Watch Me Swatch

I got back into knitting about 10 years ago. I liked learning and making things back in junior high school but I detested the needles. Those straight, awkward pointy objects were always such a pain the arse. So I turned to sewing instead. But then my best friend, CP, was knitting one time while we were camping and I asked her to show me.

Since then I’ve attended quite a number of knitting courses, oodles of them, in fact. And one of my very first instructors was a woman named Melissa Leapman. She’s patient, she’s funny, she’s knowledgeable and she’s become a friend. Melissa is currently writing another book on knitting (how she keeps coming up with new ideas is beyond me, but that obviously speaks to her talent), and she needs people to help make sample garments / items for it as well as to make swatches that will be used to show close ups of the stitch patterns she’s using.

Now, I must admit I’m not a loyal swatch maker. What’s that, you ask? Well, when you’re beginning  a new pattern it’s a really good idea to make sure you have the proper gauge (measurement) in order to ensure proper fit of your final knitted item. Some things really don’t need it like perhaps a scarf. But a sweater surely does if you don’t want to be wasting your time knitting it – because that’s what you’d be doing if you knit it up and it doesn’t fit – wasting your time.

Well, most of what I’ve made are scarves, mittens, socks and baby items, though I have made a number of sweaters, hats and a really cool coat for my mom, and so right or wrong I didn’t knit gauge swatches for all of those items or big ones when I did. Oh, baby stuff? Awesome for not really worrying about a swatch, well, maybe err on the larger size than small that way the baby can eventually wear it. But I digress.

Because of what I’ve typically knit over the years, I don’t do much swatching. But let me tell you here and now, it is truly important for two reasons, gauge and drape (well, perhaps three – to see the stitch itself knit up if you’re one who designed it but only have it on graph paper). We already know that gauge is important to measurement based on what I’ve said above, but what’s drape?

Think about a fluid-like fabric, perhaps silk and a heavy one, like corduroy. They hang differently, don’t they? So will your knitting depending on the stitch and yarn you use, a stitch could make it really bulky when that wasn’t your intention or perhaps curl where you don’t want it to or simply look unappealing. Or you could be lucky and it looks fabulous!

I’m finding after doing just two swatches for Melissa, it’s clear how hugely important to the finished product a swatch for drape purposes would be. Without a swatch, and a large one at that (8″ x 8″), you may find the stitch doesn’t look as nice as you imagined it would so you have an opportunity to change it now, without having spent tons of time knitting it up and being disappointed.

One more thing I’ve realized and must acknowledge about knitting swatches. I know you’ll be shocked but I like it. I really, really do. I know, right?? What a shocker.

Thank you to Melissa for allowing me to help her and realize that I do like doing something far better than I thought I ever would. 🙂


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