The Progression of a Swatch

You know how I’m always telling you to swatch? How I’m telling you that like 75% of knitting questions/problems can be addressed with a good swatch?  Yeah, that’s today’s theme once again.  I want to walk you through the swatching that happened for my next project.  Keep in mind this is just for a hat (that is, a small project, with no weird fit stuff…about as easy a situation as you could hope for).

It started with this (way back last summer…like I think last July).  I was futzing around, trying to figure out how a stitch I saw in a picture went together, when I did something weird and got a result I liked.

I wanted to make sure I really understood what was happening and make sure I could do it again, so I figured I’d try it again, this time taking some notes.  I had the stitch down, but I didn’t love the color combo with that stitch.

So I went back to the original colors.  But this time I wanted to see if there was a better way to transition into the pattern (I didn’t like the harsh line I had the first time), and I wanted to see how it looked if I reversed light and dark.  The transition worked, the reversed colors didn’t grab me.

So now I needed to make sure I could do something pretty to decrease in pattern (because if it’s going to be a hat, you need a pretty way to do the decreases for the crown), and try another color combo while I was at it.  Once again, I liked the decreases, but didn’t love the colors.

So for those of you counting along at home, that’s four swatches in three different pairs of yarns (four if count swapping light/dark for the orange ones) before I even get started thinking about which yarns I want to use for the project.  (That orange/white combo in the first picture is great, but it’s with scraps from the scrap bin and I’m not sure what yarn it even is, and I don’t have enough for the project.  Also, it’s fingering weight and makes for a small scale pattern that would not be dramatic enough on something the size of a hat.)

So next comes yarn shopping and stash diving.  Back in January I started thinking it was about time to come back to this one.  I knew from the swatching that I wanted a white yarn for the background, something in the dk/worsted neighborhood, preferably a plied yarn.  And then something bright and high contrast for the fancy bits, close to the same weight as the white, and single ply.  I bought some yarn and dug around in the stash a bit and came up with some possibilities.

And now?  Well now all I have to do is decide on a pairing and do the regular swatching for size.  (Translation, I’m not actually done swatching, but I’m getting close to being done.)

So that’s a minimum of five swatches (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being seven or eight) for a basic hat.  And I’m not even having to try and match gauge (because I’m writing the pattern, so whatever gauge I get and like is totally the gauge I’ll write the pattern for…if I were trying to match my fabric to a given gauge, there could be even more).

And is it worth it?  Well…I mean I guess we’ll have to wait and see what you think of the hat here in a few weeks.  But I suspect it will be!

More swatches

Remember when I said I swatched a lot…I really do mean it.  I showed you the first swatch the other day, the one where the yarn was a tiny bit too fuzzy for the sort of stitch definition I wanted.  Next up was this lovely yarn from Green Mountain Spinnery.

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s a good bit firmer in person than the Infinity Shawl was.

Alas when I swatched, the fabric I was getting wasn’t what I wanted either.  It’s a bit pricklier than what I can comfortably wear as a hat (my forehead is weirdly sensitive), and it’s not quite as cohesive as I’d like when knit up this way, so it’s not the right choice either (once again, for the record, saying ‘this yarn isn’t a good fit for what I want from this project’ is not the same thing as saying ‘there’s something wrong with the yarn’…the yarn is awesome, it’s just not what I’m going to use right now).

I think at this point, the right choice is going to be to swatch the original Hedgehog Fibres yarn and do the math and see what sort of cast on I’d need to make that feasible.   It won’t be a fast project, but it could end up being the right choice…

But what I want you to keep in mind here is that I’m learning this from little tiny swatches, not from big giant hats.  If I’d cast on for a hat and knit the first 5 inches of ribbing and then started with the pattern stitch, I’d be so invested in it that I’d probably keep going, even though it was the wrong yarn.  But because it’s just a few minutes of swatching, I’m happy to pull it out and start over until I find a really great match.  I promise promise promise that swatching saves time in the long run, and it dramatically increases the chance of ending up with a really awesome final project.

Oh hey look, more swatches

Yup, somehow there are more.  I think I’ve found a stitch I like…this is both cute and awfully fun to do.

But I’m hesitant to use that yarn combo (it’s yarn from two different companies, and I’m trying to lean towards using yarns from the same company in any one piece).  I love the blue (it’s from Dream in Color), but can’t seem to get my hands on a gray from them.  So, a quick stash toss revealed another promising combo.

