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.

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