On swatching: have your say!


At Woolfest the weekend before last I found myself feeling profoundly grateful to my swatches.

For those of you unsure of what I’m on about, I mean the fringed, knitted rectangles that I produced in the course of writing the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. Each one is a kind of case-study for The KNITSONIK System in action – a test piece of knitting exploring a design palette, patterns and shading based on a different everyday inspiration.

My swatches work super hard whenever I make a public appearance. They are handled and pored over and examined and admired and touched by everyone with an interest, and comrades who backed the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook often remark that they are excited to see them “in the flesh”.

I am really proud of them.

I am not proud because I think they are amazing examples of knitting, but because they are so, so useful. I would go as far as to say that they are the most useful things I have ever knitted. For there is nothing more practical than one of my swatches when I am trying to explain how patterns for stranded colourwork might be found in the everyday world. When someone asks about this process, I simply pull a swatch out of the pile and explain each section – where I began, where I ended, what worked and what didn’t, and the learning achieved along the way. We often talk about which bits people like and don’t like, and sometimes I even get advice on improving sections which I was unable to resolve by myself.

Swatches from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook
Swatches from the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

In workshops my swatches are invaluable for showing different ways of tackling problems when trying to translate a sunset or a holiday photo into stranded colourwork. And in including them in my book, I aimed to demystify what it means to graft away at an idea and to make the process of trial and error accessible to all. Each swatch is shown with text boxes explaining what worked well and what did not work well; the mistakes are shared for all to see, both in the book, and in my actual swatches. With my book, I wanted to pass on everything wondrous that I discovered through my own swatching process, and share my blueprint with you.

This was one of the swatches in which I encountered many frustrations - especially around the use of green and blue together!
Here is a spread from my book showing one of the swatches in which I encountered many frustrations – especially around the use of green and blue together

It is a testimony to the quality of Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight yarn that in all their public appearances none of my swatches have frayed or pilled; they remain as good as the day they came off the blocking board.

I am clearly a huge fan of SWATCHING!

Some of my KNITSONIK swatches, from left to right The A4074 Road; Sloes; Fruitcake
Some of my KNITSONIK swatches

…but lately I keep being asked related questions about my swatches:

“What do you do with the swatches once you have made them?”
“Have you thought about making garments that incorporate ideas from your swatches?”
“Are there any proper garment patterns in your book or is it all just swatches?”

…and comrades in the KNITSONIK Ravelry group have made some really thoughtful comments about swatching:

“I’m too impatient and thrifty to just make a swatch”
“Perfectionism was the biggest factor stopping me starting my swatch and continuing with it”

These interactions have made me think hard about swatching and when I started to write about it, my post quickly ran into hundreds of words.

There is clearly much to say! For some people swatching to find colourwork patterns is a costly and extravagant use of yarn and time; for some, swatching has no point without an end garment in mind. For others, the barriers to swatching are psychological; the concept of making something that doesn’t look very pretty or keeping mistakes in is an affront to knitterly pride. And then for folks like me, swatching is the palace of dreams in which all fun can be found.

I think there are some interesting ideas to tease out here concerning knitting’s relationship to art; about form and function; about the concept of “what is useful” and about the creative purpose (and point) of swatching. Rather than dive into a massive post with ALL THESE IDEAS, I’m commencing a series ON SWATCHING.

I would really love to hear your thoughts and comments so that I can address them in this series. Have you ever knitted or would you ever consider knitting a glorious colourwork swatch to discover your own patterns and shading schemes? Do you think swatching is a mahusive waste of time/extravagance? What are your thoughts on keeping mistakes IN your swatches to which you might later refer? Do you like to finish your swatches so that they are all lovely and neat when they are done, or are they purely a functional exercise to be ripped out as soon as they are complete? I want to know what you think!


The fruitcake swatch - the biggest one in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook
The fruitcake swatch – the biggest one in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook
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