Swatch Thoughts: Focused vs Sampler

Pile of swatches
a messy pile of swatches

There are as many ways to swatch as there are to create. Two of the most common methods are sampler and single swatches. A sampler can combine multiple techniques, materials, or tools in one. A single swatch, by contrast, decides on the variables and keeps them consistent throughout. Is one swatch better than the other? It depends on why the swatch was created, what is the question it answers?

Note: if you click the images in this post, they will open at full size.

Single focused swatches

For gauge swatches, I like to create a single focused swatch so I can evaluate it without changes that can alter stitch counts. I often create multiple single swatches, each with a single variable changed each time — yarn, tool (material or size), stitch, method to start/finish.

Four Tunsian crochet swatches on a plain background.
swatches that focus on (mostly) a single change

This example shows four Tunisian crochet swatches. They started to help me practice my general technique, and that meant both creating the starting chain and finishing off.

I’ll confess these aren’t swatches that only changed a single variable, but they come close. All are made in the same yarn, a 100% grey cotton. Half are worked with one hook (4mm) and half worked with a second (6.5mm). I’ve worked a Tunisian knit stitch with each size hook. Then I practiced the Tunisian purl stitch with one hook, followed by a simple pattern [Tks, tps] for the other.

Sampler swatches

When I swatch for fun (aka fundamentals), I most often end up creating sampler swatches. It isn’t always my intent when I start, but I tend to ask “what if” as I’m working and just start fiddling and making changes.

I have three different examples of how these swatches can look. These are the types I most often make because “what if” is my favorite question.

Technique Sampler

Tunisian crochet sampler swatches, different shaping techniques worked in the same yarn.
Technique sampler for shaping

For the first I was practicing shaping in Tunisian crochet. For the right-most swatch I simply decreased and increased on the right edge of the fabric and kept the left edge straight… until the end when I got excited and wanted to try out an idea. The swatch on the left came next and shows different techniques on both edges.

Stitch Sampler

Tunisian crochet sampler swatch, two stitches worked with the same yarn
Stitch sampler

This next swatch shows one yarn, in this case a silk mohair worked up in two different stitches. This happens most often when I’m swatching for a design in a specific yarn.

There are a few instances where I would use this as a gauge swatch, it would allow measurement of differences between elements (stitches), sometimes a significant element in a design. Working with this example, let’s pretend it’s a swatch for a piece worked primarily in the Tunisian simple stitch (Tss) that ends with a lace border. I’d also likely work up a swatch like this one, one that would change the hook size between the Tss and the lace. Sometimes sampler swatches can also be focused single swatches.

Yarn Sampler

Tunisian crochet sampler swatch, same stitch pattern worked in 3 different yarn variations
Yarn sampler

The third swatch is a different kind of sampler, where the material changes but the stitch is consistent. I wanted to know what type of fabric would result if I worked a silk mohair held together with different options 1) with a light-sport weight merino-cashmere blend, 2) with a second strand of the silk mohair, and 3) for reference the same stitch worked with a single strand of the silk mohair. I wanted to feel the differences and working it all as one swatch made that easiest.

Final Thoughts

How you choose to swatch is up to you. My hope is that this post shares useful ideas and inspiration for your swatches.


Please note that no swatches photographed in this post were blocked, they’re SOTH (“straight off the hook“, see SOOC for details. As a word it is from Old Saxon and means true, real).

Swatching to answer: Why?

A friend who primarily knits with her hand spun, emailed me with a question the other day. She was trying to crochet with her yarn, but the plies would untwist as she worked. Did I have an idea what was wrong? She’d heard something that s and z twist mattered for crochet. Could she use the yarn for her project?

My first answer was yes she could use the yarn!

My second was that I had an idea what was happening. The twist didn’t matter as much as how she was working with the yarn. However, I wasn’t sure how to explain it beyond that. I also couldn’t remember the specifics of which actions caused this to occur.

So, I did the logical thing. I went riffling through my bins of neglected hand spun, began swatching, and to take notes.

