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.

    8 thoughts on “Money, Time and Swatching

    1. I’m one of the people getting quoted at the outset of this post:

      ҉ۢ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”

      Yup, all me.

      I did a workshop with Felix at Shetland Wool Week and am *thoroughly* converted. Not only do I now completely ‘get’ that the process of swatching unblocks getting started (“Just *knit*!”, she cried, as we all agonised over crosses on graph paper. “Knit away!”) And once you start the first one (which you *know* isn’t right, but you don’t at that point know how to change it to *get* it right) you see where it’s most not right and know what you’ll change in the next pattern you try.

      It took me 4 iterations to get my shape-and-colours how I liked them – and I cannot tell you how excited I was to have achieved a pattern and colour combination I really liked. What a buzz! And in the same way as I get joy every single day wearing my (very imperfect but very serviceable) first handspun hat, I just know that every stitch as I knit my own pattern will be a very special feeling.

      As to the cost… well, yes, I still have to buy a ball of all the colours I want to use. Good job you can weave with those yarns too 😉

    2. Looking at your swatches, with the fringed edges at top and bottom, gave me the idea of turning one long one or a couple short ones into a cowl. The fringed edges would be a brilliant design element in this application. Then your swatching time is also making time. The trick would be not to enter the swatching with a finished cowl project in mind as it might interfere with the experimentation.
      I’m still gathering materials for my swatching project. I have the place, palette and the pictures- I just need the yarn.
      I think you’re right that for those who may see swatching as a waste of time, the only fix is for those people to have a change of heart. Maybe playing with color and pattern in this way isn’t for everyone. I’m sure there are many people who want to purchase a pattern where all of those decisions have been made for them. For the rest of us though, your system is a gift. Thank you!

    3. It seems to me that the knitsonik system is a departure from the standard way we go about knitting. It is a different way of seeing the world and translating that works into knitting. The process, the seeing and the expressing is the point here. The swatch is the process, the seeing, the expressing. In this sense, time is a secondary consideration here.

    4. For me the solution is to make a little set of mitts or something. They don’t have to match. I use handspun, and there’s a limited amount of each color, and each color is sort of unique.

    5. What about fun??? It’s just plain FUN to make swatches and I’ve got time for a little fun every now and then. I view swatching as the fiber artists equivalent to doodling or sketching. Sometimes you just have to play and not worry so much about an end product. And it is extremely addictive—kind of like chocolate……

    6. The time issue for me personally is being over committed with other projects. Do funding the time to swatch had to compete with my sweater or shawl knitting, two or three spinning projects, music practice and the day job. I can add it to my queue but there is always one other project first. Not an excuse. I just have to find a way to prioritise differently. Unfortunately I can’t give up the day job!

    7. In my experience it’s the times when I haven’t swatched (either for gauge, colour, drape, or pattern) that have ended up costing me time and/or money!

    8. As a keen observer of knitters I think you all have a weird relationship with time. Knitting is of itself enormously time consuming. That’s a big reason why most people buy rather than make.

      Surely if time was the core issue you would all have knitting machines or use chunky yarn and fat needles? Or just knit other people’s patterns and not bother designing your own.

      Ah but then it’s not going to be what you want is it? Too many compromises in the name of haste.

      So suck it up. A few hours spent swatching is a bargain! You will wear your finished garment all the time. You will feel amazing in it, all the time. Peers will ask you where the pattern came from, and you can smile and say “oh it’s just something I knocked up”.

      “wow that’s amazing, it must have taken you ages!”

      “No, not really… ”


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