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Babs Rudlin: Hi there, and welcome to the Mythical Makers podcast! These are weekly ramblings from myself, Babs Rudlin, Fiery Phoenix and…
Karen Moffett: Karen Moffett, Mama Dragon.
(short musical clip)
Karen: Welcome to Episode Five of Mythical Makers Podcast. Today we’re gonna be talking about swatching, and why and when you should do it.
Babs: Now this is, is something that um, I never used to do. I never, ever swatched.
Karen: Mmm, I know, me too! (laughing) Me too! But I still haven’t made a sweater.
Babs: Have you? Have you really not?
Karen: I have never made a sweater.
Babs: See now, I’ve made so many jumpers, and not swatching was less of an issue than having the wrong cast off, because as I mentioned in our introduction…
Karen: Yeah, mmmm.
Babs: …I’d make teeny, tiny neck holes that have no stretch or give, and would never fit past your ears.
Karen: That’s not good. (laughs)
Babs: It was horrendous. But my, my gauge, my tension, tends to be very, very even. And apparently is very, very average. So it might smidge towards tight, but I’ve never really needed to swatch as a, as a knitter, for myself. Um, as a designer, it’s absolutely crucial. And as soon as I started knitting in the round, then swatching flat doesn’t do it.
Babs: You’ve gotta swatch in the round. But we’ll come toward swatching in the round towards the end.
Babs: But um, why don’t you just, yeah, for people that don’t actually know what on earth we’re talking about to constantly say “swatch, swatch, swatch,” they could have visions that we’re, you know, flinging color around (Karen laughs) and just painting patches on the wall to work out what colors we want. And you know, they could be thinking of color swatches rather than what we’re actually referring to, which is knitting or crochet swatches. So, if you give people an explanation of what we’re talking about, that’s probably quite helpful.
Karen: Okay. Well, at the beginning of a pattern, a designer will put a gauge for the pattern. And of course, if it’s a scarf, or even a wrap, a stole, um, the swatch is not all that important. The gauge is not too important for that. Because if it’s a little bit bigger or a little bit smaller, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re knitting something that’s supposed to be fitted, like a sweater, or a dress, or a vest, or something that’s supposed to actually have a specific size, the gauge is very important. Because if you’re much larger or much smaller on your swatch, which is usually, you know, four to six inches, then by the time you get to a whole garment, that’s gonna make a big difference in the size of your garment.
Babs: Yeah it’s it’s gonna mean that you can either put it on your Barbie doll (Karen laughs) or on your child or you can put it on your you!
Karen: Yes! Or you can put it on an elephant!
Babs: Or you can put it on an elephant depending, yeah you see this is from the experience of someone who, who knits tightly So yeah, it’s not gonna go an elephant…
Karen: Exactly. I also, I’m better now but when I first started out I was a very tight knitter .Even after I learned not to have my stitches twisted, Like I was when I was first, first was knitting but yeah I usually tend to the small instead of the too large. But a lot of times what they will give us as gauge will be in a 4 inch measurement, so it’s how many stitches and how many rows it takes to get to 4 inches or 10 centimeters.
Karen: And sometimes people will do a larger swatch; a lot of people like to use 6 inches. Or they’ll knit 6 in and take a 4 inch measurement from it. And so what you do is you’ll just knit a square and, and uh then take measurements to see how many stitches and rows it takes.
Babs: Now is there a special kit that you can get, or do you just need a clear ruler?
Karen: You can, there are little gauge measurement tools that you can use, but you can just use a regular ruler. What I like to do is put like a little needle or a pin on either side of where I’m measuring so that it’s easier to count, you know, the stitches and rows.
Karen: So I’ll take, I’ll just take a ruler and put those marks in, and count the stitches. But, but there are, there’s little gadgets and stuff that you can use for that, too.
Babs: Okay, then. Um…
Karen: It’s just not necessary. (laughs) Sometimes ‘old school’ is just as, just as good.
Babs: Yeah, that’s fair enough. Because I’ve seen, I’ve seen some square, the things, needle sizers, so they’ve got all the different circular holes with the different diameters…
Karen: Oh, sure.
Babs: …just so you can size the needles that you’re using, and then they’ve got square holes, that you can then, I assume, just plop down on top of your yarn…
Babs: …and then count through the, the center square.
Karen: The little cutout area. Yeah.
Babs: Yeah, there’s cut out spaces, so you can just count up how many rows and how many stitches fit through that. And then you can measure your needles. Because, well, if you’re like me, well, not everyone is like me, I’ve got quite acid fingers, so all of the markings get worn off of my needles quite quickly.
