For those new to knitting, a swatch is a mini experiment you run before starting a project. You make a hypothesis (this is going to have ‘x’ measurements, and result in ‘y’ kind of fabric), knit up the swatch and then review your results. If your hypothesis is correct, you proceed to knit up your project. If you don’t like the results, the swatch gives you clues on to try next. Iteration for the win! Ok, perhaps I’ve been reading too many design thinking blogs recently 😉
Swatches are like eating your greens: you don’t necessarily want to do it (you want to rush ahead and just make the project already!) but they’re really good for you. Swatches help you measure the gauge, a basic indicator on what dimensions your garment will take. This is less important for scarves, very important for fitted items, like sweaters. A swatch also tests whether the fabric will be right for the garment, before you go to the effort of knitting the entire thing.
With that in mind, here’s the story of my swatches for the Fibreshed knitalong project.
The Radiata pattern is designed to work with a range of different weight yarns. It gives recommended gauges for each yarn weight, but also suggests larger needles for a more open fabric if you have fine yarn.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I do know my 5 ply is spun fine so I started with 3.5mm needles.
I quite liked that, but to have something to compare against I also knit some up with 5mm needles. This gives that more open look that the designer was talking about, but I don’t like it as much. I want to wear this shawl out at night and have it look elegant. The open rows that 5mm needles look like day wear to me. I put the question out to the hive mind for advice and was reminded that the shawl is mostly in stocking stitch. I’d misread the pattern and thought that the garter stitch it starts with for edging was the entire pattern. Inexperience strikes again! Just as well others picked that up for me…
I continued the swatch, knitting stockinette now in 5mm then 3.5mm. Even before I washed and blocked the swatch, I was confident that 3.5mm was my preferred option.
I didn’t like the messiness of my cast on, and of course I cast off way too tight. I decided to do a new ‘proper’ swatch and experiment with different techniques. I used a cable cast on, which I’m really happy with. Because it’s elastic, I used a stretchy technique to cast off. It’s a nice technique, although now this edge is wider and more stretchy than my cast on edge.
I worried that the unequal stretchiness of my two edges might be an issue in the finished garment, so I turned back to my hive mind on social media. I was pointed to a technical knitting article that helps you match complimentary cast off techniques with your chosen cast on. Knowing this, I’ll continue to use a cable cast on and stick with my usual stitch over stitch cast off. To counter the tight binding, I’ll use a bigger needle next time.
On to the ‘real’ knitting!