the joy of swatching (seriously)
I know, I know - y'all probably just rolled your eyes when you read the title of this post. I get it, I do.
However, after a few uncomfortably small raglan armholes (row gauge is often just as important as stitch gauge!) I bit the bullet and forced myself to start swatching, especially when working with a yarn I haven't used before. I tend to make a lot of stockinette fingering weight garments in the 6 to 6.5 stitch per inch range, so if I'm using something like Madelinetosh Twist Light/Tosh Merino Light/Sock or Baah La Jolla, I'm usually good to go without swatching (LOVE THOSE YARNS FOREVER). I'm trying to branch out a bit and explore some different bases and smaller dyers (and maybe something other than fingering weight someday!), so now I mentally prepare to swatch as soon as I buy a new yarn.
Enter Miss Babs Keira in Gypsy Soul:
This 560 yard skein is 100% superwash Merino, and as you can see, the colorway is a gorgeous jewel-toned rainbow of wonderfulness. Lately I've been experimenting with different ways to use variegated sock yarns; I love them so much but I just don't knit socks. These yarns can so often end up looking like barf when they're knitted up, so I'm always on the lookout for stitch patterns that break up the colors in a pleasant (as opposed to barf-y) way. Slip stitch patterns are great at counteracting the barf-y tendency of some highly variegated yarns:
The only problem with slip stitch patterns is that they often distort the stitch and row gauge, pulling the finished fabric tighter than you may like, which is why you can't usually substitute a slip stitch for something like stockinette. I like to use a swatch to test this sort of thing out before I start designing; it's a good way to not only see how the colors play with each other, but to determine how the fabric will turn out in the end. This will also tell me what alterations I need to make in my pattern-designing-math.
Like a crazy person, I'm attempting to design and knit a sweater during #Ravellenics2016 (Team Sasquatch for the win!). For this design, I'm considering using the wrong side of linen stitch for the hem and cuffs, and then using a more textured stitch pattern for the body. I'm hoping the daisy stitch (sometimes referred to as the star stitch) will work with this yarn, and there's only one sensible way to find out.
Yes, that's right. THE DREADED SWATCH.
I try to convince myself that the swatching process is fun and relaxing, so I get as pampered as possible beforehand. I like to get all of my special doodads out:
And if I was at home I'd probably have a glass of wine next to me, but I'm at work on my lunch break, so.
Linen stitch is worked over an even number of stitches, while daisy stitch is worked over a multiple of 4 stitches plus 1, so I'm going to cast on a multiple of 4 sts for the linen stitch part of the swatch and then just add one when starting the daisy stitch. I always end up using a WAAAY too small needle for linen stitch, which makes a fabric that is literally able to stand up on its own. Because I want this piece to have nice drape, instead of a US 3 or 4, I'm going to start swatching with a US 7 and see how I like it:
Aaaaand... I like the linen stitch, but it's clear that I'll need to go up at least two or three more needle sizes if I don't want it pulling in too much at the bottom. I also prefer the right side of the linen stitch in this yarn, so I'll plan to use the right side in the design.
I'm not totally in love with how these colors are looking in the daisy stitch. The fabric is a little too textured and thick, even despite using a large-ish needle size for fingering weight yarn. I wanted something a little more drapey and open, so I swatched again in a simple slipped stitch lace pattern:
I had to fart around with this lace pattern for about five hours to get the look I wanted, but I finally figured it out once I had that second glass of wine next to me (funny how that happens sometimes).
Another concern for me is needle size over the course of the project; using needles bigger than US 6 for any length of time makes my hands hurt, so I try to keep that in mind as well. Happily, I like the weight and drape of the lace fabric on the US 6 needle, so after blocking and measuring, I can finally get to designing! This swatching process did take me a day, but it was certainly a day well spent. After all, if I'd just forged ahead with what I thought would work, I would have ended up with a too-thick daisy stitch sweater with a linen stitch waistband that pulled in an unflattering way.
And nobody wants that.