Yarn costs and swatching

Today concludes my series on swatching with some words about yarn costs. I shall reflect on yarn costs connected with swatching using the KNITSONIK system. You can browse the earlier installments of this series at your leisure; there are some wonderful comments that are really worth reading. I hope you have enjoyed the series!

On swatching: have your say!
Reasons for swatching
On swatching: redefining useful
On swatching: Frangipani Caterpillars
Money, Time and Swatching
Is swatching indulgent?

I want all the shades!

I often hear comrades saying they could get started on the KNITSONIK system and start swatching if only they could own ALL of the colours in the Jamieson & Smith range.

all of the colours!
all of the colours!

I am sympathetic to this desire – who doesn’t want ALL THE SHADES? – but it is also an unrealistic and unaffordable option for many knitters. If you want every single shade in the wondrous Jamieson & Smith range of 90+ 2-ply Jumper Weight yarns it will cost nearly £300 which is a big outlay for a project which may not result in something you can actually wear. But if you can afford this then I say why not? The yarn represents excellent value for money and the investment entails hundreds of happy hours spent playing with colour. To draw a comparison with another art material which might be purchased for exploring colours, buying ALL THE SHADES of J&S yarn costs considerably less than buying one tube of each of the 96 professional artist quality water colour paints produced by Windsor & Newton

However most of us can’t afford to make that kind of purchase on a whim. As Sally commented on this post, spreading the cost of the balls between many comrades is a brilliant way of solving this problem – if you are skint but really want ALL THE COLOURS and have friends in the same boat why not club together and make it happen? A warning though: when myself and my good comrades Alison and Rachel of Yarn in the City split 75 balls of J&S 3 ways for the Yarn in the City with KNITSONIK workshop, it took all 3 of us winding flat out for 3 hours. That’s 9 hours! I believe this labour adds more cost to yarn than it saves: it is difficult to make a ball of yarn that costs £2.85 cheaper by spending hours of your time splitting it into smaller quantities.

Splitting balls of yarn - hours of work, not including the extra hassle provided by an interfering cat!
Splitting balls of yarn – hours of work, not including the extra hassle provided by an interfering cat!

My inspiration source needs 4 million colours!

If you don’t fancy a 24-hour skein-winding party splitting balls of J&S you have a couple of other options; work from stash or buy new balls of yarn in a limited colour range that fits your budget. This gets tricky if you choose an inspiration source that is super complex with many hundreds of shades from which to choose, for example a photo from nature like this:

Beauteous, multi-shaded beech tree of joy!
Beauteous, multi-shaded beech tree of joy!

You could either use an online tool like Colors Palette Generator to edit the colours in your original inspiration source, of you could work from an inspiration source which is simpler and which inherently contains less shades.

Even edited by a computer, this contains many shades!
Even edited by a computer, this contains many shades!

The greatest number of shades used in a KNITSONIK swatch is sixteen which is the number of shades I used to explore my beloved walnut tree.

Working from nature
Working from nature
tasty walnut palette
tasty walnut palette

It would cost you £45.60 + P&P if you had a similarly complex idea on which to work. That is a lot of money to spend if you do not see any further use for the yarns after the swatching process, but considering that the swatch in which I used those colours weighs about 50g (i.e. the weight of just two balls of yarn) there is plenty of yardage left over for use in future swatches, or in a garment inspired by the swatch…

…and it is not necessary to use as many shades as sixteen; I was thrilled with the different ideas I was able to explore with just seven shades when working with Hops as an inspiration source. Seven shades costs £19.95 + P&P and there is yarn left over afterwards if you want to make legwarmers or other celebratory beer themed items. The huge difference between the Walnut Tree as an inspiration source and the Hops as an inspiration source is that in the case of the tree I was working from nature whereas with Hops I was working from a pump clip that had been printed with a limited number of colours.

Working from printed materials for inspiration - a much more limited palette
Working from printed materials for inspiration – a much more limited palette
Hops - a much more limited palette
Hops – a much more limited palette

Printed materials and especially packaging or advertising materials are excellent inspiration sources if you are on a budget as they often contain few colours – usually to limit printing costs. Working within a limited palette can be surprisingly rewarding. I was amazed by the differences created by working light on dark and dark on light in the swatch that I made inspired by my favourite beer, and then the legwarmers.

