Friday, January 21, 2005

Question From Reader: Importance of Swatches

"Okay, I'm confused on blocking! Is this, like, when instructions say to (after washing) "lay flat to dry"??? How big of a swatch do you recommend? Would one want to do this for every skein of yarn or just every type by manufacturer? Say I have 3 colors of Caron's Simply Soft, would I want swatches of each color even if the fiber content & ply are the same? I'm glad you talked about this Dee. Some of us don't think about this kind of thing and we take it for granted that colors won't run and pills won't form. Thank you!!! Sheila"

Fabulous questions, Sheila!! I'll try to answer them one by one.

1. Blocking: blocking is the method of dampening your work and "stretching it out" to take on it's final form. Let's say you're assembling an afghan, such as the one I have in the book,
Blue Ribbon Afghans from America's State Fairs. After you have all your ends securely tucked, you'll want to slightly dampen them, use rust proof pins and "stretch them out" to ensure they are all the same size prior to assembly. This will help you ensure that you're joining the squares properly, and that you have a nice uniform look. The article in the VOGUEknitting magazine I mentioned earlier today does such a great job discussing blocking that I recommend you get/read this issue even if you're not a knitter. (I'm still a very, very novice knitter, btw!).

2. Size of Swatches: I recommend a square of 6" by 6" -- which is about average of what most patterns recommend you make prior to working the actual project. Their goal in requesting you make a swatch is ensure your gauge is on track; there's nothing worse than spending hours & hours crocheting up a garment to find that it won't fit. That's why checking gauge is important. But it's also important to ensure that the fiber will hold up for what you intend to use it for. Will it pill? Will the colors run? Will it shrink? The only way to determine this economically is to abuse your swatches through various washing & drying methods.

3. Are swatches of same brand of various colors really needed: absolutely! You'll want to ensure that there is colorfastness -- nothing is worse than when a dye runs out. A great example is this is with one of the ladies I enjoy crocheting with; Ruth. Ruth worked on some charity items and noticed that her wooden crochet hook turned from a cream color to a green color from the dye of the yarn she was working with.

    So what about in the wash?  In the VOGUEknitting magazine article I've been referencing to, they recommend adding vinegar to the wash cycle to help set the dye, but there's something else that few publications will tell you. If you're mixing your yarns -- even if it's the same brand, and line, the darker the color the more dye it has. AND the more dye it has, the THICKER and HEAVIER the fiber will be. This might throw your gauge off as you do your color changes, so again, it's good to work up a swatch in each color you intend to use to ensure you'll have no problems.  Then you'll want to abuse the dickens out of your swatches.  Again, I want to mention that I recommend that you make TWO identical swatches ... one for control, and one to abuse.  You'll quickly learn if it's a fiber you really want to invest your time, money and energy in.

Finally, I want to (slip in a tune by the Righteous Brothers) and mention that when we work up swatches we can also quickly determine if the fiber has that "loving feeling."  I'm sure you know what I'm talking about ... that feeling that just feels good as the tension yarn slips through our fingers as each stitch is created, or that feeling when we rub our hands across the fabric we're creating stitch by stitch.  This is the feeling that causes many of us to become fiberholics.

As you're working up your swatches and you discover that "there's no tenderness like before in your fingertips," that your fiber has "lost that lovin' feeling, Whoa, that lovin' feeling," and there's a good possibility "it makes [you] just feel like crying, (baby). 'Cause baby, something in you is dying," then you won't love the project either. You'll be too busy cursing your fiber selection and singing the chorus:
                 Bring back that lovin' feeling,
                   Whoa, that lovin' feeling
                Bring back that lovin' feeling,
               'Cause it's gone...gone...gone,
                      and I can't go on,

Yep, Sheila, swatches are worth investing the time in. And apparently, in my case, so are singing lessons. J


Anonymous said...

We will have to take up a collection to get you some money for singing lessons. I guess you are feeling better your humor has returned. Ruth

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the 'loving feeling' being important to a project.  I'm currently working 2 strands with a 100% polyester yarn that feels like its giving me rope burns as I work with it.  Certainly not something I'd use for a wearable, but this is for a wall hanging. I can do a little, then have to stop and rest my aching hands.