Monday, September 15, 2008


if you put it out into the universe it will come to you? well, that's the saying that comes to mind after finally being able to buy the yarn i wanted for the gigi pattern from knitty!!! i had been fawning over Gigi *a kimono cardi* since the summer issue of knitty hit the web, but i knew we didn't have the money to buy the yarn.... especially when i researched the yarn used in the pattern. it's a handpainted merino/tencel blend called radiance from yarnbotanika priced at $23 a skein..... and i would need 4 skeins for my size!!!! it's a really nice yarn, just not in my price range at all!!

after doing some research for "budget or discount" yarn companies, i found elann. like knitpicks, they carry lines of yarns that are produced exclusively for them, which enables them to offer such great prices. their website has a really usefull tool that allows you to search their yarns by fiber content, season, weight, etc. so in less than five minutes i had a list of yarns to choose from that were suitable for my project - without having to sift through everything. i was having a hard time deciding between the price of their cotton yarn or the luxury of the *slightly more expensive* bamboo yarn, but after checking the color card, i fell in love with the "oriental teal" color. and at less than fifty cents extra, the bamboo is worth it. plus, i've been dieing for some bamboo knit wear!

and so, swatching has begun. the yarn is a bit fiddly, but not unmanageable. it has a major problem with splitting- if you're not looking when you insert your needle into the stitch, you'll totally split it. and splitting the yarn makes the new stitch not want to be removed from the needle, so i'll be yanking at it, trying to get it off the needle, which distorts the surrounding stitches. it can turn into a mess if you don't watch it. a wool yarn would definately beat bamboo in the ease-of-use department. but no matter how many times you hear about bamboo yarn reacting differently than other fibers, learning how to deal with those effects is best done by experiencing it *and figuring it out* for yourself. oh, yeah.... did i mention this is my absolute first time knitting with bamboo yarn AND this will be my first knitted garment? since the yarn i bought is different than the one used in the pattern, i'll have to be pretty thorough in my swatching.

swatching and blocking technical support: where i explain a little bit about swatching for THIS yarn and how i block swatches

i absolutely believe in swatching in large projects- in smaller projects where gauge doesn't really matter, or the article can be knit in ANY gauge, i don't bother. but for something that you want to look nice, and have around for twenty years, i want to know how the resulting fabric is going to look, behave and especially wear over time.

the first step, of course, is the knitting. i usually start with the needle suggested on the ball band for the yarn i'm using, and then if i'm not getting the right gauge, i will switch needles accordingly. i think that knitting a swatch that is big enough to measure four inches of fabric is one of the most important steps of swatching. however, some people like to "speed up the process" by kniting a two inch swatch and multiplying that gauge by two, but i think that opens the door for more inconsistency. i want to be as precise as possible. if you're going to take the time to do it, you might as well do it right. i cast on as many stitches as i think i'll need for four inches of measurable fabric plus however many stitches i'll use as a border *i add 8 stitches- 4 on each side*. borders of non-curling stitch patterns help your swatch to lay flat while you're measuring it *which helps greatly when you're wrestling with a ruler and a swatch and counting... amd we all know how hard counting knit stitches can be!!!*

for a long time there was one thing that still had me confused about swatching- the blocking phase. to sufficiently know how your fabric and resulting garment are going to react when you wash them, there is *in my opinion* only one way to block: by simulated washing. what i mean by "simulated" is that i follow every step of the washing process, except i don't add soap. i read the washing instructions on the yarn's ball band and follow them to a T.

for example, my bamboo yarn says to hand wash in cold water and air dry flat. so for this yarn, i knit my swatch and soaked it in cold water *sans soap*- the amount of time i leave a swatch to soak varies by the fiber content of the yarn. the fabric needs to be completely wet throughout, with no dry spots left. some fibers may take a while to "wet". once my swatch was done soaking, i GENTLY take it out of the water and press the excess water out or roll it in a hand towel or rag *again, GENTLY* to get as much of the water out as possible so that the drying goes by faster. i then lay it out on a DRY hand towel and prepare to shape it. this is another step that i had been doing wrong since i began my *self taught* knitting career. most books instruct you to "pin to desired dimmensions or to pattern specifications". so if you're not following a pattern or the pattern you are following doesn't go into great detail about what the measurements of the individual pieces should be, then what?!?! so i usually just quessed about how to pin out my swatches- stretching, pulling and forcing them into shape..... and ultimately distorting them.

