Swatching, swatching, and more swatching

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Many knitters I know don't like swatching, including me. When we buy that beautiful, exciting yarn and find the perfect pattern, we want to dive right into the project. Sometimes a swatch doesn't really matter, like if knitting a scarf or shawl. But when you're knitting something that has to fit, you can't get around it or you're taking a big chance. Yarn can behave differently depending on fiber content, the pattern, and how loosely or tightly you knit. I recently knit a hat with stranded color work and was mortified that the color stranding drew the stitches in too tightly, changing the gauge and causing it to be an inch too small. I knew better and should have knit the swatch.

For my Capstone project, I'm literally venturing into uncharted territory with no pretested pattern. I've decided to embrace taking the better part of a month knitting swatch after swatch. At left are the early swatches. Each was a trial run, giving me answers to "what-if's" and helping visualize the outcomes of my options.

The upper left didn't tell me much except to see how I liked the yarn and the color combo. So far so good. At upper right, I played with ribbing, cable, and Fibonacci sequence. I didn't like this Fib version, but worked out the general cable pattern and liked the two-color twist.

In the lower left swatches, I fine-tuned the cable pattern. Should the cable twist be every four rows or six? Four was better. I also found that twisting the stitches in the cable (knitting in the back loop as seen in the left sample) made the cables pop out more. I also liked this Fibonacci sequence better, as it was less cluttered than the prior version. In the lower right I was curious to see if fuzzy divisions between the color changes would be nice. Crisp color changes were better.

Each gave me answers which led to this culmination of the best parts of the earlier swatches plus a few more elements to try out. The swatch at right was the last one, the one I'll submit with my finished project as required. I experimented with adding a garter border and decided definitely not. I also made this one narrow and near full-length to see how the Fibonacci sequence would play out with the number of rows I had to work with. Without this, I couldn't get an accurate depiction of it. I also discovered that the Fibonacci numbers had to be a multiple of 2 because the next color yarn would not end up on the correct end when I needed it. With even numbers per color section, the yarn would be in the right place the next time I needed that color. Lastly, because my design incorporated a shawl collar, I had to teach myself to do this and see how the cable would transition to the collar when folded over. This was a good practice run for the real deal and seemed to work out well.

Now that the mechanics of the design were figured out, it was time to calculate shaping -- the rate of increases and decreases for each piece of the sweater -- using my body measurements* and gauge from the swatches, It took me an entire evening to calculate and graph each piece. The fronts took the longest because of the collar, and the sleeve caps a close second. Surprisingly, I liked doing the math and graphing and found this part empowering.

At the time of this post, I've already knit the back, both fronts, and one sleeve, having started the second sleeve! I've been working on this full steam to be ahead of schedule just in case life or the sweater threw a curve ball to set me back. Next post will talk about the fire that delivered a whopper curve ball.

Webs Yarn Store has a blog post about last year's Capstone projects. If you'd like to see what others have created, click here.

* If you decide to venture into designing or modifying patterns, you might find it useful to have a seamstress or tailor make you a chart of your body measurements for accuracy.


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