Your swatch has the answer

So as always, swatching is informative. That’s the short version. The long version goes something like this.⁠⠀

I started with the grey with neon speckles and the blue. It’s promising, but I see I’d need a smaller needle (that’s a two, and the fabric is too open for what I want).

Next I tried the purple and purple. And it’s lovely, but the contrast is too subtle for this project.⁠

While I was working the purple swatch, I got distracted and tried out a solid gray yarn and gray floof, but again, way too subtle (and alas it was dark, so no picture of this one by itself).

Those two let me know that the blue yarn + blue floof I was considering in one of the yarn pairing pictures also wouldn’t be what I was looking for, so I didn’t even swatch it.⁠  Same goes for the gray with darker speckles and the dark purple floof from yesterday. Those were more subdued than what I wanted for this piece, so I didn’t swatch them.⁠

However, since I’d figured out that I wanted a more high contrast pairing, I pulled out a dark gray yarn with teal speckles and tried that with the blue floof. It was good. But I think I’d have liked it better with an orange floof, which I don’t have (seriously, I need to start buying more fuzzy yarn), and it’s too thin for the project I have in mind. If I’d had it in a thicker base, or if I’d had a dark orange yarn to pair it with, I miiiiiiiight have gone with it. But I wanted to cast on now, and that meant stash diving, so it’s not the combo for this project. But I’m holding on to the idea of pairing that yarn with a dark orange fluff in some other project.⁠

So I went back to the first swatch and went down a needle size (meaning I’m knitting something the yarn label calls worsted on ones) and ended up with a tighter fabric. So now I’m calling that the winner for the moment.

Though really, there are no losers. Every swatch taught me stuff, and at least one of them gave me an idea for another yarn I want to get and another project I want to do. It’s not a waste of yarn (these all got unraveled and the yarn is fine). It’s not a waste of time (each swatch took maybe fifteen minutes tops). It’s part of knitting, and you’ll be happier if you embrace it.

Dive in

Perhaps you remember the other day? When I was very very very mean and told you that there was a decent chance that some of the reason you ‘could never do that’ was because you kept telling yourself you can’t?  Right…so let’s talk about that some more.

Earlier this year, when our house was invaded by absolutely lovely, skilled, kind people doing extremely noisy, dusty, disruptive things to deal with the aftermath of the burst pipe, I decided I’d deal with the chaos by teaching myself two color brioche.  Because that’s a reasonable way to cope.

So I did!  I watched some videos and read some blogs (this walkthrough is great) and knit some swatches and swore a bit and possibly squinted a lot and after an hour or two I was feeling competent.  So I cast on for a hat.

That pile of swatches up there?  That’s more or less every single bit of brioche I’d knit before I said ‘ok, time to stop swatching and do a project’ (the orange and white one is the same yarn I used for the hat, so it more or less counts as a gauge swatch).

And you know what, it worked.  No I mean it really worked.  It’s just yarn, so the potential for disaster is pretty low.  But there’s really not any drama at all.

It wasn’t any harder than sorting out cables or lace or slipped stitches or any other knitting thing (yeah yeah, I know it looks hard, I put it off for years because it looks hard…but it I can sort it out in an afternoon, so can you).  In fact, it was mellow enough that my traditional “oh god, ribbing, I’m so bored of ribbing, can I do the pretty bits yet?” feelings kicked in right on schedule.  I’ll show you the pretty bits soon!

So…pep talk part…whatever that knitting thing is you’re sort of intrigued by but you’re worried it’s going to be hard?  How about you go spend an hour or two this week reading about it.  Because I suspect if you do that, you can have something on your needles in no time!

I didn’t forget

Remember the other day when we talked about the…ah…let’s go with ‘generous‘ amount of swatching that comes before a project?  And I showed you all the swatches that happened before the blue hat leapt into being?  And remember that gray swatch at the top that a bunch of you liked?

Well turns out I liked it too.  But the yarn it was in was just a tiny bit darker than what I wanted (there’s sort of this thing where a bunch of those hats may all end up hanging out together in a bigger project, which all of a sudden meant all the yarns have to look good with each other, which significantly complicates things).  So I did the reasonable thing and got more yarn.