Hops - light on dark (swatch)
Hops – light on dark (swatch)
Hops - dark on light in legwarmers
Hops – dark on light (legwarmers)

Bev recently shared some amazing work on Ravelry created through looking at her favourite china bowls. I was really struck by how beautiful her limited blue and white palette was, and how much she was able to do working with a very simple pattern and a small range of lovely blues;

“I have a set of four white and blue bowls in the cupboard and every time I see the pattern around the rim it makes me think how suited it would be as a Fair Isle pattern”

Bev on Ravelry

"I have a set of four white and blue bowls in the cupboard and every time I see the pattern around the rim it makes me think how suited it would be as a Fair Isle pattern" _ Bev, who has been swatching her beautiful ceramic bowl and who is now making mitts!
Bev has been swatching from her beautiful ceramic bowl and is now making mitts!

Bev is working from cones in her stash – some of which are vintage and/or irreplaceable. Swatching in the KNITSONIK way – i.e. working a swatch in the round and then cutting a steek up the back – means that yarn used in swatching won’t be usable again. She seems to have worked out her yardages quite carefully and is cracking on with an amazing pair of mitts using the same shades that she used in her swatch, but this does lead to a final concern raised around yarn costs by some of you in the comments.

Yarn used in a swatch won’t be usable in the garment once a swatch has been steeked in the KNITSONIK manner

Another comrade in the Ravelry KNITSONIK group has created a very special but finite (and non reproducible) collection of handspun, hand-dyed yarns. She is worried that swatching with this yarn and then steeking the swatch will mean she does not have enough yarn for producing a finished object! Other comrades have limited (but fun) shades in stash… how can the most be made of these yarns? If you have special but limited yarn in your stash then you probably want to knit something beautiful with it (so swatching is a good thing to help decide how best to use the yarns together!) but you probably also don’t want to use up all the yarn in the swatch in case you need if afterwards for your garment project (so making a swatch with a steek is a bad thing).

In these special circumstances you could use the swift-swatching-in-the-round method laid out by Ysolda Teague here. You could use a smaller swatch-width (36 is good because it still contains many common factors) so that your strands will not be so long across the back. Using this method for the actual construction of your swatch the normal KNITSONIK ideas can be applied to seeing and interpreting inspiration until you find patterns with which you are truly thrilled. Make detailed notes on the charts, yarns and shades used for your favourite parts, take lots of photos of the swatch to later refer to, then unravel the swatch, check the yardages of your different hand-dyed shades and cast on YOUR PROJECT!

I cannot think of another way to get the very best out of limited stash using the KNITSONIK system but I really do think that casting on a swatch will enable you to find the best ways to combine your bespoke shades for amazing results.

A few final words…

I prefer not to frog swatches after working them because I am amassing a personal library which is far, far too useful for my teaching work for me to be happy to get rid of them. I also like working with Jamieson & Smith almost exclusively because each new swatch involves combining familiar shades in new ways and enhances my knowledge of the 2-ply Jumper Weight palette. In this way, each new swatch that I make adds to what I know about the shades, and sticking to this yarn adds value to every bit of it in my stash.

Mackenzie put this really well in her comment on this post:

I don’t know which yarn to choose as my default working & swatching yarn (it seems like that would streamline the process and make it more spontaneous and fun. I hate waiting for shipping when I’m excited about a project!). How many years of knitting did it take you to settle on J&S?

It took me a few years to decide on J&S as the ultimate colourwork yarn – others which I have tried include Alice Starmore’s 2-ply Hebridean yarn; (absolutely beautiful but there are really big gaps in the palette which make it hard for certain subjects…) and Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift; (a lovely range of colours but I do not enjoy the handle as much as that of Jamieson & Smith). In the end what has sold Jamieson 2-ply Jumper Weight Yarn to me is that I have never found an inspiration source for which they did not have some wondrous matches… the yarn feels lovely when you knit it and blooms into a most forgiving and soft fabric when blocked, and the folks who run the company are some of the most talented wool-workers I have ever met.