Initial Swatch

While the question my friend asked was related to crochet, I knew I could more easily show how technique changes influenced the yarn and fabric by knitting.

Yarn Choice

The hand spun I chose was one of my early efforts, a very inconsistent 2-ply Polwarth. Unfortunately, the plies have essentially fulled together as I’ve moved it from various storage solutions over the years. To make matters more challenging, it doesn’t photograph well due to the deep navy and bright green in the yarn. I didn’t help anything by doing all this quickly at my desk.

Knitting Style

I knit in my own combination style that I’ve never bothered to properly define. When I first began knitting, because of how I wrap the yarn, I twisted my stitches when I knitted flat. It was my first project in the round that alerted me to all my twisted stitches!

That’s why this was a challenge to knit, I had to be mindful of my wrapping. The bottom of the swatch, to the YO line, is where I was careful to wrap over the needle. After the YO row, I wrapped under.

handspun yarn and small hand knit swatch. handwritten card notes "polworth. limonene designs"

Initial Results

Because of my handspun choice it wasn’t super obvious in the swatch, but I was able to notice as I worked that the twist changed a little when I wrapped a certain way.

It’s why I gravitate to highly twisted yarns, because of how I knit they won’t be that way when I’m done!

Additional Resources

As I worked my stitches, I recalled reading about how knitting style can affect fabric. Sure enough, two years ago Jillian Moreno wrote two comprehensive articles on the subject for MDK:


I sent my friend the results of my quick swatch and the above links.

But that wasn’t the end. I couldn’t stop thinking about this question all week.

Introducing a new swatch experiment

My next step is also a logical one for me. I want to better understand the why beyond regurgitating the theory. Yes, I learn by reading and Jillian’s posts explain it all clearly. However, I know I will better understand the why when I’ve worked through all the different parts on my own.

For over a year I’ve wanted to return to the practice of regular hand spinning. However, without a new project in mind I’ve not be able to pick up my spindles or sit at the wheel. This project should help me with that.

I also want to be able to build reference materials I can use when I’m asked this type of question. Over the years I’ve answered many different questions, but I’ve not listened to my own advice and built a library of answers I can easily reuse.

That will begin to change with this project.

This week I pulled out some commercially spun yarn, needles, fiber, and spindles. I’ll examine and explore how twist, yarn structure, and knitting/crochet style can influence the fabric.

The yarn I picked is some Bartlett Yarns 2-ply, 4 oz and 210 yds/skein in color cranberry. I’ve been using this for cat toys so I’m not sure how many swatches it will create.

The fiber is 4 ounces of a Suri Alpaca/CVM blend that another friend picked up for me at a fiber festival several years ago.

a ball of fiber, a ball of yarn, knitting needles, two spindles on top of open notebook

My plan is that every few weeks I’ll check in here with my progress and any results.

Swatch Library Project Update & Stitch Dictionary Review

Today as I work on new swatches and tidy up my notes, I am refining how I organize my information. I have a stack of stitch dictionaries and a large mug of tea to help me prepare for future swatches. This post covers two topics. It includes an update to the Swatch Library Project and a review to a comprehensive stitch dictionary.

Array of stitch dictionaries, swatch, swatch worksheet arranged on a desk, and the tail of a sleeping black cat peeking out from behind a window curtian

Swatch Library Update

Over the past few months as I worked on my swatch library, I realized there are some details I want to know at a glance. Specifically, what was my purpose while creating the swatch? Was my intent to learn about the yarn, evaluate a stitch, practice a technique (which one), is it a repeat of another swatch with a needle or yarn change, is it a gauge swatch, or is it some combination thereof?

With that in mind, I added this quick categorization to my free worksheet. It is the only change to the document and the new version is now 2021-01-01. If you missed the introductory post, it is Swatch Library Project, First Steps. I’m continuing to refine the overall project and hope to release more updates soon.

