to be as many stitches as it takes to work the new method.

And finally, the kind of swatch I knit most often: the swatches that show how a stitch pattern looks as a knitted fabric. How big to make such a swatch is the focus of this post. (Even though there is no knitting in my examples.)

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