Sandra and Ella - super amazing knitters of Shetland
Sandra and Ella – super amazing knitters of Shetland
Oliver Henry AKA The Woolman explaining how to sort fleeces during Shetland Wool Week 2013
Oliver Henry AKA The Woolman explaining how to sort fleeces during Shetland Wool Week 2013

In conclusion…

If you want to try out the KNITSONIK system but yarn costs are an issue, you can try any of the following;

  • Club together with comrades to buy some yarns and split the balls between you
  • Work from printed materials or other graphic inspiration sources that do not contain loads and loads of colours
  • Work a swatch using this method and then rip it out afterwards so you can use the yarn again in a project
  • Re-read this post for ideas on how to use garments as swatching projects in themselves
  • Splitting the balls between several of you - fun if you have not much money but plenty of time!
    Splitting the balls between several of you – fun if you have not much money but plenty of time!
    Working with an inspiration source that has few colours to begin with
    Working with an inspiration source that has few colours to begin with

    I believe the best way to get value out of swatching is to be consistent with yarn used so that every swatch adds to knowledge of a yarn palette; to finish swatches nicely and keep them as objects with ongoing value in a personal reference library and – perhaps most importantly of all – to share findings online and with other comrades so that we can all learn from each other as we go.

    THANK YOU FOR BEING MY COMRADES!
    YOURS IN SWATCHING,
    XF

    Posted in KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

    Is swatching indulgent?

    Following on from yesterday’s post about barriers to swatching today I want to address this idea:

    It is indulgent to swatch creatively rather than to spend that time making wearable garments

    Creative practice is often viewed as an indulgence. But why is this? Why are practical skills that artists spend decades acquiring through art college, further education, higher education and paid commissions viewed as fripperies? Why is it considered worthwhile to spend time knitting a sweater but indulgent to spend time studying and documenting your favourite tree or the wall around your garden? Is it because sometimes these activities are enjoyable? Because sometimes they are fun? But wait a second, is it not also fun to knit a sweater?

    Making a sweater can be FUN!
    FUN!

    Is it because the value of creative exploration is less tangible than the value of a knitted sweater? A creative project is by its nature a search; an adventure. It might fail. It might not yield good results. It is definitely more risky than following a pattern. But does that make it less worthwhile, or just a different application of knitterly energy with different outcomes? When you sit down to knit a garment you end up with a garment. When you sit down to make a KNITSONIK swatch, the only certainty you have is that you will discover new things in knitting, see something you love in new ways, and learn more about designing your own stranded colourwork.

    Obviously looking at your favourite tree or the wall around your garden will not keep you warm in the physical way that a sweater might, but I would argue that these activities perform imaginative functions that are as important as making garments. I will never downplay the significance of the sweater or the scarf as expressions of meaning, but it’s hard to imagine that knitting a garment can deepen your understanding of your favourite trees or wall in the same way that looking at them might.

    Happily the two are not mutually exclusive and can be combined for adventures in creative exploration and useful garment production. For example I had the pleasure of meeting Helen at one of my workshops in Shetland last year where she was wearing a most glorious Fair Isle sweater (please click through to Ravelry and shower it with hearts for it is amazing).

    After coming to the workshop she made a swatch inspired by her dry stone wall…

    Helen's dry stone wall
    Helen’s dry stone wall

    “This wall surrounds my garden and I didn’t realise how many different colours there were in it until I started this project.”

    …and then she created a beautiful vest, practical and warm – yes – but also full of personality, artistic flair, and the very spirit of that her dry stone garden wall.

    Helen's gorgeous dry stone wall swatch
    Helen’s gorgeous dry stone wall swatch

    What I love best of all about Helen’s vest is that from a distance it appears muted and grey, but when you approach it more closely the many subtle and beautiful hues contained within it appear… just as in the wall itself. This specific and sophisticated chromatic effect is the product of careful observation; without practical processes of looking and swatching it is hard to imagine how this glorious design might have been achieved.

    Helen's beautiful dry stone wall vest - go and give it hearts on Ravelry!
    Helen’s beautiful dry stone wall vest – go and give it hearts on Ravelry!

    Without that careful looking you could knit all day and not realise that there are hundreds of colours in a familiar wall. Creative process is about discovering and rediscovering the world around us and about celebrating our relationship with it. It is something we have felt compelled to do since we first daubed ochre and animal fat on cave walls. It is how we lay claim to the world around us, make our mark on it, make it a little bit more ours and in turn belong a bit more to it.

    Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for Cave of the Hands) in the Santa Cruz province in Argentina - 13,000 - 9,000 year old statement on the importance of play and representation to human beings
    Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for Cave of the Hands) in the Santa Cruz province in Argentina – 13,000 – 9,000 year old statement on the importance of play and representation to human beings

    The ancestors literally laid their hands on the earth to mark their place upon it and I love those early cave paintings of hands for what they say about creativity and possession… about how creative play can imprint us physically onto the earth and it onto us. A good KNITSONIK swatching process feels just like that… every time I see my Walnut Tree I think about its purple-brown bark, its pink-tinged leaf-tips and all the other details which I discovered in the time that I spent swatching it. No amount of knitting garments – however warm and useful – could give me the same feeling of being somehow connected to my tree.