First page of the swatch library project worksheet printed and folded in half. Details are Yarn Over New York Yarn in Brookyln Bridge (Worsted weight), Queen Bee color. The yarn is $26 a skein and 100g are 199m/218yd. This is a 4ply 100% superwash merino. The swatch is to learn about the yarn, evaluate a stitch, and work a technique. Paper is a pale yellow and the swatch is a rich honey gold with tons of tiny speckles in warm browns and reds.

I don’t often match my printer paper to my swatch, but it’s a nice touch.

Stitch Dictionary Review

Book cover - 1000 Japanese Knitting & Crochet Stitches

If you are looking for one stitch dictionary that covers a range of knitting and crochet stitches to help you build your stitch library, I highly recommend 1000 Japanese Knitting & Crochet Stitches. It is published in Japan by Nihon Vogue and in the US by Tuttle Publishing and translated by Gayle Roehm.

While originally published in 1992, this collection of stitches is timeless and classic. Now fully translated into English, you no longer need to puzzle through the Japanese to figure out complex stitches. I’ve had my eye on this book for years and am thankful for Roehm’s work to make it accessible to English readers.

About Japanese Stitch dictionaries

For the uninitiated, most Japanese chart symbols are standardized. Complex stitches build upon the simple ones which makes them easier to read. One thing to be aware is that most charts include a symbol for every knit ([ | ]) and purl ([ – ]). This can make the charts look more complex than what many of us are used to. Crocheters are likely be more familiar with the symbols used as their use due to the wide adoption of this style of stitch diagrams. Please note that other than in the technique review section, there are few written instructions, each stitch is provided only as a chart.

Inside this volume

In this dictionary, you will find a collection of 700 knitting stitches including combinations of knits and purls, twisted stitches, lace, cables, color-work motifs, and more. If that weren’t enough, there’s no need for a separate crochet dictionary! There are 300 different crochet patterns covering grids, textures, colors, and edgings. If you aren’t sure how a stitch works up, there are many clear line drawings which step through and illustrate common techniques. Additional information is also provided to improve your interpretation of variations to these basic stitches. For each stitch you will find a clear color photo, the stitches and rows for the repeat is clear, and the chart is next to the photo, no need to hunt or flip pages. Some of the designs will be familiar if you have other Nihon Vogue stitch dictionaries. The advantage is they are all here in one book.

Ask your favorite bookseller or yarn store if they can help you buy a copy. It’s also available to libraries digitally through hoopla and OverDrive.


As a bonus for today, here’s a picture of my cat Shadow, snoring while I edited this post! There’s a wall heater directly below him so it’s a very cozy windowsill.

Photo of black cat, named Shadow stretched out on window sill mostly behind a curtain. there is a wire running across the upper part of the frame, it extends the FM radio antenna.

Swatch Library Project, First Steps

In the last post, I invited you to join in the swatch project. Together we will build our own library of information so we can make better informed substitutions. We’ll do this by researching details about the yarn and swatching.

There are many other projects to help you learn to swatch. My goal for this project is to help you build a personalized library of your favorite yarns, stitches, and the swatches you create.

Tools

We’ll begin with one yarn and research and swatch it thoroughly. Here are some suggested tools you should gather:

  • Yarn, it can be the remains of a skein, but you should be able to make two, approximately 4 inch (10 cm) square swatches.
  • A knitting needle or crochet hook in the size you think you want to work the yarn.
  • A way to record your research and findings. This can be a notebook, a folder to keep sheets of paper, or a spreadsheet.

I created a free worksheet to help you begin to record things. This first version (2020-08-28) is a very basic document. All of the information included within it is available in this blog post. The PDF provides some structure to formatting your information to help you make comparisons to different yarns and swatches later.

Information to record

We’ll begin with the yarn.

  • What is its name?
  • Are you using a specific colorway?
  • What is the yarn weight?
  • How is the yarn put up? Is it a hank, skein, cake, cone, or some other type? This is where I also record the yardage and unit weight.
  • What fiber is this yarn made of? If it’s more than one, what are the percentages? You can often find this information on the label.
  • How is the yarn structured? Is it a single strand? 2-ply?
  • How is it suggested you care for this yarn. If you don’t find anything on the yarn label, there my be care symbols, check the company’s website.