Babs: And by quickly, I mean, within a morning. (both laugh)
Babs: So I have to really quickly make note before I start working, um, with needles.
Babs: Even wooden ones, where it’s been burnt in, then that can be worn away. My fingers, I swear I’m related to an alien.
Karen: Wow. Rob has that same problem, though. He can’t wear, you know, the little hematite rings?
Karen: He can wear those for maybe a week, and then he’s worn through and they break.
Babs: Yeah, I rust, when I did cross stitch and hand sewing, um, I ended up having to buy gold needles because, or gold-plated needles, because I was just, I’d turn them to rust and they’d just ruin my work.
Karen: Oh, yeah. That’s not good.
Babs: So, I get through vast quantities of needles all the time. So I’m always experimenting with different needles. That’s why I was asking about what types people like.
Karen: The sock needles, mmmhmm.
Babs: Because I’ve been using a lot of bamboo and wood. And that sort of stands up to my hands, but it’s not as slippy, and it’s quite catchy.
Babs: So we’ll give some metal needles a try, and I’ll, I’ll do a review and see what happens with those. Um, now the other thing I was gonna ask, when you’re measuring your swatching, is that before blocking? After blocking? Is there a default? Or should you look to the pattern to see what the designer has said?
Karen: You do have to look to the pattern to see what the designer says. But I’m always gonna say that. (both laugh) Please, please, please please, read the pattern. Um, as a designer, that’s, that’s pretty frustrating when somebody asks you a question that is right there, written clearly in the pattern. Um, but yes, I think, probably if you had to choose a default, it’s usually after blocking.
Karen: Um, but the designer should specify. And sometimes it’s just, the gauge, the gauge will be listed as, ‘in stockinette stitch,’ or ‘in garter stitch’ but sometimes it will be, especially if you’re working with a lace project, it’ll say ‘in pattern.’ And so then you would be working the stitches that you will normally work for the lace pattern in your little gauge swatch, in your little square that you’re knitting up.
Babs: Mmmhmm. Yeah.
Karen: So you need to make, you need to pay attention to that, too. And so lace, especially, is almost always going to be after blocking, because lace changes so much when you block it.
Babs: Oh, it’s magical!
Karen: Yeah! So keep that in mind when you’re doing your, your swatch square, that that’s something you’re gonna need to do. And me, I’m (laughs wryly) I’m really, really, I’m a, I’m a bit of a miser. So I don’t like to waste yarn. And when I knit up my swatch, I usually do not cut the yarn, I leave it connected to the ball so when I’m finished with my measurement, I can rip that back out again and use the yarn on the actual project itself. So um, so keep that, it makes it a little awkward when you’re blocking (Babs laughs) because obviously you can’t just like toss it in a bowl and get it wet and then block it out. Um, so it takes a little bit more care, but, but then I like to reuse that yarn and not have a four or six inch square of just random blocked piece. (chuckles)
Babs: I keep, if I’m, if I’m swatching for a magazine submission, then I generally tend to keep the swatch that I created for that design for the magazine submission.
Babs: If I am, if I’m swatching for a self-published pattern, then I probably do what you do, which is, I then re-, I absorb that back in to the actual finished piece.
Babs: But where I, when I’m actually submitting to a publication, then I tend to keep that on file, so that I’ve got the swatch that I’ve submitted…
Karen: Oh. Yeah.
Babs: …which is definitely beautifully blocked and kept carefully, so that I have that to refer back to if I need to, because sometime the, the lead times on projects can be quite, quite extraordinary. Um, and especially if I’ve posted out, or mailed out the, the finished item for photography…
Babs: …you know, and three months on somebody’s come back with a question about the stitch, particularly if it’s a patterned stitch, rather than something pretty standard…
Karen: Oh, sure.
Babs: …then having those swatches on file um, can be a lifesaver.
Karen: Mmm, mmm, that makes sense.
Babs: So that’s, I think that’s the only time I actually keep my swatches, is when it’s, when it’s for a publication or if it’s a brand new stitch, or a different style of a stitch pattern or a crochet pattern. Then I’ll keep that as reference, but for that particular pattern. Um, because if I’ve got somebody who’s tech editing two months after I’ve written the design and finished it and sent it off, and they ask me a question, and it’s just, “I’ve got nothing to refer to!”
Karen: “I don’t know!”
