Pro-tip Tuesday: Another Reason to Swatch

I am so on my soapbox about swatching. It not only crucial for ensuring your projects fit. It is also a truly knitterly thing to do. It allows you to get to know your yarn, your gauge and the type of needle you want to use. Finally, you can use a gauge swatch to estimate the yarn requirements of your project.

First knit your swatch and measure it. In addition to gauge, you will want to calculate the area of your swatch. For those of you who haven’t studied geometry lately, it is length x width = area (in square inches in this case). Then weight your swatch on an accurate digital scale, such as the type bakers use. When you know how much the swatch weighs, you can calculate how much yardage you have used, based upon the weight of the swatch. If the skein of yarn weighs 50 grams and it has 87 yards, a 4 gram swatch uses 7 yards of yarn.

How did I come up with this number? I like to say that knitting requires a great deal of lower mathematics – algebra, geometry and the occasional dash of trigonometry may be called on to help you complete your project

In this instance, I figured out that:

 4/50 = x/100, or 8%.

Then I multiplied 87 yards by .08 (8%) and got 6.96, rounded up to 7 yards. Ok, so what? Well, our mythical swatch also had an area of 6 x 6 inches or 36 square inches. So, 36 sq. in. of knitting uses 7 yards of yarn and 5 sq. in. uses 1 yard. If I were planning a 60 inch x 60 inch blanket, (3600 sq. in.) I would divide 3600 by 5, getting 720. Therefore, my blanket would require approximately 720 yards of yarn.

I would go ahead and buy at least 800 yards in order to ensure that I have enough of a matching dye lot to complete my project (and that is a sermon for another day).

Measure Twice, Knit Once

A mistake that took months to make

A mistake that took months to make

Knitters, this means you

CAUTION: Tiny little rant ahead. The forgiving nature of yarn and the use of blocking has given many knitters and crocheters the mistaken view that creating a gauge swatch is unnecessary. While I am at least as impulsive as the next guy (as long as he or she is a knitter), I rarely if ever attempt a project without first creating a gauge swatch.

Project planning and "rehearsal" is practiced by all types of artisans, whether they're painters creating "cartoons" before touching paint to precious and costly canvases, jewelry makers who lay out their strands on a board before stringing their gemstones or couturiers who build an entire dress out of muslin before cutting their silks.

Knitters and crocheters should treat our process and our materials with such respect. I find the process of swatching meditative and creative. This is no box to check by rote, but rather an essential element of the creative process.

The final product

The final product

My favorite description of swatching is finding out what the yarn wants to be. And this is a step no yarn crafter who wishes to raise their game should skip -- and I've learned this the hard way.  Exhibit A at right is a sweater I knit completely -- front, back and arms -- before deciding that the yarn was completely unsuited to the pattern. 

It took more than a year for me to find the courage to rip out more than $50 worth of yarn and try to re-think the project. Imagine if I had swatched carefully -- 'nuf said.

7 Reasons You Should Learn Knitting Now

“Oh, I’d love to learn someday.”

People say this to me all the time when they see me knitting. But you know what life is. Someday often never comes. The summer is actually the perfect time to learn to knit. Vacation travel offers great downtime that can be enlivened by a portable project. Knitting can alleviate the boredom and frustration of weekend traffic and long airport waits. Plus, the following 7 benefits.

  1. Experience the joy of creation. The 21st century “knowledge worker” can spend weeks or months expending their energy and creativity on projects that never reach fruition or, even if they do, are highly intangible. Making stuff is a powerful antidote to the resulting feeling of emptiness.
  2. Express yourself. Madonna said it. But really, why wear mass produced clothes in colors and styles dictated by the fashion industry. You do you.
  3.  Calm the f*ck down. The repetitive motion of knitting has been scientifically demonstrated to induce relaxation by slowing the breath and the heartbeat, thereby reducing blood pressure and the production of stress hormones.
  4. Knitting lessons in June = gifts in December. Handmade gifts are meaningful and unique, provided, of course, that you actually master a skill before attempting to make gifts. No one wants that first uneven scarf or pot-holder, not even your mom, whatever she may say to you.
  5. Keep your mind sharp by learning new things. As we age, most of us are drawn more and more to doing only things we are good at. It is mentally and spiritually healthy to be a beginner again. Further, you can actually form new pathways in your brain by learning something new. And learning knitting lets you wind up with new clothes – a win-win.
  6. Be productive while you binge-watch Netflix. Admit it. We all do it. Alleviate the guilt by making stuff. Even a beginning knitter can do simple projects while glued to “Game of Thrones.” Plus, there’s knit inspiration to be had on TV.
  7. Join the artisanal movementAll the cool kids are brewing kombucha and beer, growing their own pickles and fabricating their own computers. Don’t be left out.