I knit. And I cook, write, take pictures. All for one low price.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

that swatching business

Remember the other day, how Donna Druchunas and I were talking about swatching and designing? Melanie had more questions about it, and I think they warrant a whole post. I didn't want to wait until Monday - I'm going to a trade show in Sturbridge, MA, and won't have time to write.

Melanie sent me an email with her own set of interview questions.

Melanie: I was never taught to swatch. Granted, I did not have nearly the early childhood exposure to knitting that you did - did they teach that in school?

Karin: I don't remember! I don't think so. We made potholders. :) We learned how to crochet by crocheting an edging around the potholder, which was half garter stitch, and half stockinette stitch.

I did not discover it until I "rediscovered" knitting as an adult. One or two of them taught me that I basically knit to gauge, although I lean slightly toward tight. I like my clothes to fit loosely, so I usually opt to make a large size in any knitted garment, and the two work themselves out. But I have also learned that swatching lies (as confirmed by the Harlot) so does it really serve the purpose it was intended? What do you think?

I hear you, and I know what you are saying. However a lot of people often get GAUGE mixed up with FIT and SIZE. They think that they can just sub for a different size if their swatch is off. I am glad that this works out for you, but oftentimes it does not.
I agree that swatches often are not reliable, as they are not a substitute for the whole garment and how it hangs and wears and stretches over time. Too often my sweaters became too big with wearing even though my gauge was right on. I now pick a size smaller than I used to - but also my fit preference has changed over the last couple of years....but swatching is still crucial to me. I won't know if the yarn I chose for a particular project (and I substitute yarns a lot, meaning I will use a different yarn from what the pattern says) is the right one until I swatch it.
Which of course is a little tricky if you're standing in a yarn shop and you're about to drop a lot of money on yarn for a new garment....hopefully there's knowledgeable staff on hand to help you out if you're substituting yarn, or buying for a pattern that simply says, " use worsted weight".

Now, when designing, does the swatch serve another purpose, such as revealing the texture or flexibility of a chosen yarn? Has a swatch ever caused you to change your design?
Yes, and yes. When I am about to write a pattern for a new design, I spend more time than usual on the swatching process. Even then, sometimes I will knit half a sleeve to see how the yarn behaves or a particular stitch pattern develops, or how the color of the yarn works with the stitch pattern, or, if it's a handdyed yarn, how the colors fall. If any of those don't look the way I want them to, I'll rip it out and start over. Swatching allows me to figure out what I want in a design, because some of it is a matter of personal preference! When design a sweater, for example, I know how I want it to fall on a person (fit), I know how I want the stitch pattern to highlight a certain line, and I want the yarn to balance it all out. As I am writing this, I realize I am quite demanding of my yarn...I need there to be a balance between fit, wearability, and aesthetics.
I wonder if swatching gets more emphasis today because of the much wider variety of fibers available (vs. when we were young) They never had bamboo, buffalo, hemp, rayon or all those exotic fibers when I first learned knitting...or if it is just a disclaimer so that pattern designers can't be held accountable for sketchy directions - after all, they do warn you to swatch for gauge!
I don't know how to answer that, but you may be right. It certainly is a good idea to swatch with the new yarns. When I made the Berthe Collars for the book "No Sheep for you", they sent me two different yarns: one was bamboo, and the other was a nubby rayon bead. They knitted up vastly different from each other! (And I don't want to get into the 'sketchy directions' discussion. I know what you mean. Definitely.)
As a store owner, what did you tell patrons who asked about swatching? Do you think most people bothered to do it, or not? I find that it squashes the excitement of new projects and creativity if I have to slow down to knit a boring little square. And then again, how helpful is swatching if you want to knit art? (like my sheep, and your covering for MassMoCa?)
I always told my patrons that they have to swatch. A lot of people were reluctant to do it. Sometimes they came back and had me measure, which I love to do, and most of them were OK doing several swatches. Others wanted me to say that a bad swatch was OK, or wave my magic wand to make it all better. I still think to this day that it pays off to spend half an hour making a boring little square, rather than end up with a sweater that doesn't fit you. And wouldn't you want that afghan to hold together for more than a week? How about your socks? I don't LIKE doing the swatching too much either, but I always pay the price when I don't...
I do however wish I had known a little more about fit. As you know, I am not a fashion follower for the most part...I like classic designs better. There sometimes were issues with ease, meaning how loose or tight a garment fits on a person. Now I know better, I think. So much of it is a matter of personal preference, and it's worth spending time on figuring out how a certain garment will look on a particular knitter.
As far as knitting as art, I would say it's a toss up and again depends on the project, because even if I want to knit a whole house cozy, I still need it to fit that house...or you can go in the complete other direction and go freeform. As far as your knitted sheep, well, how big or small do you want it to be, and how proportionate?
Anyway, I always check your blog, even if I don't always comment, and I enjoy the photography and the politics as well as the knitting. So keep it up! Hope I get to see you soon-
Thank you Melanie for talking with me!! We should do this more often. :)
PS: why do you think I put those two pictures up there? Anyone?
PPS: If the above interview appears all smooshed together, I am sorry. I tried my darndest to separate them, but that stupid blogger program won't let me do it.


bmash said...

Well, Karin, thanks to you I always swatch. I don't like it but I am always glad when I realize that the pattern would be a disaster if I hadn't done it. My first really bad non-swatching experience was making a sweater for myself that ended up fitting my 5 year old niece. I didn't even know what a swatch was back then! LOL!

AlisonH said...

Phlox of sheep?

Tall Son said...

Why, because that's the Crab apple tree in the back yard, of course! Is it cheating if I live there?

Knittingchick said...

Beautiful flowers! And I still hate to swatch. That's why I won't knit sweaters for myself. And shawls can be so much more dramatic anyway! LOL!

Karin said...

Oh Alison, you're so funny!