    Looking at my Walnut Tree to inspiration for stranded colourwork
    KNITSONIK Walnut Tree swatch

    If you follow the instagram feed of my wondrous comrade Kate Davies you will know that noticing cherished trees is not an indulgence that detracts from the important work of knitwear design but part of the inspiration that feeds it.

    That inspiration is crucial and when it has been found, practical steps may be taken to embed it into our knitting.

    To me creativity is therefore not an indulgence; it fulfils a different role from knitting garments but not one that is less necessary, nor that is in conflict with the fun of knitting garments. More’s the better if the two can be combined and if things that are useful and everyday can be embedded with the visionary beauty and significance of special trees, cave paintings, favourite walls and other personal totems.

    For me that starts with swatching.

    LOOK!
    LOOK!
    Posted in KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

    Money, Time and Swatching

    It’s been really interesting to read your comments about money, time and swatching. For some of you these present the biggest barriers to making KNITSONIK-style colourwork swatches. Reading your comments reveals the following fears of swatching:

  • it will take too much time
  • it will be indulgent to swatch creatively rather than to be productively making wearable garments
  • it will cost a lot of money
  • yarn used in a swatch won’t be usable in the garment once your swatch has been steeked in the KNITSONIK manner
  • I am committed to helping you find ways of translating the everyday world into stranded colourwork so thought it may be useful to address your points and present helpful suggestions or highlight good ideas that surfaced in your words! Today I want to talk about time and swatching.

    It will take too much time

    Time is our most precious commodity. But there is no way of avoiding an investment of time if you wish to translate an everyday object into stranded knitting. Time spent looking, time spent drawing charts, time spent evaluating ideas and time spent revising ideas once they are knitted are unavoidable costs! But when you think about how long it takes to make an actual garment, I think a swatch is a kind of insurance policy that the end results will be beauteous… so if you want to design something yourself from scratch, can you afford not to take time for swatching?

    Finding the most efficient ways to look, draw, knit and evaluate ideas is a great way to save time and I find that packaging the stages of swatching into neat, do-able chunks is the best way to make it fit into a superbly busy life. The chunks go something like this:

    + Twenty minutes to locate bag or box into which to put double pointed needles, exercise book, pen and yarn shades. Once the kit has been made, it’s really easy to crack on with the swatch
    + Twenty minutes to get the swatch established and on the needles… 5 rounds of plain knitting before starting into any colourwork ideas gives a nice solid foundation and the knitting isn’t as twisty and difficult to control once it’s firmly established on the needles
    + Ten minutes looking at inspiration source and sketching a pattern with which to start
    + Ten minutes coming up with a shading scheme, i.e. sequencing yarn shades

    = One hr prep.

    + Half an hour or so at a time trying out each idea.
    + Half an hour to block the swatch.
    + Two hours or so tying all the knots at the edges to “finish” the swatch to make it beautiful.

    = Approximately sixteen to twenty hours per swatch.

    Looking at my Walnut Tree to inspiration for stranded colourwork
    My Walnut Tree swatch took about sixteen hours to make, including blocking

    So a swatch such as those depicted in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook can be produced in around sixteen hours of knitting time over two or three busy days of knitting or over a week picking it up for a couple of hours each day. In this way I have squeezed quite a lot of swatches out of not a lot of time. I’m a self-employed artist; whatever romantic associations that holds, in reality I spend a lot of time doing admin, editing sounds, sourcing things for exhibitions, organising interviews, liaising with commissioners and going to meetings. My actual available knitting time is limited and I don’t want to waste any of it! Plus, when I am done knitting, I want to have something lovely to show for it; after putting in twelve or thirteen hours of work the extra time needed to make the swatch look really nice feels worthwhile because it turns my investment of time into something finished and lovely which I will feel proud to keep and refer to for all future stranded colourwork projects.

    Finishing really makes the swatch!
    Finishing really makes the swatch!