Babs: “I don’t remember, it was a while back!” Whereas if I’ve got that, you know, even if it’s only a four by four or six by six swatch, then at least I can have something to remind me, um, what it is that I was trying to write down in the pattern.
Karen: So are you, are you small square or a large square blocker, or swatcher?
Babs: I tend to be a large square. I tend to swatch larger, purely because I prefer to have a certain, when it’s a stitch pattern that’s new, I do it for so many repeats…
Karen: Oh, uh huh.
Babs: …so that I’ve got at least three repeats across and three repeats up, in my swatch…
Karen: Oh, wow! That’s a big, that’s a big piece then.
Babs: …so I can see how that, I mean, sometimes it’s a smaller piece, it’ll be a smaller square, and other times it’ll be bigger. But if I’m trying to work out what the finished dimensions are going to be, for a wrap, or something like that…
Karen: Oh, ok. So you’re talking about during the designing process.
Babs: So, both while it’s designing, but also if I’m making, actually no, that’s a lie. If I’m making it I try to do as small a swatch as humanly possible.
Babs: Um, because I just want to get on and make. And I’m being incredibly honest here, I’m not gonna advise people to do it that small, (Karen laughs) I would advise people to make a six by six inch square, (laughs sheepishly) whereas what I do is try to make as teeny tiny a square as possible, because I know that my, my tension is even, so I figure if I can do a two inch square then I’m done and that’s fine because that’ll be the same tension as a four inch square, as a six inch square, because it always is. My tension is stupidly even. Um, but that’s a total cop-out, because I just want to dive in to whatever I’m making. Um, so that’s not my advice to people. You know, don’t do as I do. Do as I say, not as I do! That’s what I do with my swatching, which is very bad, but when I’m designing, then I generally do a three repeat, so it’s three across and three up.
Babs: So that I can see how the stitch just interacts with itself. Does it repeat cleanly, does it repeat nicely?
Babs: If there’s overlap, do the overlaps actually work? So that’s, that’s generally what I do.
Karen: And do you like the drape of the fabric, and…?
Babs: Exactly. And once you’ve done…
Karen: Which you can’t tell in a small square.
Babs: That’s right. But once you’ve blocked it, you’ve also got something that looks very impressive, for um, an editor to look at and make a decision about, because you have, you can see that it’s gonna, you know, you haven’t got this little tiny thing that you’re trying to work with. Yeah, so editors, rather than having a teeny tiny to make a decision off of…
Babs: …if you’ve given a large selection of repeat, they can, they can get more of a visualization, along with, you know, your scribbled hand drawing of what it’s going to be.
Karen: (giggles) Yes.
Babs: They can actually see how the stitches will look when they’re, when they’re repeated out. Which I think might be one of the reasons that I get accepted as frequently, I have such a high acceptance rate as I do, for the magazine submissions, because it’s very, very clear how these patterns are gonna hold together, as against you have this tiny, two inch square photo, and you can’t really see anything, you’ve barely got one repeat of the pattern in there. You know, I give them a really big chunk of the pattern to look at, and make a decision off of.
Babs: Um, and the other think I was gonna say about swatching is, that swatching in the round is very, very different to swatching flat. Because your tension is different when you’re knitting…
Karen: I have, I have found that mine is not as different as it appears that some people… (laughs) Because I actually, I was like, “Well, that seems odd.” And so I started knitting that up and uh, and I compared them, and they’re not really very much different.
Babs: Oh, excellent!
Karen: For me, personally. So, I think it’s because, somebody said, I can’t remember where I read it, but someone said that the primary reason that they’re so different is because when people are purling, they usually don’t put their needle all the way in to the stitch, and so they’re just getting the tip of the needle, and so purls tend to be smaller than a knit stitch.
Karen: You know, so if you’re going back and forth, you know, if you’re doing a flat piece…
Babs: So you have one fat knit, one thin purl, one fat knit, one thin purl.
Karen: Right, exactly. So if you’re doing a flat piece, you’re doing knit, purl, knit purl, you know, for stockinette.
Karen: If you’re doing, if you’re knitting in the round, you’re doing all knits.
Karen: And so that’s why that, that’s why that’ll be different, you know.
Babs: Oh, okay.
Karen: Um, but I, I found, I guess I put my needle all the way in, so my purl stitches are pretty close to the same size as my knit stitches.
Babs: Yeah, that’s what I do.
Karen: So there’s not a significant amount of difference between the two. Although, um, and I don’t know if this belongs in swatching or not, but I can’t remember, I think it’s TechKnitter [it is actually knit darling, link below] had a piece that she did on your um, needle materials.
