Thursday, December 29, 2011

Six secrets of a non-swatcher

  I am about to reveal a shocking knitting secret. I don't always swatch. In another post, Favorite Fair Isle tips, I wrote about the importance of swatching. Yes, we all know that "To save time, swatch." Well, I just don't think swatching is that much fun. More power to you if you like knitting swatches and I have one friend who actually claims she does. I prefer the feeling of creating something useful and in some ways I'm both impatient and lazy.
  Basically, swatching is done to find your gauge or to test color combinations. However, both kinds of swatching can be minimized and sometimes eliminated. For example, if you knit socks, knit them from the toe up and add stitches until the foot fits. You don't need to swatch at all.
Non-swatching hint number 1: Knit socks from the toe up. If necessary, you can pick a stitch pattern after you know how many stitches you will use.
   I have knit some very successful garments without swatching. My Nether Garment has at this point been viewed by over 30,000 people on Ravelry. The greatest honor I have received as a knitter is that my version of the Nether Garment was included in the commemorative re-issue of Elizabeth Zimmermann's The Knitters Almanac. The beauty of the project for me was that it called for no swatching because the garment itself was a rather large swatch. Indeed, when I am designing new Fair Isle projects I often get it out in search of a pattern or color combination to inspire me. I needed to guess how many stitches per inch I would get and I did that by measuring a previous project, such as a hat. Then I cast on for the ankle. After a couple of inches, I tried it on to make sure it fit. It did. As I knit the garment I occasionally tried on a leg to make sure it was staying on track for size. I spread out my hoard of Shetland yarn and grabbed colors as the mood struck me and selected patterns as I went along. It was the most fun I've ever had knitting.
Non-swatching hint number 2: If you hate swatching, find a favorite yarn. I have a couple kinds of yarn that I use over and over. Measuring an old project is usually as accurate as making a new swatch and often more so. Just be sure to record the size needle you knit projects with.
Non-swatching hint number 3: Pretend you aren't actually knitting a swatch. Guess the needle size based on the ball band and knit a hat. It will fit someone. Measure its gauge. It's not a swatch, it's a useful hat. Or knit other  small objects such as mittens or a small bag. Purses are easy, but should be lined with fabric to prevent sagging.
   A very good reason to swatch is to check color combinations. However, the more colors you use, the less important this is. A garment I made without swatching my colors was my Blues and Oranges vest.  Before I went to Costa Rica for the season, I made a pile of beautiful cool colors (blues and purples) and a pile of beautiful warm colors (reds, oranges, and pinks). I didn't even decide to use the triangle and slanting lozenge patterns until I got to Costa Rica, I just knew I would use some small repeating pattern. I used pairs of warm and cool colors and tried to not repeat any color combinations, although each color appeared in many different bands. In between, I used the same two row pattern of rectangles in the same two colors. The only part I swatched was to choose the ribbing colors.
Non-swatching hint number 4: If you use enough different colors and patterns, it's going to look good. While I tend to use bright colors, you can do it with muted colors too. If you use lots of colors, your garment with go with lots of things.
   I repeated the same strategy with greens and purples for my Motmot in the Forest vest although the vertical pattern repeat is longer. It has bands of vertical lines, checks, and diagonal lines.
Non-swatching hint number 5: Use a limited number of patterns and a dominant color or two to unify a garment.
By the way, in the dumbest ever of my knitting mistakes, I didn't notice that I knit the vest on a needle smaller than I usually use until I was ready to cut the steek. I ended up cutting up the sides and adding panels to make it large enough to fit me. Proof if ever there was one that swatching for gauge isn't always necessary if you are willing to go to great extremes to fix a problem. (Non-swatchers are more creative, sometimes out of necessity.) I don't recommend this method as it can add a lot of stress to your life when you discover a garment is radically the wrong size.
Non-swatching hint number 6: If you really screw up with your gauge, it might be possible to fix it with bands. Sometimes I have made wider bands in the front to compensate for a vest that came out a little smaller than expected.
   So if you love colors, I encourage you to make up a game plan for a garment, get a whole bunch of colors you love and just dive in. It's unbelievable fun. And by the way, if you have any other non-swatching tips, please let me know.


Queen of the Tea Cosies said...

Fab hints!
Ha! Sometimes the most creative results come from the accident of a mistake. But not always. I have a drawers full of duds.

Carolina said...

Sometimes those duds need to be destroyed/passed on to protect the innocent. Although they could be thought of as elaborate swatches...

MoniqueB. said...

I'm a total newbie in colourknitting, so these hints and tips come in handy and just in time! haha.

Therefor I started out with a blanket, following all the rules but immediately starting with the actual knitting of it.



Carolina said...

Dear MoniqueB,
enjoy your colour knitting!