    When I am done with a swatch there might be two or three ideas in it with which I am really thrilled; if I go on to make a sweater or a hat or a pair of legwarmers from those ideas then the time spent swatching becomes a comparatively small percentage of the total time spent on the project. I remember vividly swatching for my Listening Tunic; the swatch was completed over a period of several weeks, picking it up and putting it down, but it took me over a year to actually sit down and get the knitting of the sweater done. There was just a lot of fabric to produce and not enough time to sit down and crack on with it.

    The swatch took so little time to knit compared to the sweater!
    The swatch took so little time to knit compared to the sweater!

    However once the key components of the colour chart had been worked out in the swatching process I was able to happily apply the pattern to other things, like my legwarmers for soundwalking which were a quick knit; Ravelry tells me I knitted the pair in three months which is good going for me.

    Three months in the making - Legwarmers for soundwalking!
    Three months in the making – Legwarmers for soundwalking!

    So for me swatching is about making a long-term investment of time which pays for itself in the long run. Those swatches for which I have not yet got a final garment in mind are like an ideas bank; ideas saved for the future. I like that the swatching process means I can immediately do something about it when inspiration strikes and then bank the concepts for the future. How nice to know that when I want to make a fruitcake themed sweater or hat or skirt or cowl, the patterns and gauge are all just there waiting for me to sit down and work out the maths required to make it so.

    That is when a swatch can save you time.

    The fruitcake swatch - the biggest one in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook  and ready for me whenever I decide I need to make a fruitcake inspired hat/skirt/dress/sweater
    The fruitcake swatch – the biggest one in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and ready for me whenever I decide I need to make a fruitcake inspired hat/skirt/dress/sweater

    As ever, thank you for your feedback and comments… I shall be back again tomorrow to talk about whether or not swatching is indulgent.

    Posted in KNITSONIK PROCESSES | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

    On swatching: Frangipani Caterpillars

    I have been sharing my own thoughts ON SWATCHING over the past few days but I thought now would be a good time to hear from other comrades who have been swatching using The KNITSONIK System for our group challenge – #knitsonikfrangipanis.

    The idea here was to collectively explore a small set of photos taken by my brother Fergus Ford as an inspiration source for stranded colourwork. The photos were taken in Barbados and feature marvelous Frangipani Caterpillars.

    Frangipani Caterpillars photographed by Fergus Ford and used as inspiration for the #knitsonikcaterpillars swatch-a-long
    Frangipani Caterpillars photographed by Fergus Ford and used as inspiration for the #knitsonikcaterpillars swatch-a-long

    We wanted to explore whether working from the exact same few images would push us towards more similar or diverse results. The results reflect the rich variety of ways in which knitters see and explore the world in stranded colourwork, and I thought you would enjoy seeing them and hearing thoughts on the swatching process from their makers.

    Frangipani swatches from L to right by julischkam; Felix; sorosa and Fiberfryd (Ravelry names)
    Frangipani swatches from L to right by julischkam; Felix; sorosa and Fiberfryd (Ravelry names)

    General comments on the swatching process;

    “I’m participating in the swatch-a-long (in the group Knitsonik Comrades) and using a lot of different colors of Blackhill Højlandsuld/Supersoft from my stash.

    Such fun…

    Not everything is worth using for later projects, though. Quite a lot of the swatch is outside my usual color range, but maybe that’s why I find it so refreshing and it gives me new ideas.
    Again, I had to stop at some point, but I probably could have knitted on for months ;-)”

    – Fiberfryd

    Fiberfryd's beautifully documented process
    Fiberfryd’s beautifully documented process

    “It was such great fun to do all this swatching;

    First I loved the colours, so bright, brilliant, nearly aggressive against each others, very inspiring!

    Not at all my colouring, but I loved it very much to experiment with bright blue against bright green with the orange/red in between – wow…

    I had really great fun with this and I think it is great to leave the comfort zone! It opens another world and wakes your mind and eyes for more possibilities/combinations.

    In the end I have to say for myself: I come back to my beloved colours and can relax after an exciting trip to other sides. That´s great!”

    – julischkam

    "At the end I tried to leave shape and play with the colours, no matter, if it is sky, plant or frangipani…" - julischkam
    “At the end I tried to leave shape and play with the colours, no matter, if it is sky, plant or frangipani…” – julischkam

    “I liked the colours on the photo, individually and all together, so I worked with the colours as I found them on the photo and in the yarn shop. A bright yellow was not available, I would have included it…

    …All in all I enjoyed the whole process of swatching very much. The finishing (knotting the strands together) is my least favorite part.”