once i joined ravelry, i started a discussion about blocking handspun, in an effort to clear up some of my confusion. the advice and tips i got were varied and numerous. so, like most things in knitting, everyone has their own *very steadfast* opinion about how to do things the "right way" and you take everything you've ever heard, and try to make sense of it.

i personally like the technique that involves NO pulling or stretching of the fabric. instead, i lay my swatch out and try to make it as flat and neat as possible. i would describe it as more of a *finessing* of the fabric- i smooth out any lumps and bumps and try to make any wavy, distorted edges of my swatch even *which, admittedly, does involve the TINIEST amount of "pulling"- but done gently!!* and sometimes, if my vertical rows are wonky *which was quite a problem with the bamboo yarn* i may go UNDER the fabric to straighten it out.

in my opinion, blocking your swatch this way gives you the truest gauge. instead of pulling and pinning the swatch- making it bigger than you knitted it- you are merely flattening any bumps and wrinkles out that may have happened with all the handling that is involved in blocking soaking wet knitted fabric. from there, all that is left is to wait for your swatch to dry and measure your gauge!!

my last tip for swatching is to take notes on each swatch- any important yarn information, needle size, gauge, tension and basically any information that may be important to you in the future!! i keep a notebook that is reserved for keeping notes on my on-going knitting projects. it's much easier to have all of my notes in one place!

things i learned about this yarn from the swatching process:

having now done at least seven swatches with this yarn *because i still can't get pattern gauge!!* i now feel overly familiar with this yarn. here are a *few* of the things i learned about this yarn through the swatching process: the yarn looses twist when knit with a few times, bamboo "wets" faster than i imagined it would, if knit at a tight enough gauge the swatch still has fantastic drape without too much sag, the stitch definition of the yarn when wet is terrible and the stitches become sort of smooshed *which had me scared the first time i blocked it* but once dry everything returns to normal, the rows become very wonky once wet *where i learned to go underneath the fabric to fix that problem*, and that after all these washes, the yarn actually holds up pretty well *to my relief*!!

i think one of the worst knitting-related disaster scenarios is knitting the most beautiful garment you've ever seen, only to find out that later that the yarn shrinks, sags, bleeds, etc. terribly on the first wash! it really is amazing how much you can learn about your yarn before you even start knitting your garment, and for that alone, don't you think swatching is worth it???

what to do with all those swatches??? (yet another area where everyone has their own preference)

many people *especially serious knit-wear designers* like to keep EVERY swatch they've ever knit for future reference- and if you're a really serious knitter or use a specific yarn often, this would be really useful to you. personally, i'm a tight-budgeted knitter. although i do think it's important to buy more than enough yarn for a project, i'm not a knitter who buys an entire extra ball for swatching *no, i'm not making that up*. in fact, i'm so frugal that when i bind off my swatches, i DO NOT cut the yarn. instead, i leave the last stitch of my bind off row on the left needle and instead of tieing off the yarn as i usually would, i insert the right hand needle into the stitch, hold the swatch tightly just below the stitch and i pull up on the right needle- creating a big loop. then i take the yarn that is still attatched to the ball, slip it into the loop, and pull the loop tight- making a sort of slip knot. once the swatch has served it's purpose, i can pull out the loop, rip out the swatch and wind it back around the ball- freeing up the yarn so that i can knit with it instantly. in my opinion that saves alot of yarn *and money* and the trouble of having to store hundreds of swatches.

as soon as i can get the right gauge on this yarn i will be more than ready to get this project on the needles!! i've been as close as one stitch and 4 rows off!!! if i can't work this out soon, i think i'm going to have to rewrite the entire pattern for this yarn. and as horrible as that sounds, i've scanned though the pattern, and i don't think it will too extremely hard to rewrite it..... i hope.....

more detailed information on other swatching and blocking techniques:

great knitty article on swatching:

details about blocking *also includes blocking different fibers*:

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