I will, of course, need to swatch it too (are you sensing a theme?), but I suspect it will work out just fine!

Swatches…that’s really the secret

I’m liking this stripes that don’t look like stripes / things that aren’t colorwork but look like colorowork thing (like the purple and gray hat you’ve been seeing).  So I’m playing with another version of it.

And another…

Neither of these are quite where I’ll end up, but they are fun to play with!


My deep and unabating fondness for sets continues.  And I happen to have another skein of that speckly bit of pretty from Spun Right Round (someone will ask, the color is bug jar).  So it seems like there should be another hat to go with the first one, don’t you think?

swatchesThe only real question is top or bottom?  They’re both rather nifty, and I can make a convincing argument for either.  Any strong feelings on this end?


So, now that Curls 2 is off to the printer (did I tell you guys about that? We should talk about that, look for more shortly!), it’s time to start on next year’s book.  Now next year’s book is a little different than most.  We’ll talk about it at length over the next year or so I’m sure.  But for now? For now I just want to show off some yarn!

DSC_6069Those are two beauties from Seven Sisters Arts (that’s Karen Grover’s company, formerly of String Theory, so you know everything is going to be amazing).

DSC_6084The greeny gold one is Apex (which has yak as part of the blend, which can sometimes make a yarn a bit temperamental, but in this case looks to be an absolutely marvelous sock yarn).

DSC_6073And the orangey one is Meridian (which is an delightful traditional sock yarn with fab stitch definition for showing off lots of fancy stitch work).

Swatching is underway with both, and I’m totally smitten.


With the cuffs finished, my needles were empty (cough, mostly, cough), and I found myself in need of a project.  I’d had an idea bubbling away in the back of my mind for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect time to play with it.  It required two yarns though, so I knew there would be a fair amount of swatching.

So first came this.  high contrastOh, then this.

low contrastUm, and then a little of this.

really high contrastAnd none of those are quite right.  Which is fine, they’re swatches.  They’re there to teach me things, not to be perfect.  And they’ve taught me quite a lot of things, so they’ve done their jobs well, even if they have all since gone to the great swatch pile in the sky.

They’ve actually taught me enough that I may have just sent a cable on the secret designers’ wire service to one of my favorite yarn folks to see if we can hatch a little plot.  Because this will require just the right yarn, and that’s too good an opportunity to pass up!

Math…please don’t be scared

There I sat, admiring my swatch.  Loving it really.  The drape, the gauge, the yarn, the color, all was well.  Look at that red thing (details of said swatch intentionally and shamelessly obscured in the interest of secrecy preservation).


It’s Blue Sky Alpacas’ Alpaca Silk in Crabapple and it’s filling me with glee.  The other thing it was filling me was doubt.  Had I let my swatching fever take too strong a hold?  Was I going to run out of yarn because I’d knit such a nice big swatch?  I’m a swatch keeper.  I’ll rip them out if I have to, but especially for book projects (where the full project is usually knit by someone else), I really like to keep them if I can.

So I did what seemed reasonable…I did math.

As I was doing this, I realized this was the single most useful bit of math I do, and I do it often.  I wondered if I could write it up in a way that might help someone who shies away from math.  I know math aversion runs deep in some folks, but this is so useful it might be worth trying.  Let’s see, shall we?

First, the set up.  I had a swatch.  It had 1,470 stitches in it (we can talk about estimating stitch counts later if folks are interested, for now just take my word for it), and it weighed 10.2 grams.  I had 90 grams of yarn leftover to use for the project.  I wanted to know how big a project I could make.  So if you write that out in numbers instead of words, it looks like this:

1,470 stitches / 10.2 grams = X stitches / 90 grams

So to say that in words again, I made 1,470 stitches with 10.2 grams of yarn, so I can make X stitches with 90 grams of yarn…what’s X?

Now, if you recall your first algebra class, you’ll remember that you can generally do the same thing to both sides of an equation and it stays the same.  So for this question, you can multiply both sides by 90 grams, and something neat happens.  See how X had been divided by 90 grams to start with?  Well if you then multiply it by 90 grams, X (our mystery answer) gets left there all alone (which is what we want).