    – sorosa

    details from sorosa's swatch
    details from sorosa’s swatch

    On tackling specific details of the caterpillars in stranded colourwork;

    “I tried to image those tiny ‘boots’, but I feel I haven’t really explored the caterpillars themselves…”

    – Fiberfryd

    Ingenious curving shapes representing the shapes of the caterpillars in the tree (brown shapes at the top of the swatch)
    Ingenious curving shapes representing the shapes of the caterpillars in the tree (brown shapes at the top of the swatch)
    little red caterpillar "boots" by Fiberfryd
    little red caterpillar “boots” by Fiberfryd

    “I think this is some sort of comic style frangipani… that was the embarrassing part, but – it’s there now…”

    – julischkam

    beautifully detailed and patterned stripy caterpillars against bright blue skies by julischkam
    beautifully detailed and patterned stripy caterpillars against bright blue skies by julischkam
    beauteous curved caterpillar shapes by julischkam
    beauteous curved caterpillar shapes by julischkam

    “For the design I focused namely on two elements, the caterpillar and the branches. For the caterpillar, the challenge was to use only two colours in a row, especially a curved caterpillar asks for at least three colours ;)!”

    – sorosa

    sorosa's lovely take on the curvy shapes made by the caterpillars in the tree
    sorosa’s lovely take on the curvy shapes made by the caterpillars in the tree

    On translating the branches and background sky into stranded colourwork;

    the luminous blue Barbadian sky in the background
    the luminous blue Barbadian sky in the background
    gorgeous branches and sky by Fiberfryd
    gorgeous branches and sky by Fiberfryd
    leaves and branches against sky by julischkam
    beautiful leaves and branches against sky by julischkam

    “Here I tried the trees and leaves against the blue sky, red ground and the shimmering background. I think I lost this one…”

    – julischkam

    leaves and branches against the sky by julischkam, reflecting much of the subtlety in Ferg's original photo
    leaves and branches against the sky by julischkam, reflecting much of the subtlety in Ferg’s original photo

    “The branches took most of my time. I was not sure wether to use a regular, symmetric or asymmetric pattern or a more irregular pattern. I even considered to knit a section randomly. Finally I chose two asymmetric but regular patterns.”

    – sorosa

    lots of gorgeous leaves and branches by sorosa
    lots of gorgeous leaves and branches by sorosa

    Some conclusions;

    The crazy palette struck us all as being somewhat adventurous, but venturing from familiar palettes and comfort zones was useful for broadening knitterly horizons

    Everyone picked different details from the photos from which to work and then created small briefs for developing/finessing those ideas… whether it was coming up with the right curvy shape to suggest caterpillars, experimenting with the shading and motifs for suggesting branches against the night sky, or investigating how best to represent the dots on a caterpillar’s head…

    dots on the caterpillar's body by julischkam
    dots on the caterpillar’s body by julischkam
    "I loved the little dots and started them quite big." - julischkam
    “I loved the little dots and started them quite big.” – julischkam
    Irregular dots on the caterpillar's head, dots and greens on the branches on which the caterpillar crawls
    Irregular dots on the caterpillar’s head, dots and greens on the branches on which the caterpillar crawls

    Even when the same very specific obsession grips several knitters, the fact that we are usually using different yarns and that we see the world differently means that our results are never exactly the same…

    From top to bottom, Fiberfryd, julischkam and sorosa tackle curving caterpillar lines in related but different ways
    From top to bottom, Fiberfryd, julischkam and sorosa tackle curving caterpillar lines in related but different ways

    …but one thing that a few of us found is that when you are stuck, a vague or generalised pattern can enable you to simply explore the song of background and pattern colours against one another;

    “The dots where for me very catchy, little dots of bright colours against the more subtle colours (well, not too subtle the background I have to admit, this is what I need to learn)”

    – julischkam

    "At the end I tried to leave shape and play with the colours, no matter, if it is sky, plant or frangipani…" - julischkam
    “At the end I tried to leave shape and play with the colours, no matter, if it is sky, plant or frangipani…” – julischkam
    "I think that little lice patterns (evenly spaced dots) are incredibly useful for many, many things… they can really help with figuring out a shading sequence and are really flexible from a maths perspective, so could be applied to many garments…" - Felix (in Ravelry group)
    “I think that little lice patterns (evenly spaced dots) are incredibly useful for many, many things… they can really help with figuring out a shading sequence and are really flexible from a maths perspective, so could be applied to many garments…” – Felix (in Ravelry group)

    I hope you have enjoyed this collection of thoughts and images on collective swatching; thanks to everyone who participated and to those of you still knitting Frangipanis for this swatch-a-long! I think your swatches are AMAZING,

    YOURS IN FRANGIPANIS,
    Fx

    Posted in KNITSONIK PODCASTS | Leave a comment

    On swatching: redefining “useful”

    Thank you for all your comments on the last couple of posts on swatching, I have really enjoyed reading your thoughts and the diversity of opinions ON SWATCHING.