What I’m swatching

My first swatch is in Oink Pigments Coven.

  • Yarn Name: Oink Pigments Coven
  • Colorway: Cautionary Whale, variegated teal, navy, and light grey
  • Yarn Weight: Light fingering
  • Put up: Skein, needs winding
  • Unit Weight: 100g
  • Yardage: 460 yds
  • Fiber(s): 65% Silk, 35% linen
  • Structure: 3 ply (not cable), balanced gentle twist — not high twist, not loose
  • Care: Hand wash cold, lay flat to dry.
  • Additional notes: The grey looks much lighter than the image on the website.
Swatch Project Worksheet on wooden desk with information in list above filled out, the caked yarn and "The Knitters Book of Yarn"

If you need help describing your yarn, there are many resources available. I often turn to The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn by Clara Parkes.

Next steps

Next time we’ll fill in information about our needle or hook, and details about the first swatch.

Can I Change That?

Over the past year, there have been increasing discussions online about yarn substitution, design samples, and accessibility. This year has been one of change and the focus of this post is no different. Today I’ll write a little about the essential crux of the question, Can I change that?. There are future posts planned will discuss how to systematically go through and evaluate if a given substitution to a pattern will result in the outcome you’re looking for.

Most of my designs were sponsored by a yarn company. Either I was approached and asked to create a pattern with specific yarn (and color) or I wrote a proposal and sent a query to them. This means that the sample was created with that yarn and there was promotion for it at yarn shops and online.

You don’t have to make it exactly as I did – it’s all up to you. There may be some incentive for you to create what I made. Often a small company created a particular color for a limited special. A goal of my design was to help them sell the yarn as much as much to help me sell a pattern.

The answer to “Can I change that?” is YES.

Making a change or substitution, may impact the result.

I will be the first to admit I’ve not always been the clearest about what different types of yarns can be used in my patterns. I’m working on improving!

My newer pattern descriptions give the type of yarn more prominence and (hopefully) show that the sample is an example. Yes, I still hope you’ll be able to support the companies I’ve worked with, I want them to be continue to thrive. But I understand you might want or need to make changes.

How do you do that? Swatch.

Why? Fiber and structure can affect a yarn in subtle and different ways.

Figuring out how a yarn will work is key to successful substitution. Both kinds of swatches – the fun ones that introduce you to a yarn and the ones you work when you need to have an accurate measurement to figure out stitch and row gauge – are needed.

Learning how to do this will provide you the skills to evaluate if a substitution will work for you or not.

The best way to do this is to jump in and begin. Together we’ll build a library of yarn information based on researching details about each yarn and swatching.

What do you need to get started? Pick your favorite yarn and be prepared to research and record all its details and make at least one swatch.

I hope you’ll join me.

Posts on Swatching

Resources on Swatching & Substitution

Working with Anzula’s Yarns

I hope this post finds you and yours well as we begin to understand our “new normal.” We adapt. We mourn. We celebrate. We wash our hands.

While I (once again) haven’t been consistent in writing here, I’ve been working with yarn and fiber. Some days I work on designs with intricate details that are unique and make me feel brilliant and creative. On other days I curl up with the comfort of garter stitch or a granny square.

As I try to embrace the slower pace that is everything these days, I’m working on swatches to continue my Anzula Meet the Yarn posts. As our reliance for online and virtual interactions grows, these posts become more important (no pressure!). While I hope you can support your local yarn store, throughout these strange new times, Kalliope Sabrina has opened Anzula’s online store to everyone. You can find it at anzula.myshopify.com.

In this post, I created a summary of the Meet the Yarn posts I’ve written so far. There are many more yarns in the Anzula universe. I hope to swatch them all for you soon!

MCNs – 80% Superwash Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Nylon blends

Swatches of Anzula Cloud

Cloud, swatches shown in color Charcoal. 2-ply Light Fingering weight. 114g / 575yd (526m)

Swatches of Anzula Squishy

Squishy, swatches shown in color Aqua. 3-ply Fingering weight. 114g / 385yd (352m) and also available in 25g & 50g combinations.

