Friday, May 18, 2007

Swatching, a Cautionary Tale

While I was taking pictures and uploading and making notes, I decided to take a photograph that vividly demonstrates the importance of washing one's swatches.

Brigid back and swatch

In the picture, the smaller piece is the aforementioned swatch, laid on top of the in-progress back of the sweater. As you can see, there's a dramatic difference between the washed swatch and the unwashed sweater piece, to the tune of 3 1/2 inches extra width. (Don't worry, I knew this before I cast on the sweater, and the in-progress piece will be the correct size post-blocking. I hope.)

Now, I will admit that I'm not the world's most diligent swatcher. There are, really, only so many times that one can swatch the same yarn on the same needles and come up with the same result before giving up swatching every single time. I'll also admit that I'm fairly lax about washing and blocking my swatches. If it's a yarn I've used before, a stitch I've used before, and a project where the fit is negotiable, I don't always wash and block. At least, I didn't used to.

This time, however, I knew that the numerous cables would play merry hell with gauge, and I was also going to have to re-tool the pattern to make it fit me. Alice Starmore notoriously includes excess ease in her patterns, but even her generous largest size wasn't big enough for me. So, I knew I needed a big swatch, and I knew it would have to be an accurate one.

I turned, therefore, to some advice from Elizabeth Zimmermann, from Knitting Without Tears. In it, she suggests making a "swatch hat" for complex cabled patterns, especially if one is creating one's own pattern combination. The idea is to knit a swatch half the circumference of the sweater, which generally falls into the range of a typical hat circumference. Not only do you get a very accurate swatch out of it, you get a matching hat for your sweater. So, after making yarn calculations, I ordered quite a bit of excess yarn and included an allowance of one skein just for swatching.

As I was working on the swatch pictured above, I was thinking only in terms of figuring my gauge across all those cables. I hadn't really thought about washing and blocking the swatch yet. Then I saw a sweater that a lady had knitted based on a washed and blocked swatch. It fit her beautifully...until she washed and blocked the full sweater. She had swatched the cables and blocked them, but the ribbing bloomed hideously on the final blocking, and the sweater no longer fit. So, when I finished my swatch, I washed it and laid it flat to dry. I didn't stretch or pin it, just laid it out, let it dry, and then gave it a couple of days to relax back into whatever shape it wanted.

It wanted, apparently, to be 3 1/2 inches wider.

I like a lot of ease in my clothes. But no so much that 7 extra inches, added on top of the generous ease I was already planning, would have made the finished product look like anything other than an intricately cabled tent. I dodged the bullet mostly by accident, and I'm just grateful that I decided to be diligent.



Blogger Jen said...

That is the most beautiful swatch I have ever seen. :) You get the prize.

So, the top one is the swatch, and the bottom one is the new & improved minus extra ease piece? Or have I got it backwards?

9:59 AM  
Blogger Cathelou said...

Hi, it's your non-knitting sister here to say that my niece is a culinary GENIUS. She is going on the blog as soon as I get time to write in it.

BTW I have an interview on Friday at Duke and I'm sorry to tell you in a blog comment but I will call you later.

I like the sweater too.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Jinjifore said...

Sorry for taking so long to reply, Jen.

Yep, the top is the swatch, which I actually knitted, washed, and blocked before I started the bottom part. Thank goodness.

6:04 PM  

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