(1,470 stitches / 10.2 grams) * 90 grams = X stitches
X = 12,970 stitches

So now I know my project can have up to 12,970 stitches.  Now, to be safe (because maybe my tension will change or maybe my scale was off or maybe the bind off will be a yarn hog), I’ll round that down a bit to give myself a safety factor, but this is hugely useful.  It tells me (thanks to a bit more math used to see how many stitches would be in the size I want the finished piece to be) that I’ve got plenty of yarn for my plan for this project.

But, here’s the useful thing, you don’t just do this for stitch counts, you can do it any time you have a known relationship and you want to know about a specific example.  So if you know that your ball of yarn weighs 50 grams and is 200 yards long (there’s your known relationship), and you know your hat weighs 43 grams (there’s your specific example), you can figure out how much yarn it used. For that, you’d set it up like this:

200 yards / 50 grams = X yards / 43 grams
(200 yards / 50 grams) * 43 grams = X yards
X = 172 yards

So you multiplied each side by 43 grams and found out your hat took 172 yards.

It’s always the same approach, the only thing you have to do is pay attention to the units.

So you’ve got three parts: your known relationship  (that can be yards per gram from the ball band, or stitches per gram from a calculation like we did above, or most any other thing you want), your mystery answer, and your specific example.  Write it down so that your known relationship is on one side, and be sure that the thing that has the same units as your mystery answer is on top.  So see how we were interested in stitches in the first example, and we put stitches first?  And see how we were interested in yards in the second example and we put yards first?  Be sure you write it that way.  That’s equal to your mystery answer divided by your specific example.  All you have to do then is that one little bit of multiplication, and you’ve got your answer.

Try working through a few examples yourself and see if you can get the hang of it.  It’s how you do things like figure out ‘I have part of a ball left, how many yards is that?’ or ‘how many yards did this pair of socks actually need’ and it really will make your knitting life much easier.

Popping back in later in the day to add that I have this scale, and I love it. It is cheap and accurate (and, you know, tiny and cute, which is always good), and it comes in handy for measuring yarn on at least a weekly basis.

In The Grip

I got the nicest note from someone the other day saying they were sorry I wasn’t knitting much these days.  I had to do a bit of a double take.  I sort of feel like I’ve been knitting like a mad woman.  That cramp in my neck and the twinge just above my right elbow also seem to indicate that I’ve been knitting rather a lot.

What I’ve not been doing is showing you my knitting.  That is in large part because most of what I’m knitting at the moment is swatches.  Piles and piles and piles of swatches.  See?  And yes, yes that green thing is freaking delicious.


I am, in fact, rather besotted and quite firmly in the grip of my current obsession.  These are all swatches for that new project I mentioned the other day.  The one that sprung forth like Athena, fully formed, and has been laying claim to my every waking moment since its inception.  The project that really needs a secret code name so I can talk about it with you for the next little while without giving away any secret info.  Any ideas?

So while I may not be finishing many completed projects these days, rest assured that I am knitting.  I will try and do a better job of sharing what’s on my needles, even if it is just in swatch form at the moment.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find at least four more yarns…possibly seven more.  I’ve already made plans for all the ones I have, and I desperately need more yarn so I can make more swatches.  Any current yarn favorites?  Most any weight is good, heavy lace right on up through worsted…my current obsession is nothing if not versatile!

Pin Me Down

So let’s talk about blocking. You know those stitches that just, by their nature, don’t want to lie flat?  The ones that have a bit of ripple and curve to them?  Yeah.  There are a few ways you can go with them.  You can force them flat when you block, or you can exaggerate the the waves.  I think both can be fun, but what about you guys.  Would you freak out if the blocking instructions wanted you to do this?

You’d need either several (oh, maybe 12?) straight needles or a set of blocking wires or some super skinny dowels from the craft store or the snipped off bottom parts of some coated wire coat hangers or some other clever thing I’m sure I’m just overlooking.

Or what about something like this?

That’s the same swatch, just held in place with some tiny binder clips.  Clothes pins or even hair clips could work too.

The point is that you’d likely need to do some creative scavenging to block  this way, but it wouldn’t be all that hard.  And if you did need to buy something like dowels or binder clips, you could get what you needed for less than five bucks.

Would you be willing to try blocking something that way?  Or is that just too much to ask?  What if blocking it that way was presented as an alternative option…you could block it flat if you were feeling like it, but you had another option if you were feeling a bit more adventurous?