This is a hijacking!
Everyone stay seated at your computers. Calm down, you over there in Oregon. It’s not what you think.
I, Presbytera, have hijacked the Yarn Harlot’s blog today for purely humanitarian reasons. As you know, our Stephanie has been carrying a weighty burden these many months, a burden made up of one extra-large Newfoundlander, three teenaged girls (enchanting, but teens nonetheless), a blog that must be fed regularly, a book deadline, a cat, an author tour, and – lest we forget – a grey handspun gansey.
It’s simply too much for one person, no matter how much she reminds us of a superhero. So here I am today, blogging for the first time ever, trying to help my friend.
Are you still here? Really? I’m flattered.
Other than being a “professional commenter” I do actually knit, so today I thought I’d share with you one of my guiding principles:
I don’t swatch.
I know. I know that it flies in the face of who-knows-how-many of years of knitting wisdom, and I know that many of you swear by swatches. (I also know what you’re thinking — but I do knit more than scarves. I knit sweaters and socks and hats and lace and everything.)
The main reason I don’t swatch is because I have never, ever, had a swatch that told me the truth about what I was making, how the yarn would behave, or what size I would end up with. It just never worked as promised for me. So eventually, I stopped. And I’m much happier for it. (I swear a lot less, too.) For your entertainment today, here are a few of the ways I get around the issue:
1. I always make toe-up socks. It’s nice to use up all the yarn for one thing, partly because I admire efficiency and partly because I’m cheap. In terms of swatching, though, it eliminates most of the guesswork. When starting a toe-up sock, I begin with an 8 stitch by 8 row square. This is where I decide if I like the fabric my chosen needle size is making and change if I feel like it. (You could call it swatching, technically, I guess, but that tiny square takes all of five minutes and doesn’t get washed or measured or anything.) When you start at the toe, you pick up around the square and increase until the sock fits comfortably around the toes of the intended recipient’s foot, right? Well, since I make socks only for immediate family members, the foot in question is usually available for quick measurements. So I cruise along until the foot hits the ankle, and try it on again for the flap length. Once that’s on track, I’m done – I just knit on up the leg until the yarn runs out. Often I’ll do a 4×4 rib on the top of the foot and around the leg, so there’s not even a question of when to begin the ribbing. The added stretchiness fine-tunes the fit, as well. I’m not entirely careless about the process, though. I do make a note of how many stitches I’ve got around the foot, so my second sock bears more than a passing resemblance to its mate. With brutally obvious dye repeats, I even go so far as to find the same starting point for the second sock. (Sometimes it actually works, too!)
2. I usually knit sweaters top down, in the round. As with socks, throwing 40 stitches on the needles for the neck and doing a few rounds lets me see if I like the fabric or not. The beauty of a top down sweater, for me, is that you’re making a giant spiral that has specific fit points: Does it fit the shoulders from the neck to the underarm? No? Knit a few more 1-increase/1-plain rounds. Have you spun off the first sleeve? Is it looking baggy? Throw in a few more decreases. Is it long enough? Go a bit further. Same with the other sleeve, and the same with the body. Want a little shaping? Decrease at the sides or evenly around the waist. Like a cropped look? You’re done. Pick a nice edging and cast off. This works for cardigans or even Fair Isle, if you keep the sides in plain stockinet.
3. Hats – top down, of course! A nice rib (plain, or mixed with whatever fancy stitch you like) stretches a ton and can accommodate most normally-sized heads.
4. Lace: Lace is a bit of a different story. I love knitting lace, but only for a few rows at a time in the quiet of an empty (or sleeping) household. I’m a pretty fickle knitter with several WIPs at a time, so a lace project always takes me forever to complete. Since in general I prefer interesting/variegated yarn knit in simple stitch patterns, lace for me is a real commitment. I don’t really swatch for lace, but I do spend some time thinking about needle size and yarn properties. I might try a row or two of the edging to see what I like. I usually make some type of lace scarf or stole as a thank-you gift for someone who has been exceptionally generous to our family. (I recently showed an elderly lady the lace scarf I was making for her, and apologized for it not being completed. Unfortunately, I had to stop where I was and scramble two days later to add the edging so the scarf could be part of the outfit for her funeral.)
What all this means, though, is that I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal. There are many, many reasons to swatch (see the appropriate chapters of Stephanie’s books) and I respect the information that a swatch can represent. I’m just too impatient and self-confident to worry about it. (In case you were wondering? It’s a potentially catastrophic combination in certain situations.)
Since I’m a visual/spatial person, the idea of “doing it until it looks right” is my general method for creative activities like knitting, cooking, and decorating. Modifying the directions is a given, which means being prepared for the consequences. Sometimes making it up as I go along works…
…and sometimes it doesn’t. (I don’t usually take pictures of the bizzare meals I’ve occasionally served my family, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)
So don’t rush out and dump your swatches. I would hate to be responsible for any tears or cursing taking place beyond my own living room!
But here’s the thing. We’re all knitting on our own, but at the same time we’re all knitting together. Our online knitting community is so amazing – there are a million ways of doing things, and if we wish, we can see and discuss each one. But at the end of the day, I’m still alone in my living room, knitting without swatching. Nobody is doing it wrong. Nobody has to change. Nobody judges. And the most brilliant thing of all? When my husband asked me, “Are Stephanie and Rachel and Rams real friends, or internet friends?” I could answer truthfully,
“They’re REAL friends.”