September Swatch Project

Yesterday I posted a photo to instagram with the announcement that this September I’m going to post a daily pic of a swatch I’m working on. Why should you pay attention? These pics will lead to tips and lessons about specific yarns, thoughts about the swatching process (swatching for fun and for size), and eventually new designs.

What’s the September Swatch Project?

Every day I’ll post a swatch to instagram. Each week here on the website I’ll write a tip about swatching or something I’ve learned while working with different stitches and yarns. Not every swatch will be knit. Some will be crocheted. Others may find themselves woven.

Black & White Tuxedo Kitten with Poison Apple colour Oink Pigments garter stitch swatch.

This is the first swatch of the project, knit in Oink Pigments new yarn, Mystic. This DK weight is 230yd (210m)/100g of 100% Extra Fine Superwash Merino. Shown in colourway Poison Apple.

Many will be yarns I’ve committed to writing about, so you’ll see lots of Anzula and Oink Pigments.

Leaning Stripe Swatch in Mrs Crosby Carpet Bag with Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns and "The Witch Who Came in From the Cold" books in background.Others will be for my curiosity. Such as today’s swatch in Mrs Crosby’s Carpet Bag. It’s another DK weight and is 240yd (219m)/100g of 80% Superwash Merino and 20% silk. However, not all characteristics are similar. Yesterday’s Oink Pigments Mystic is a very round 3-ply, this is a single ply.

Generally I’m not a fan of single plys, but as I work more with them, I’ve found some stitches that work better than others. I’m participating in a Brioche KAL project, so this unique stitch is on my brain. I’m thinking of similar stitches and different ways to create them. I like single-ply for brioche so this is a good pairing that will help me work on different variations and other similar stitches. Shown is the Leaning Stripe Pattern from The Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It’s worked with slipped and twisted stitches.

Yes, sometimes a foster kitten becomes a forever kitten! She’s still stealing yarn and may influence what I choose to swatch with.

Two days complete, twenty-eight to go!

swatch notes

Faster swatching with the knitting machine means I am taking more notes. While I write copiously in my notebooks, I am playing subtly with differences in gauge. It’s made me rethink how I record important information when all the swatches may look similar. Traditionally, I’ve marked the US needle size (because it’s easier than metric) with purl bumps on one of the early rows of a swatch. Purling on a knitting machine requires stitches to be removed reworked and placed back on the hooks. I need whatever method I chose to survive blocking and possibly being tossed into the washing machine.

knitting machine with several rows worked of a swatch.
working a swatch on the knitting machine

Through some experimentation, I now twist pairs of stitches. The following is how I, as primarily a hand knitter, am now marking my swatches. There are other ways, such as with contrasting waste yarn. This is my current preferred method.

Creating gauge marks by machine

I count about 5 stitches in from the left edge of the swatch when the carriage is on the left handed side of the machine. I then twist every other pair, leaving at least one stitch plain between twists, for the whole number of my tension dial (TD).

Beginning to work the twists on the knitting machine
beginning to work the twists on the knitting machine
Three twisted Stitches on knitting machine.

If I’m not at a whole number on the dial, after working two rows plain, starting from the center stitch I then twist pairs for the minor points on my TD, again leaving two stitches plain between twists. I then work the swatch to desired length.

Done! The marks are then read right-to-left. In the image below the top swatch was knit at TD 2.1 and the bottom swatch at TD 3.

 Two swatches pinned out.

The difference in these two swatches is apparent at a glance, however it’s nice to have confirmation what settings I used to make them. Now I need to block them properly, do some number crunching, and get to work!

In the notebook

What information goes into my notebook? In addition to the standard yarn information — who made it, what it’s made of, etc — Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock, 80% Superwash Merino Wool and 20% Nylon. Approx. 430 yards/397 meters and 100 grams. I’ll note the tension dial information, number of stitches cast on, and if I remembered to turn on the row counter that information as well. When I block it my method of blocking is recorded too.

Working on Maths for LGF Suris project

What information do you record?

speedier swatch experiments

Last week I borrowed a knitting machine and I’m enjoying new (and faster) swatch experiments.

First there was some wool.

Knitting machine

Then there was some much needed maintenance on the carriage (along with lots of youtube viewing).

Now that things are moving along much smoother, I am working through my stash and catching up on gifts as I learn the ins and outs of the machine. I discovered that because it’s very easy to create panels of equal length, it’s very straightforward and simple to practice mattress stitch.

