When and why to swatch?
I'm going to be honest. I hate swatching. When I'm making a shawl, I just make sure I like the density of the fabric and measure off the finished piece. However, when it comes to garments swatching is essential to making sure the garment fits properly when it is finished and blocked.
Swatching for shawls is useful to make sure that the design has the right density but usually it is ok to get the gauge close even if it is not perfect. For project that need to fit, that is not the case.
Why is the correct gauge important for fit? If you are not getting the same gauge your finished garment will be either too big or too small compared to the intended size. Here's an example: For a garment where the gauge should be 16 Tss and 16 rows per 4"/10cm, if your swatch is 18 Tss and 18 rows per 4"/10cm and you are making a size with a finished chest of 50"(125cm) the final chest size you would actually get is 45"(110cm). For that same sweater the armhole depth is supposed to be 10.5"(25cm) but would end up being 1"(2.5cm) smaller and likely fit a bit too snug in the arm. If you're making something that requires as much time and effort as a garment, spending a little time to gauge is well worth it.
How to swatch:
How to swatch is important. If you don't do it properly, you won't get an accurate measurement of your gauge.
1) A gauge swatch should be larger than what you will need to measure. If the pattern calls for a 4"/10cm swatch you should do enough stitches and rows to make at least a 5"/12.5cm swatch. You do not count your edge stitches when doing your measurement.
2) Use the stitch pattern described in the pattern. Different stitches have different characteristics (height, stretch) and that can affect your gauge.
3) Block before measuring. This part is especially crucial. You must block your swatch in a similar manner to how you will wash your garment so the measurements do not change the first time you wash it. Block your swatch and allow to completely dry before measuring. It is helpful to measure both before and after blocking so that while you're working your project, you can periodically check to make sure you are staying consistent. You can also use this to know roughly how much your item will grow when you're finished.
What if your gauge swatch is the wrong size?
1) Change the hook size. If you have too many stitches and rows in your swatch, go up a hook size. If you have too few, go down a hook size.
2) Change the yarn. Sometime the yarn just won't work. When you find the best hook size, the density of the fabric is too thick or to airy.
You may be tempted to just make a different size, but a well graded pattern does not grow all of the parts at the same rate. While there is 30"(75cm)+ difference between the smallest and largest finished chest size in adult women's patterns. The difference between the smallest and largest neck is only 7"(18cm). Going up or down one size is not a big deal, but going up or down several will result in a poorly fitting sweater.
The majority of my shawls are listed as adjustable. If you're not used to adjustable shawls this might raise a lot of questions:
What does that mean?
What instructions are included?
Am I going to have to wing it?
Can I really use any yarn?
I love a shawl that is easy to make with whatever yarn I want to use. I personally find it frustrating to have the perfect yarn but not the right amount. Like when I end up being 50 yards too short or having half a skein leftover at the end. So whenever possible I try to design my shawls so they are flexible and accomodate different yarn.
When a shawl is listed at adjustable it includes directions to make the shawl exactly as the shown sample but also to make it in whatever yarn you want. This can be different weight yarns but also different quantities. I like big shawls, but if you're a fan of small shawlettes you can still use the pattern. I prefer fingering weight yarn but you might prefer DK. The pattern still works for all these differences! So yes, you really can use any yarn you want!
Two types of adjustable shawls:
1) Repeat until you run out of yarn- This is pretty self explanatory. I also like this version a lot because it just makes it easy. A good example is the Cataline Shawl
2) The instructions have sections based on using a percentage of yarn: I swear the math is easy! To do this, you'll just need a scale that can measure grams of yarn. A kitchen scale works perfectly or you can purchase a cheap jeweler's scale like this one.
Here's an example: The Refraction shawl has two parts. The first section is worked until 80% of the yarn is used. When that occurs, there is a transition and then you work the second section until the shawl is finished. For the shawl, you need equal amounts of two colors. If each skein starts with 100 grams, you have 200 grams total. 200 grams times 0.8 (or 80/100) = 160 grams. So when the shawl weighs 160 grams (or you have 40 grams unused yarn) you move to the next section. Now if you decide you want a smaller shawl, you can start the second section earlier, but as long as you don't use more than 80% you will have enough yarn to finish!
I'm not one of those folks who enjoys writing. I'm an engineer in my day job so I'm more into playing with shapes and techniques. I expect the blog to be updated only sporadically when the mood strikes me. I do know there are a lot of misconceptions about what goes into designing so I wanted to share my process.
Step 1: Coming up with and planning a design. Planning usually starts with a sketch. After sketching comes the math and swatching. Making sure the shaping works and the proportions look good. The fabric has to have the right look- not too airy or too dense and the right combination of textures. If there are multiple colors, I need to figure out how and when to swap between them.
I spend a lot of time planning because I don't like frogging for something that could have been easily avoided with planning. That doesn't mean I don't frog, that still happens a lot. Often I will start writing up the instructions so I can be my own first beta tester. For a simple design, this process might be just a few hours. A complex design like a lace shawl or a garment takes a lot more time. A garment will also require careful grading so that the design looks the same across all sizes. (Side note- my garments are all size inclusive and grade to have the same ease across all sizes)
Step 2: Making the sample. This usually involves some trial and error. Even with planning and swatching, sometimes a design doesn't look quite right when full size so there is a fair amount of frogging. I'm also not the quickest crocheter. I do, however, need to enjoy the process of making so the design needs to be interesting to make (preferably with few ends to weave in and little or new sewing).
Step 3: Finishing the pattern, editing, and testing. After the sample is finished, the final draft of the pattern is written and edited. Next the pattern is tested. This requires finding testers, working closely with them to make sure the pattern is correct and easy to understand. Then incorporating their input into a final version of the pattern.
Step 4: Photographing the sample. Fortunately both my husband and I have always loved photography and have reasonably nice cameras. Learning how to best show off a pattern is still something we are working on improving.
Step 5: Creating web content and marketing. This includes adding pattern information and photos to websites (here, Ravelry, Payhip). Any tutorials needed for the pattern have to be created (videos, photos, and written explanations). And lastly all the marketing needs to be done which includes creating posts, advertisements, and a newsletter.
Bottom line: It is a lot of work and the pay is not all that much so I won't be quitting my day job. I do this because I enjoy the challenge and I hope you enjoy the patterns.
Thank you for your support, it is what keeps me making more.