It’s past 5pm and I haven’t left the house yet. I have slim hopes of making it out there, but on a cold and rainy Melbourne day, who can blame me? It’s a good day for swatching a new-to-me yarn, Quince&Co Lark.
I don’t understand the dislike for swatching. What could be more gratifying than getting to handle your new yarn right now, without worrying about making mistakes in the stitch pattern, or wondering whether you’ve chosen the right needles? Swatching lets me make all kinds of bad choices at the start: overly-complicated stitches with a multi-tone yarn, bulky cables when the fabric won’t be able to handle the weight, tension “experiments” I wouldn’t dare on a real project.
When helping new knitters choose a yarn, they’re often worried about tension and needle size. I’ve found this to be especially true in Australia, where yarn is sold as four-ply, eight-ply, ten-ply and so on (instead of fingering weight, DK, Worsted and Aran, as we do in North America). Worse, some older magazines and patterns teach that you should select your yarn based on needle size (and not the other way around)!
To a new knitter, swatching is slow. Every stitch takes several seconds, so why waste a decent chunk of time making something that will be discarded later? And why wouldn’t their stitches come out exactly the same as what’s on the label, for a given yarn and a given needle size?
Well, the beauty of knitting is that it’s hand-made, by humans, not by robots. Individual, ever-changing humans, who grip onto the yarn harder when they’re tense, make looser stitches when they gain confidence, and generally have their own way of doing things.
This means that my thirty-stitch swatch will look nothing like your thirty-stitch swatch. That’s especially apparent when working in a group. During my colourwork class, I like to have each person knit a tiny intarsia heart, then lay it next to the others. All different sizes, all different fabrics, each suitable for a different use.
A yarn might make a beautiful, cozy scarf at 18 stitches per 10cm. The same yarn could be knit at 20 stitches per 10cm for a structured pullover, or a tight 22 stitches per 10cm for a stuffed toy. It’s all about the intended use.
Here is how I like to work a swatch, and what I typically learn from them.