Seaming a machine knitted panel

I find applying crochet edgings enjoyable, but knitting or crocheting the body of a shawl isn’t always as exciting. It took me about 15 minutes to make this approximate 12″ x 6′ scarf that I’m now designing a border for.

lace machine knitted panel waiting for crochet border

The speed in which I can experiment with yarn and knitted stitches now allows me to do things I never would have the courage to do previously. Such as toss some swatches in my washing machine to see what happens.

thoughts on an experiment

My love of swatching is well known. Once you know how a stitch may work in a yarn, what about the next step? I always want to know how practical is it for a particular application. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours on a project only to have it look or perform terrible after one day of use.

That’s when it’s time to jump in and see what happens.

I’ve been on a quest for a pair of fingerless gloves that don’t lead to too many typos. I’ve tried many different styles over the years, and at different yarn weights. A full open mitt either stretches and bunches on my palm, or I try to combat that by binding off tightly and then I can’t reach all the keys on a keyboard. I like finger-less gloves that end about my knuckles, but even most fingering weight yarns resulted in a bulky feeling for my small hands.

In December, I pulled out Kate Atherley‘s Knit Mitts: The Ultimate Guide to Knitting Mittens & Gloves for the Whole Family. I looked through my yarn stash and chose a ball of single-ply superwash merino laceweight along with some 2mm needles.

I hear you gasping no, don’t use a single ply. There were a few reasons for choosing this ball of yarn over any others.

First, I wanted to use yarn that I had in my stash; I purchased this back in 2008!

Second, I wanted them to be in a colour I wanted to wear. This is a lovely silver-grey and while I prefer black, I like my eyesight too.

Third, curiosity. I have knitted a few items over the years in single-ply yarns with various degrees of success. I know they shouldn’t be used in high wear (friction) situations.

My experience is very different knitting with single-ply yarns than when I crochet with them. After designing the crocheted version of the Cashmere Triangle Scarf I was curious what knitting it in the round would be like.

However, I wanted to do a trial run before I attempted cashmere. A single-ply superwash merino sounded to be a smart compromise. In some ways it’s similar — yarn weight (lace), structure (single ply). In others it’s different superwash merino is very different from cashmere. However, I also had a feeling this would help me create a more wearable fabric.

So I cast on and I knitted them into my ideal fingerless mitt. A very short cuff, as I often wear long sleeves and a watch. The pinkie and ring fingers end over my knuckles as these fingers are often the coldest. The other three end at my knuckles or just before and allow me greater dexterity.

The result is a pair of mitts I adore.

How have they held up over the past two months? I’ve worn them almost every day. I’m wearing them right now. I took these photos yesterday morning, it’s really difficult to photograph your own hands.

Yes, they’ve pilled. I don’t care too much given how much I’ve worn them.

They’re delightful to wear while typing, writing with a pen, watercolouring, driving, grocery shopping (especially as I pull items out of the freezer case).

Will I knit a pair in single ply cashmere? Maybe. Probably not. This pair meets my needs and will hopefully last a long while. It’s possibly my curiosity will win and I’ll try. I need to do the math to see if I have enough yardage in my swatch ball of cashmere leftover from the Triangle Scarf.

Will I clean up all the pilling on this pair? Yes. I’ve spilled more coffee and tea on them than I want to admit. I’ve also dropped them in parking lot puddles more than once. They’re due for a bath. After that they’ll receive some additional care.

Would I prefer to knit a pair in a two-ply lace? I’m not sure. Maybe. While I think it would definitely address some of the pilling issues, I’m not sure how curious I am right now to knit another pair.

However, do I wish I’d knit any part of these differently? Yes. I wish I’d cast on fewer stitches at the cuff and knit an extra half inch. They’re a bit too short and have stretched out. I may weave in some elastic thread instead. I’m still wearing them so it doesn’t bother me too much!

What is the point of this post for you, dear reader?

Swatch.

Try something different. Even if everyone says you can’t use a yarn, if you aren’t satisfied with that answer, make an experiment. If a full-size project isn’t possible due to budget or time, figure out a way a smaller swatch could work. Instead of a sweater, knit a cowl or shawl. If a full pair of socks is intimidating, try knitting shoe liners or Miriam Felton’s footie socks.

