On swatching, part 1

I get occasional questions about how I knit my stitch pattern swatches, and since I’ve finally settled down into something consistent, I thought I’d write up my full process.

The first thing to know is that there are actually several categories of swatches in the world. The swatches I’m going to write about in this post are not my rough draft design swatches (here’s an old, somewhat out of date post), where I figure out what the heck I’m doing, make changes as I go, and learn from a variety of mistakes. They are also not the kind of swatches that are used to help work out a full-size design. And they are definitely not gauge swatches.

These are finished objects, the swatches I knit to photograph for my stitch pattern posts. The example I’m using here is a traditional mesh patter, Star Rib Mesh. I found it in the first of Barbara Walker’s treasuries.

A small swatchlet, with regular eyelets around the edge to make it easier to block.

The most common thing I’m asked is what yarn I use. I sometimes switch things up, but it’s generally a wool/silk blend these days, preferably fairly smooth. I think the sheen of the silk helps show the stitch structure in photos. The current yarn is Jaggerspun Zephyr Wool-Silk. The grist I like to use for my swatches is about 5000 yards per pound. I’ll sometimes go a little thicker or a little thinner.

When I first started my blog I used leftover bits of this and that, and then some Harrisville yarn, but I decided that was a little too hairy for lace. I’m more comfortable having a good supply of the right yarn, so I buy whole skeins or cones. Searching for cones of yarn that people are actively looking to sell on Ravelry is great for my purposes. I buy light colors for the sake of my photography, and I don’t have to worry if it’s a discontinued yarn or color.

I use a US size 2 needle (2.75 mm). I’m a fairly tight knitter, so you might think I’d go up to size 4 or so, but I also like to knit my lace a little more densely than many people. I partly prefer it that way; I think it also helps keep my double yarnovers from getting too very large.

I usually cast on these days with a cable cast-on and bind off with Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-off. (Yes, really a cable cast-on.) Sometimes I use long-tail cast-on and sewn bind-offs.

These days I plan my stitch pattern swatches to make them as easy to block as possible. Each straight edge has a row or column of eyelets. I run metal double-pointed needles through these rows to help me stretch out the lace as part of my blocking process.

Before I knit my final swatch, I’ve determined whether either the top or the bottom of the stitch pattern makes a wavy line. (Sometimes it’s only one end!) When there’s points to be pinned out at the bottom, I cast on and dive right into lace. If there’s points to be pinned at the top, I bind off after the final right side row. Otherwise, I do a row of eyelets with a couple of plain rows between the eyelets and the main stitch pattern.

I’m having some minor technical problems because of getting a new computer, so I’ll share charts and written instructions for this next week.