Ode to the Swatch

Swatch (swäch) = a sample piece or a collection of samples. (M-W)
Currently on exhibition in my studio…

For many knitters, acquiring a deep affection for the act of swatching can take some time. While we intellectually understand that our efforts are less likely to be fraught with false starts and needle changes if we take the time to make a sample, it can sometimes seem as if the swatch is simply standing between us and the bliss of casting-on.  Never an absolutist, I always keep a place in my work for projects where the planning process never interrupts the creative flow. I love the indulgence of diving into a project head-first at 2am with an artist’s abandon.

However, when I am spinning for specific knitting or crochet projects, I always swatch first. As handspinners, we can tweak a yarn in innumerable ways—drafting method, amount of twist in single and ply, number of plies, etc. I also often find that only half the work of swatching is in the actual creation of the swatch.  When I am planning a large project, I keep my samples and swatches with me as I move through the world to see how the colors interact in different types of light. I can carry them in my purse and see how the yarn holds up to wear. I also often pin my swatches on my studio wall where I will pass them often. I almost always end up changing things a bit and reswatching. My work improves through the process.

Much of my current work is handspun color-stranded knitting. (Color-stranding is when more than one yarn is used to knit a row and yarns are used alternately to create a graphic pattern.) Swatching is a necessity, so I often make the swatch itself a project. Fingerless mitts are a great way to test a yarn and pattern combination. I published this fingerless mitts pattern in the spring 2013 issue of Spin-Off Magazine.

SpinOff Swatch Mitts image-001
Swatch Mitts from Spin-Off Magazine Spring 2013. Photo: Joe Coca. Swatch Mitts on Ravelry.

I often use this pattern in my spinning and knitting workshops. For the sample mitts shown in the magazine, I used five colors of 2-ply fingering weight Shetland yarn.


Color-stranded knitting motifs (graphic pattern) usually fall into one of three categories: strong horizontal movement, strong vertical movement, or strong diagonal movement (all-over pattern). I used all three in the Swatch Mitts pattern so one color sequence can be sampled in three types of motifs:

A color sequence in color stranded knitting will sometimes complement one type of motif while obscuring another. These mitts use a strong color change between brown and black. Color changes in stranded knitting are horizontal, along the knitted row. The horizontal motif in this pattern compliments the color change. The color change from brown to black does not complement the vertical and diagonal motifs as well. But, who is to say that a slightly obscured motif in a larger pattern isn’t what you want? Try it yourself and see what happens!


2 thoughts on “Ode to the Swatch

  1. I really enjoyed this informative post. I have dabbled in color work a bit and am currently knitting some practice mittens from Selbuvotter. 🙂 Being a visual learner I often find myself wishing to see the back side of a stranded project to understand the wrapping process. I currently create a wrap after each color change and every fifth stitch of the same color if not changing right away.

    1. Hi Lou! I love Selbuvotter. Let me know when I will see you next and I’ll bring some of my stranded mittens. We can turn them inside out and have a look together.
      Cheers, Kate.

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