It’s one thing to read why something does or doesn’t work. I believe it’s the process of experimenting (playing) where we learn and truly understand why.

the story of the swatches

Pile of Anzula SwatchesI mentioned a large project a few weeks ago. Now I can share more about it–I’m crocheting swatches to investigate all of Anzula’s yarns. My first post explores For Better or Worsted. I’ll provide a crochet contrast to Jill’s knitting focused posts. It’s a good thing I love fun swatches!

There are many parts I need to keep organized — from the making to the writing. I have my planning grid in addition to spreadsheets, a comprehensive to-do list, and key dates in my calendar. As I was figuring out how to approach this massive project, I decided to work each yarn in the same set of stitches. That allows me to both standardize my task forms and also creates swatches that I can eventually compare and contrast.

The swatches

Anzula Milky Way swatches drying I use the same hook throughout the process for each yarn and create four different swatches (granny square, basic crochet stitches, textured, and net/lace). To provide contrast, I also knit a swatch with both stockinette and garter stitch. Anzula has 21 active yarn lines so that’s a lot of swatches!

As these humble bits of fabric multiply, my writing opportunities expand. I’m not sure all that I will write about, but I plan to explore differences. What happens when all that’s changed is the yarn weight? How do different fibers create fabric that’s very different, even when worked up at the same gauge and stitch? I’ll see if the swatches that include superwash wools stay fair when they fare the unknown innards of my washing machine.

Why?

This project started because I thought it was brilliant, Anzula has a lot of yarn. It can be overwhelming trying to choose one. In addition, I haven’t found a good resource exploring differing yarns and how they crochet. My crochet books speak only of doing a quick “rub test” (not to be confused with the extensive Martindale test though the concept is similar) to test a yarn being appropriate or not for a particular project. I’ve always been in awe of Knitter’s Review and wanted to examine a variety of yarns in a systematic way.

I hope you’ll join me as I meet and become familiar with Anzula’s yarns. If you see a yarn you’d like to work with, ask at your local yarn store! If they don’t carry that particular yarn or colour, it can be special ordered.

Please excuse me, I need to get back to my swatches!
Pile of yarn swatches & text - Meet the Yarn For Better or Worsted, Part 2

summer swatching plans, part three (spinning)

Sometimes one post becomes four. While I didn’t initially plan to make this a four part series (part one, part two), it turned into one! In addition to the yarns I’m swatching primarily for knitting and crochet, I am also working on my spinning and weaving this summer too. Today I’ll discuss the spinning plans, next week weaving.

Anzula

Braid of Anzula Superwash Merino Top in Colourway Earth and Squishy in colourway Aqua

a pairing of anzula: super fine merino top and squishy

I have a plan for pairing this braid of Australian Superfine Merino Top (in colourway Earth) with Squishy in Aqua.

First I need to spin a sample and then work up a swatch.

Before that can happen, I need to decide how I want to prepare the fiber and spin it. I have already pulled out Jillian‘s Yarnitecture book to help me work out my spinning strategy for this project! Can you guess what I’m designing? I’ll provide a big hint, I’ll be writing about this combination next week too.

more sampling

Suri/California Variegated Mutant fiber

Suri/California Variegated Mutant fiber

I want to better understand how different fibers behave when spun with small changes made to process all along the way. What happens if I draft differently? How does this fiber behave as a two ply or a three ply or a chain ply? Sure I can read about it, but I will learn by doing.

I picked up this ball of Suri alpaca and CVM (California Variegated Mutant) through a friend a while ago. I think it will be interesting to use for this experiment.

Yes, there will be a notebook involved!

something for me

Merino & Yak blend

Merino & Yak blend

I bought this braid of Merino/Yak when Happy Fuzzy Yarn was going out of business earlier this year. It seems appropriate to spin this summer for a variety of reasons.

From past experience I know that I adore the fiber. The hydrangea colourway make me happy and I am smitten with how it works on this fiber combination. I need to spend some time to first decide what it will be after it’s spun and the best way to get there.

daily practice

Elemental Fiberworks & Akerworks mini spindle

Elemental Fiberworks & Akerworks mini spindle

This isn’t really swatching, but I’ve mostly only been spinning once a week when my task list reminds me to post #tuesdaysareforspinning to instagram. I really want to move on from the red section of this beautiful Elemental Fibers (it’s a rainbow spectrum) and eventually free up the Akerworks mini spindle for other projects.

My goal is to try for 5 minutes of spinning each day.