Been trying my hand at knitting and crocheting lately. (Pin loom weaving is kind of on hold, though technically I’m working on making a Lego movie Emmet for my young neighbor…) I’m also doing a lot of rigid heddle weaving. I like to have something for my hands to do while my ears listen to books. (In the past few weeks my husband has read A Town Like Alice, Moby-Dick, and Adrift to me. We’re about halfway through Little Britches now.)
Probably to no one’s surprise, the thing I like best about knitting and crochet is trying out new pattern stitches. (Beginning to wonder if this isn’t just pin loom weaving in disguise.)
It goes against my thrifty side’s grain to sample, or swatch. Every scrap of yarn should be used. The fact that sampling ultimately saves time, heartache, and frustration somehow doesn’t convince my inner hoarder. Nevertheless, I’ve pressed on. And I’m glad I have.
REASONS TO SAMPLE
- You get to practice the stitches and get familiar with the changes in each row—and make all the mistakes you hope to avoid in the final version. Is it a stitch you want to spend many, many hours repeating? (I’ve rejected quite a few already.)
- You get to see if the instruction writers included stabilizing stitches on the edges in the pattern instructions. (On both the pink and the teal samples, above and below, I found out the instructions didn’t include stabilizing stitches on one side of the piece. One side of the piece is stretchier than the other and looks incomplete.)
- You get to test out needle/yarn size compatibility. (This is a must for garments where size is critical. I’m abysmal at matching gauge, so I’ve given up trying. I make scarves and wraps where gauge doesn’t matter. Thus my projects are more relaxing and enjoyable to work on.)
- You get to test out whether or not you like working with the yarn. (I’m learning that inexpensive yarn is probably not where I want to invest my time when it comes to pattern stitch knitting. I can whip out a rigid heddle project in a few days, so I use a lot of acrylic [usually variegated] yarn on it, but I’m leaning toward cotton, or a cotton/faux silk blend, to get the knitting stitch definition I want. If I’m going to be concentrating on a pattern stitch, and spending weeks working on a shawl, I want it look worth it in the end.)
- If you’re planning to use multiple colors and yarn types, e.g. in a rigid heddle project, you can test their shrinkage compatibility. (See photos featuring pinkish yarn below.)
- You get to see how the pattern will look after blocking. This may help you decide whether or not you want to pursue a project with a time-intensive pattern stitch.
In order for some of this info to be useful, it’s important to keep BEFORE and AFTER records.
- Write down the yarn and needle size you used (Aunt Lydia’s size 3: #6 needles; Sinfonia: uuuuuh, whoops! didn’t write it down; I’m going to guess size 8). When you’re crocheting, write down the hook size you’re currently using in your project in case you “borrow” it just to “try this one little thing” and then forget which one you were using.)
- Make notes about stitch peculiarities, e.g. I always like to note whether a stitch is slipped knit-wise or purl-wise (I usually have to look it up elsewhere in the book). Write down changes you may have made (seed st instead of garter on the borders), or glitches (“They left out the stabilizing stitches on one side of the pattern instructions!!!”).
- If you think of it (I rarely do), photo your samples before and after soaking them. Measure them or use a cutting mat background so you can see if they shrunk. (If you have a reliable copy machine you can make a xerographic copy of your swatch and compare the before and after sizes.) If you make two identical swatches you could wash one and not the other, then compare shrinkage (but unless you’re using a pin loom this might not the best way to spend your time).
At first it was quite frustrating for me to spend so much time sampling. I really wanted to plunge into a relaxing project and hope for the best. It’s been a few weeks and I haven’t started everything I’d like to. I had to slow down and learn a lot about knitting—stuff I wasn’t previously aware of (left- and right-leaning decreases, slipping knit-wise or purl-wise, most knitting isn’t reversible—and, like weaving, many pattern stitches consist of a row of complicated stitch manipulation followed by a “P” row [sometimes known as “plain weave” and sometimes as “purl”]; this is not unlike Life). But I’m making plans for something spectacular (don’t hold your breath; I knit VERY slowly) with “non-economy” yarn.
In the meantime, I have one knitting project underway and two crochet projects going (with less-expensive yarns). I’ve finished one RH project and have two others going. Plus, there’s always pin-loom-project-Emmet (not as much fun as I’d hoped he’d be; sigh). I’ve learned that swatching and blocking are totally worthwhile (AND necessary) activities, and even acrylic yarn responds to blocking.
I’m not as crazy about finishing projects as I probably ought to be. In fact, I wonder if I prefer learning-by-doing to producing something usable. I expect to keep learning to the very end.
And I hope when they carry me feet first out of this yarn museum in which I live, my gnarled old hands will be holding some kind of needlework implement and a ball of yarn will be unwinding as we go.
PS Here’s another reason for sampling.