Babs: (gasps) I’ve seen that! We need to include that.
Karen: Did you see that? Yeah! So like a metal needle is different from a wood, and you know, acrylic needles, and all of that. Um, so I thought that was very interesting, because it doesn’t just change, like it doesn’t change the stitches and the rows equally.
Karen: And so she showed a little picture of like a shirt, I think it was, um, where it was either longer or narrower, or, depending on the material of the needles.
Babs: Yeah, I thought that was fascinating.
Karen: So that too, you know, you want to use the same needles that you’re going to be using on the project.
Karen: Not just grab a pair of needles and then you know go, well, I’ll use a different one when I do my, when I do the main project.
Karen: So keep that in mind too, when you’re swatching.
Babs: No, that’s cool. That’s a good point. Um, I did put together a video on how to swatch ‘in the round’ which I’ll put a link to in the description, as part of the supporting files, um, because it just takes you through the process of leaving yourself that loop of yarn at the back, rather than having to literally knit in the round for an entire swatch for four inches, or whatever.
Babs: So you can still create a small square, which is then nice and easy to measure, and you can block it, as against knitting a tube for some reason, which you’ve then got to try and block, and get a small, tiny tube to behave the way you would expect it to behave.
Babs: So I’ll put the link for that video, um, down below. Um are there any other reasons that you can think of that people should be swatching, or do you think we’ve, we’ve covered those reasons?
Karen: I think we’ve pretty much got it all. Um, the big thing is just if it’s going to be a garment that you want to be a specific size, it is crucial to do that. Um, but when you’re doing a big rectangle like a scarf or a stole, um, it’s not as crucial. But it does, it is still helpful, because, like we were talking about with the drape, um, you’re not gonna be able to see, on a really tiny swatch, what the drape of the fabric is gonna be like. Um, and so maybe making a bigger swatch is a good idea, because you don’t want your stitches to be so small that your stole or your shawl is stiff, you know, because everything’s all squashed in together, it’s not gonna be all flowy and drapey, and, you know. Um, so that’s another thing that you would swatch for, to check and see if you need to go up a needle size so it can be drapey-er.
Babs: The other thing that has just occurred to me is also you don’t want to be playing yarn chicken.
Karen: Yes, definitely! (laughs)
Babs: Um, if you knit really tightly, so that you are putting far more stitches per inch in than the pattern is expecting, you are gonna be munching your way through a lot more yarn than the designer was expecting you to use. So if you have a pattern that uses 490 yards, of a 500 yard selection of, of yarn, then if you have a significantly different gauge to the pattern, then you’re gonna need extra yarn.
Babs: You’re gonna need more than the designer has listed. So, if you don’t want to play yarn chicken, ah, then you definitely need to, to check your gauge. So if you’ve got a limited supply of yarn, and the pattern is calling for close on to all you’ve got, then definitely check your gauge.
Karen: Then that’s really important.
Babs: Not for draping, not for sizing, but for your sanity, of having completed this item and then you’ve got to the end and you’ve got like an inch of yarn left, and you’ve still got another seven rows. You’re not gonna make it. So definitely, if you…
Karen: Right. And then you go, now how can I hunt down this piece of yarn to match.
Babs: That’s right.
Karen: Because that’s always difficult, if you order it after the fact, and you try to get the yarn to match.
Babs: Yeah. Now um, I know somebody who’s written an amazing guide to um, beating yarn chicken.
Babs: And I was thinking, maybe we should invite her in for a chat, and see if we can talk to her, ‘cause she’s got loads of different tips about different ways that you can beat yarn chicken, and she’s actually got um, a guide, which is written out, it’s you know, not massive, but it’s actually really, really good, so I’m thinking maybe we should invite her in for a chat. Because…
Babs: …no one likes to lose at yarn chicken! (laughs)
Karen: Yes. That is for sure!
Babs: That’s not fun, so I think that would be good.
Karen: Across the world, all of us, you know, whenever somebody posts on Instagram, “Oh no, I’m gonna be playing yarn chicken!” Everybody’s really, really understanding, going, “Ahhhhhh! I’ve been there!” We’re very empathetic about that.
Karen: Thank you for listening to this episode of Mythical Makers Podcast. Subscribe to our podcast, and if you enjoyed it, like, share, comment, let your friends know about us, so that we can get some more followers and we’ll talk to you next time! Bye!
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Babs & Karen