Swatching rant

Okay, this isn’t directed at any one person or event. It’s just been an overwhelming amount of posts I’ve seen on various boards, email lists, communities, etc. And it’s finally hit the breaking point on me. So, to keep from saying something stupid on those boards and getting myself likely kicked off, I’m just going to post a blog about it. 🙂

I used to fear the swatch. I saw it as a waste of time, a waste of yarn, and a PIA. Granted, at the time, I was making afghans and swatches really aren’t important, right? Wrong. But I’ll get to that in a minute. I learned the hard way when I made a hat that would fit a baby doll that swatching might maybe be important.

Lately (in the past year) I’ve been a strong proponent of a swatch. Not just for checking gauge, although that’s the most important point of it. Anytime anyone in our crochet group would ask, “Will this yarn work for this project?” the first word out of my mouth was “Swatch”.

Almost a month ago I took a wonderful class with Lily Chin. Now, I had read her take on swatching in her book. And I agreed with it and was starting to go by it. So in her class she gave all the reasons for swatching. And the main mantra was:

DO UNTO THE SWATCH WHAT YOU WILL DO UNTO THE FINAL ITEM

What does this mean? Let me post some of the questions (paraphrased) and show what swatching will do to answer the question.

1. I washed this item and it fell apart/colors ran/it felted/etc! What do I do?

Well, nothing now. Had you made a swatch (not just a 1×1, I’m talking a nice 6×6 swatch) and washed it how you planned on washing the item, then you’d know that you can’t wash it on regular speed in hot water and dry it in the dryer.

2. I have this yarn and want to use it for this project but it’s not the yarn called for. Will it work?

SWATCH it! That’s how you determine if going up 3 hook sizes will make a difference. Sure, you can hit gauge that way, but is it now so open in the stitch pattern that your sweater is nearly see-through? Or did you have to go down 3 hook sizes and now it’s like wearing cardboard? Does the stitch pattern even show up in that yarn? Is it something you’d want to wear? SWATCH!!!!!!!!!

3. Will this yarn soften after I make a garment I want to wear next to my skin?

Make a swatch, wash it if you can, and spend the day with it pinned inside your shirt. You’ll know really quick if you can stand it or not.

4. Will this synthetic yarn block if I make a lacy design in it?

Swatch it and see. Spend the 15 minutes making a mini version and find out that no, it won’t block than spend 30 hours and find that out.

5. Do you think this stitch pattern will work with this yarn?

Swatch it and see. Some stitch patterns are what Lily called “trophy wives”: pretty to look at but a b*tch to live with. 🙂 Find out in a 6×6 swatch that you hate that stitch pattern than 2 weeks later and half way through the project.

6. Do these colors work / will they run / etc / etc?

Can you all answer this now? Swatch it, wash it, and see.

7. Will this afghan I’m making out of acrylic soften up?

Actually, yes. I’ve softened up acrylic by washing on GENTLE cycle in cold water with a smidge of detergent and a full load’s worth of softener. Also….you can steam block acrylic and it will totally change. Seriously, try it. Take the ickiest yarn you’ve got, make 2 swatches. Take one swatch and steam the daylights out of it under your iron (don’t touch the iron to it, just hover). You will be amazed. I was.

8. Do I have enough yarn to make this?

Swatch. Seriously. Do a swatch (you can pull it back out if you have to if you need the yarn) and measure it. Measure the area of the item you’re making (if its a garment, then measure each piece and figure the area and then add that up). Weigh your swatch. Now you have to do math. Let’s use an example to make this make sense. Your swatch is 1/10th the area of your final piece. Your swatch weighs 3g. You will need about 30g to make your final piece. Make sense? If not, well, I’m not sure how much I can help you. 🙂 It’s math and I’m still struggling with it.

9. How much will this piece felt?

For the love of all that’s yarny, SWATCH it and see! If it’s something that requires a specific amount of felting, you better be doing swatches and felting them. This is also where you can see if different colors felt at different rates or if the colors run. Better here than later when it’s done.

10. If I use this hook and this yarn can I size this project up or down?

SWATCH it. Again, this is how you can tell if it’ll be too open or too tight, if it will even work, and how difficult it’s going to be.

Now, I’m just as swamped on things as the next crocheter. But, I’d rather spend 20 minutes making a swatch to find out that my idea won’t work than to spend 3 weeks or more on a project and have it come out like crap. So please, help yourself and do a swatch. You’ll be amazed at how many questions you can answer yourself without having to frustrate others. 🙂