To Swatch or Not?
Part 3 of Finishing starts at the beginning
by Jackie E-S
This is the third in a series about making the finishing steps of your knitting project easier and seem effortless. If you missed the Introduction and first two articles on "To Seam or Not to Seam?" and "End-less Knitting", check the Index of Jackie E-S Articles & Tips.
How does "swatching" relate to "finishing"? Like any other planning activity, swatching can help make the final finishing
steps easier. Here's how.
My on-line American Heritage dictionary gives the definition of a swatch as "A sample strip cut from a piece of material". Of
course in knitting, we don't mean to knit your project, then cut a strip out of your finished project! Instead, the intent is to
knit your sample (either a strip, square, or whatever shape) from which you can check and adjust the results against the
planned or envisioned results in the finished project. Therefore, thinking of your swatch as a mini-vision of the final
project, can help you see the connection between swatching and finishing.
The need for swatches is most often related to getting an accurate gauge. But there are other reasons for making swatches. Here are some that I think are especially relevant to the topic of finishing.
Will you enjoy your knitting?
While you are knitting your sample, are you enjoying the activity and getting satisfaction with the stitch pattern and needles you have chosen? If not, it's unlikely that you will complete the larger project. Better to find out sooner than later on a small sample while it is still easy enough to try another option rather than risking the real project that may never get finished.
Ready for a warm-up?
Have you ever thought of swatching as a "get acquainted" time with your yarn, needles and stitch pattern? Especially if an unfamiliar pattern or technique, we sometimes tense up in the beginning therefore affecting our gauge. By taking some time in the beginning to work out any kinks, we are more likely to get a consistent gauge (tip - make a large enough swatch to get a good feel for the pattern and rhythm of the stitch). Consistency definitely helps with the final finishing. Sure, you can block out some small differences in size. But the more consistent you
are, the less of a hassle it will be when you get to those final finishing steps, and the more likely to get expert looking results.
How will the fabric look and feel?
Be sure to take your swatch through the care cycle of your intended project, e.g. machine wash and machine dry, hand wash and block dry, dry clean, etc. Remember that the swatch is a mini-vision of your final project, and finishing the project should include one iteration through the care cycle. This is especially important if you will be fulling or felting the article, or the yarn is expected to bloom.
Trial runs for the finish?
You can even use your swatching exercise to try out seaming techniques, buttonholes and such, before committing yourself to the larger project. It is much easier to re-disposition or rip out a swatch, than an entire project!
Do I always swatch?
Now after all this discourse, you might think that I always swatch. Not so. But I do weigh the risk vs. the reward in diving right into the project vs. sampling.
For small projects or projects that start out on a small number of stitches, I usually dive right in. The beginning of my project actually becomes my swatch because I know I can do a blocking in progress to get a preview of the final results before going too far. Worst that can happen is that I start over, just as I would have on a sample anyway (it can be a good idea to keep your work up to that point for comparison).
Also, for yarns, needles and stitch patterns I have used before and feel comfortable that I will get the results expected from previous experience, I proceed but check early on in the project and measure periodically to compare.
Return to Index of Jackie E-S Articles & Tips for more finish-as-you-go techniques to proceed with confidence in your project, and minimize time and annoyance of finishing tasks later.