    Today I want to tell you the story of how the massive swatches which I use in my book and for my teaching came about.

    Behold the very first swatch produced in preparation for my Quotidian Colourwork workshop held in Shetland in 2013. (Keen-eyed spotters will notice that it is a precursor to the more fulsome Bricks swatch from my book.)

    BRICKS - KNITSONIK swatch #1
    BRICKS – KNITSONIK swatch #1

    You can see the swatch on the right hand side of the image; it is a perfect replica of its prefiguring and neatly coloured chart.

    Neat and tidy chart for KNITSONIK swatch #1
    Neat and tidy chart for KNITSONIK swatch #1

    I finished the swatch and I looked at the swatch and I found that I did not like the swatch.

    BAD SWATCH!
    BAD SWATCH!

    I was quite pleased with my colours and patterns and interested by how transferring my design from a paper drawing onto knitted fabric had transformed it.

    swatch and drawing
    swatch and drawing

    However this swatch did not seem to me to be a useful teaching tool to bring to Shetland for the purposes of teaching my class. All the interesting ideas I’d had about palettes, patterns, and shading had happened inside my head where nobody else could see them and were nowhere to be found in the swatch. I had, I realised, concealed my creative process because I was gripped with THE FEAR of turning up to Shetland Wool Week with ugly colourwork and patterns that would horrify the incredible Fair Isle Knitters of the islands. So I had done my BEST KNITTING in this swatch. But it was not my most useful knitting, and I felt that this sort of swatch would not encourage comrades coming to my class.

    In fact the more I looked at the little neat swatch with its fussy crochet-reinforced edges the more it reminded me of tightness and perfectionism – the enemies of all creative fun – and the more I wanted to make something that was its very opposite: loose and imperfect, revealing and celebrating creative knitterly process. A messy swatch both friendly and accessible and which – crucially – would yield really useful information afterwards if I wished to later transfer stranded colourwork motifs to garments. Because my other beef with this swatch was that it was like a little picture and didn’t suggest many ideas about how large and small patterns might be stacked or interspersed when arranged into the canvas of a garment, or how I might transition from one pattern to another. In defining what might constitute a more useful swatch, I thought about how I had made this first one, and about how I could change my approach in order to produce something more useful for teaching and learning. I also decided to confront THE FEAR and to shamelessly knit all kinds of things and bring all the results to Shetland EVEN IF THEY ALL TURNED OUT LOOKING HORRENDOUS.

    Step 1 in facing off THE FEAR: end the tiny precious pencil drawings that take nearly as long to make as the knitting

    expensive pencil drawings
    expensive pencil drawings

    I already mentioned that for my very first swatch I did lots of drawings prior to doing any actual knitting. I had spent £1.80 (almost the price of a ball of yarn) per pencil to get good quality pencils with which to try out different patterns and shading schemes because choosing from a large art range enabled me to select shades close to those with which I intended to knit. Even so, many of the shades performed differently in the context of the knitted fabric than they had in the pencil drawing, and I found that the temptation to fill every square in neatly and make perfect drawings was really stopping me from JUST GETTING ON WITH IT.

    Step 2 in facing off THE FEAR: make a swatching system which can fit around real life

    When I knitted my first swatch I spent many spare moments looking through photos of bricks stored on my phone. I looked and looked at the photos. I went out and looked at some of the bricks depicted in some of the photos. I tinkered with my pretty drawings.

    When I was 100% happy with my ideas, I sat down for a dedicated few hours with neat pencil drawings in hand and assorted yarn shades at my side. I created a swatch that was exactly the same as my finest drawings, crochet-reinforced the steek, cut it open and blocked it, and bish-bash-bosh: the job was done.

    I thought about how modular and luxurious each stage of this process had been, how unlikely it was that I might be able to take this sort of time over a second or third idea, and how it might all be streamlined.