That’s Mrs Crosby’s Satchel in Greystone (I am a child of the 80s and consistently type Greyskull instead of Greystone, just so you know…).  And it’s absolutely lovely with the other hats.

But of course just because I’d swatched with the earlier yarn doesn’t mean I don’t need to swatch with this one.  For one thing I needed to check the gauge/fabric (to figure out which needles give me the fabric I like and what size I’m going to make)

And I also needed to see if I liked the background fabric better ribbed or plain (ribbed, for sure).

All of which is my long way of saying that if you missed the other swatch, that stitch pattern isn’t done with me yet (plus your weekly dose of ‘yes, swatching really is important, you really should be doing it’ as a bonus).


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Swatches…So. Many. Swatches

So I know I’ve talked about how swatching is a thing…but I’m not sure if you really believe me.  I’m not kidding when I say that I sometimes spend as long swatching for a project as knitting it (especially for little things like hats).  I mentioned last time that I stared with some swatches to see how I liked the needles and the yarn together.  But that was just the beginning.

I doodled around with the blue yarn for a while, but didn’t like how things were shaping up, so I set it aside (and I did that at night when it was dark, so alas I don’t have a picture of that swatch, you’ll just have to take my word for it). I switched to a different yarn to see if what I had in mind would play better there.

It was better, but not quite right.  Good enough to take some notes though so I can come back and work with it more later.  But not quite what I had in mind, so I tried a few different variations on yet another yarn.  Still no love.

So I scrapped the herringbone thing I was experimenting with and decided to go in a totally different direction.  Might as well keep going with the same yarn though since it was handy.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere.  I mean I know this actually looks sort of like a pile of crumply bug pods.  But there’s potential there.  Enough that I went back to the blue yarn and tried it (with a few tweaks) there.

And now we’re getting somewhere.  This has lots of potential. Enough that it’s worth making the swatch bigger and blocking it to see how it behaves at a larger scale (meaning I’m not done with the swatching, but I’m done with the sort of experimental pre-swatching that comes before I get down to a proper swatch).

So that’s what, five or six different swatches (usually with a few different variations on any given swatch) tried out to get to an idea worth running with and doing a big swatch for.  This is totally normal by the way!  Taken all together, I’m pretty sure there are at least as many stitches in my swatches as there would be in the finished hat.  But the finished hat will be oh so much better because of the swatches, and I’ve learned all sorts of stuff along the way.

More Swatches

No really…swatches are all I’m knitting these days.

I’ve probably explained this before, but for me a book usually goes 1) have an idea, 2) source yarn, 3) swatch and write patterns, 4) send yarn and patterns off to magical stunt knitters to turn into projects, 5) get the patterns into proper book format and have them edited, 6) get projects back and take photos, 7) more editing, 8) printing.  Now there’s more to it than that (I left out the traditional ‘all my ideas are crap’ crisis that invariably happens somewhere in the middle), and there’s some overlap (for example, a few of the pieces for Curls 3 are actually already finished while the last few patterns haven’t yet been written).  But that’s the general process.  And now? Now I’m in that swatch swatch swatch and write patterns stage.

One of the swatches I’m totally happy with (meaning it’s ready to move onto being knit and formatted and edited and generally made official) is this giant cable in Bijou Basin Ranch’s Tibetan Dream.  I’m a sucker for a big cable, and this one goes together in a sort of unusual way that’s a lot of fun to do.

And I’m also loving this simple little bit of magic in Miss Babs Sojurn. The yarn is so amazing I didn’t want to mess around with it too much…just that simple little braided line is enough (plus you get to feel all clever for making your knitting turn and go sideways…I promise it’s not as tricky as it looks).

They either are or will soon be with knitters, and I’ll be working on cooking up schemes for more of the yarns.  If you want to check them out (or see the earlier swatches), you can find all the Curls 3 posts here.


So you know how sometimes I say something like ‘this project has big stretches of reverse stockinette so you may want to consider a more subdued yarn than you might otherwise use’?  Like with the top of the foot on Cataphyll or the background on Enchase or the heel and background on Greenhorn? Yeah well let’s look at why.