Swatches of Anzula Ava

Ava, swatches shown in color Misfit. 3-ply Sport weight. 114g / 330yd (302m)

Swatches of Anzula For Better or Worsted

For Better or Worsted, swatches shown in color Keola. 4-ply Worsted weight. 114g / 200yd (183m)

Cashmere & Cashmere blends

Pile of Anzula Serenity swatches

Serenity, swatches shown in a color similar to Orchid. 4-ply Fingering weight. 100% Cashmere. 50g / 185yd (169m)

Pile of Anzula Dreamy swatches

Dreamy, swatches shown in color Dark Matter. 3-ply Fingering weight. 75% Superwash Merino, 15% Cashmere, 10% Silk. 114g / 385yd (352m)

50% Tussah Silk, 50% Superwash Merino blends

Pile of Anzula's It Could be Worsted swatches

It Could Be Worsted, swatches shown in color Nimbus. 4-ply Worsted weight. 114g / 190yd (174m)

Pile of Anzula's Luster swatches

Luster, swatches shown in color Safforn. 3-ply Fingering weight. 114g / 405yd (370m)

Pile of Anzula's Silken swatches

Silken, swatches shown in color Dany. 2-ply Fingering weight. 114g / 370yd (338m)

Sparkles – blends with Stellina

Pile of Anzula's Lunaris swatches

Lunaris, swatches shown in color Chiva. 3-ply Fingering weight. 80% Superwash Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Sparkling Stellina. 114g / 425yd (389m)

Pile of Anzula's Nebula swatches

Nebula, swatches shown in color Dusty Rose. 3-ply Fingering weight. 86% Superwash Merino, 14% Sparkling Stellina. 114g / 400yd (366m)

Pile of Anzula's lucero swatches

Lucero, swatches shown in color Sophia. 3-ply DK weight. 80% Superwash Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Sparkling Stellina. 50g / 250yd (229m)

Other fiber blends

Pile of Anzula's Dottie swatches

Dottie, swatches shown in color Teal. 3-ply Fingering weight. 80% Superwash Merino, 17% Acrylic, 3% Polyester. 114g / 420yd (384m)

Pile of Anzula's Katara swatches

Katara, swatches shown in color Boysenberry. 3-ply DK weight. 50% Superwash Meirno, 50% brown yak fiber. 50g / 98yd (89m)

Pile of Anzula's Gerty

Gerty, swatches shown in color Mariana. 3-ply Fingering weight. 100% Targhee Wool. 100g / 390yd (357m)

Pile of Anzula's Milkyway swatches

Milkyway, swatches shown in color Seaside. 4-ply Light Fingering weight. 80% Milk Protein, 20% Superwash Merino. 114g / 500yd (457m)

Pile of Anzula's Meridian swatches

Meridian, swatches shown in color Sexy. 4-ply Lace weight. 55% Tencel, 35% Alpaca, 10% Nylon. 114g / 811yd (742m)

Please know there are even more Anzula yarns that I’ve not yet written about! I hope this post entices you to work with Anzula’s many wonderful yarns! Looking to purchase some? Kalliope Sabrina has opened Anzula’s online store to everyone, find it at anzula.myshopify.com. As always, thank you to the entire Anzula team for supporting this project.

Singer sewing machine on wooden table top with 13 sewn masks in front. Masks are in a rainbow of prints, all cotton fabric.
a selection of the 36 masks I’ve sewn to-date.

One other thing I’ve worked on, like many others over the past few weeks, is sewing masks. I’m focused on two local nonprofits, Cluster Community Services which, among other programs, provides mental health services and the Humane Society of Westchester at New Rochelle. I’m waiting on a delivery of elastic as I exhausted my supply of ties with the first batch of masks. In the meantime I’m preparing fabric so I can be ready to go. For this second batch I’m changing the pattern I use; I’ve found the Tom Bihn Mask pattern a great one for production sewing.