    What if looking at the stored photos on my phone, drawing down ideas in my notebook and trying them immediately in a swatch could all happen more “on-the-go”? What if I spent all the pencil money on yarn instead, and used whatever bic biro or HB was in my bag? What if I made looser, messier, faster drawings that would enable me to knit more quickly and see how ideas looked IN KNITTING rather than IN MY HEAD?

    What about something more like this?

    A REALLY USEFUL SWATCH
    A REALLY USEFUL SWATCH

    Step 3 in facing off THE FEAR: take risks because… it’s only a swatch!

    I began to swatch in a more by-the-seat-of-my-pants way, and the more swatches I made in this manner, the looser and freer I became. I knitted swatches on the bus, at friends’ houses, here in the evenings in front of the television. Boxes with untidy balls and bits of yarn went around with me, and everywhere I was, folk would chip in with their opinions on what they liked and didn’t like in my swatching efforts. There was no designated special swatching time, the knitting just happened in and around everything else that was going on. I was, in short, JUST GETTING ON WITH IT. It’s nice to look back at the photos now of that swatching process, and quite life-affirming to think of how busy things were back then and how the swatches grew anyway – inch by inch, untidily, imperfectly – in my untidy, imperfect life.

    I remember how overwhelmed I was when I started trying to knit from the A4074. “You ridiculous woman” I thought to myself, “you cannot turn 24 miles of tarmac into stranded colourwork, what were you thinking?!” Publishing deadlines were happening, things needed to be progressing, there was much to do. And I drove to the road to calm myself down, to try and think about the problem in another way. I took loads of photos; I got excited about the tarmac; and I then covered our living room floor with my photos and matched them to balls of yarn. I made a huge, huge mess which had to be tidied away later so we could, ahem, use the room again. All the balls were stuffed into a bag which went everywhere with me and caused much amusement in the pub or anywhere it appeared.

    A4074 Creative Explosion
    A4074 Creative Explosion

    And when I made this chart in a rush of excitement about knitting chevrons, I felt I’d really moved on about a million miles from where I started with my fussy drawings which were all about looking pretty and impressing people. This was a working drawing, utterly lean and efficient in its workings, not designed to look good but to show me where each and every stitch in my knitting should go.

    I love this messy drawing.

    Working drawing
    Working drawing

    As I found time and time again, in actually knitting up this chart it became utterly different than it had originally been in my head and even on the chart on the page. Once repeated across the fabric, unantipicated shapes and rhythms began to appear. It didn’t look like chevrons anymore but a sort of bulky diamond.

    bulky diamond road?
    bulky diamond road?

    But in the safe and swift workspace of the swatch, the concept could be reworked until it looked a bit more like the road. And I remember a long train ride in which poor Mark was forced to look at many photos on my phone of a fruitcake baked the day before so I could observe its details for my knitting. “Oh cruel woman!” he exclaimed, “how can you make me look at all these pictures when there is no tasty slice to eat?” to which I replied a bit obliviously “but please observe the beauteous darkening effects of caramelisation… I must use this darker shade and this lighter one in order to replicate it in my knitting!!!”

    the much-matched fruitcake
    the much-matched fruitcake
    knitted fruitcake (but no actual fruitcake) on the train
    knitted fruitcake (but no actual fruitcake) on the train

    (Poor Mark.)

    All of which is to say that I cannot imagine a more useful space for creative discovery than the swatch. It is by its nature an experimental space, and its diminutive size means it can be stuffed into a bag with biros, notebook, pencils (even a slice of actual cake) and knitted feverishly upon at all opportunities without the need to once refer to stitch count or decrease rate or shaping. For me this narrows the focus down to the concerns at hand; colours, patterns, shading… in a way that is really enabling.

    I do like the suggestions that have appeared in the comments for my swatches to be used as table-runners or wall-hangings. However I feel that they are currently MOST useful being exactly what they are: swatches. If I sewed them together to make a big blanket, or used them as table runners, it would not be so convenient as it is currently to show them to comrades who come to my Quotidian Colourwork classes. I think of them as working knitterly documents, inspiration captured on the fly; I think of them as my liberation from the tyranny of THE FEAR and as a truly useful tool for JUST GETTING ON WITH IT.

    And there are few things more useful to me than things which help with that.

    Thanks again for your amazing comments; I will try and tackle the issue of cost/time that some of you have raised in coming days, I am really enjoying thinking about it.

    YOURS IN SWATCHING,
    Fx

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