Take a look at this and notice the difference between the stockinette side (that’s the bit that’s all knits…the bottom in this picture) and the reverse stockinette side (that’s the bit that’s all purls…the top in this picture).

Trace one of the rainbow bits on the stockinette side.  See how the colors are nestled up next to each other and you pretty much get a solid line of color?

Ok now look at it on the reverse stockinette side. Because of the way knitting works, the purl side has the colors much more jumbled up.  Instead of seeing one solid line of color, you get a row of little bumps of color, then two rows of little bumps of gray, then another row of bumps of color.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s how knit fabric works.  But it does mean that colors that hang out tidily together on the front will be more interspersed with the background color on the reverse.  That can be awesome.  But if you’re not expecting it, it can be jarring especially in a project where you have both kinds of fabric next to each other.

So my approach, if it’s a project with large stretches of reverse stockinette (like a big cable on a reverse stockinette background) is to go with a more mellow yarn.  And while I won’t go so far as to recommend you do the same (we all know I’m more reserved with color than some of you), I do recommend getting in the habit of looking at both sides of your swatch and seeing how the colors stack up on the reverse stockinette side.

Oh, and because someone will ask, the yarn is the Stormy Day colorway from The Lemonade Shop on their DK base.


Oh my goodness how have I not shown you guys this…

So you know how I’ve been showing you all sorts of yarn for Curls 3?  Yeah…well that doesn’t just sit around being yarn, it gets turned into swatches.  Lots and lots and lots of swatches!

That’s the Squish DK by Spun Right Round in Frost (and that’s a super reversible stitch, which is always lovely for curls).

And then how about a bit of Magnificent DK from Knit Circus in Brass and Steam (and yes, that is a circular needle…what is the world coming to!).

And last but not least how about a bit of Cheshire cat by Wonderland Yarns in their Yellow to Fuchsia color morph and Goat’s Beard.

I guess the pace of swatching has just outpaced the speed of blogging!  Which is actually a lovely reminder for me to let you know that a lot of this stuff shows up on my instagram account before it’s on the blog.  It tends to be a bit faster over there, so if you want to see things a bit closer to real time, that’s the place to do it!


So I feel like I’m having a ‘colors without colorwork’ sort of phase.  There’s the green and gray wavy set I just finished, and the stripey pink and purple business I just put up for testing, and of course there’s Pelagic.  But I didn’t feel quite done.

So then there was this.

Which turned into this.

Which then turned into this.

Yarn is Madeline Tosh, Merino DK in Flashdance (purple) and Vintage in Smokestack (gray), and I’m expecting great things!


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We’re going to consider this a lesson on the virtues of swatching.  I’m dying to do something with this yarn (from Spun Right Round, the color name is Bug Jar, because I know one of you is going to want it too).  But speckled yarn seems to require a bit of extra care in pattern selection.

speckles 1It seems that things with a lot of stockinette show it off best.  But as much as I like wearing things with great huge swaths of stockinette, I can’t actually stand knitting it.  So the most low key way I could think of to break it up was a bit of slip/cross action.  But even sticking to that, there’s still some room for variation.

speckles 2I think I’ve settled on a version I’m happy with.  I’ll cast on when my shiny new needles get here (I’m having a fight with the needles up there and they need to spend some time in time out).  I’ve got oodles of yarn, so I’ll likely do a little set.  I just need to decide if it wants to be a hat and cowl or a hat and mitts or maybe mitts and a cowl…

Smug, so very very smug

Public Service Announcement: Your swatch doesn’t count if you don’t block it.

Remember the photo of the swatch I showed you last time?   Take a look at it after a little soak!

DSC_4978Totally different beast (with a whole stitch per inch difference in gauge).  If I’d started the project without blocking the swatch, the finished project would have been way way way too big.  I also feel like blocking the swatch helped me decide which color to go with (which was proving unreasonably challenging when I was just staring at the yarn).

DSC_4987Tantrum it is.  But don’t feel bad if you love the Molten Cool.  I have a suspicion you’ll be seeing more of it around here at some point.  It really is too pretty not to use for something!