There are a lot of great reasons to knit a swatch, gauge being just the most obvious one. But it’s how you can see if you like how a colorway knits up (which can be very different from how it looks in the skein); whether the yarn is well-suited for the stitch pattern involved; whether colors go together, if you’re using more than one. As a fiber mind-meld. Lots and lots of reasons. For me, one of the most important is to see if I even like the fabric (and want a whole garment in it) and also how it will wear. We talked recently about pilling, and a lot of you wanted to know how you can know in advance whether a yarn will pill. It’s a sooooper complicated subject — it has to do with the characteristics of the breed/fiber, how it’s shorn, how it’s spun and plied, how it’s being knitted. But basically you should assume yarn will pill! The question is how much, and what’s your tolerance for it. Plus there’s the matter of what kind of wear the garment or accessory will get. Is it a sweater you intend to wear often and with a backpack or cross-body bag, or one you’re making for the occasional dress-up event? Will your hat get treated with kid gloves, or shoved in your pocket and purse and glove compartment? In my opinion, not only do you need to wash your swatch the same way you intend to wash your garment, but you should also put it through a little bit of abuse. Sleep with it under your pillow, carry it around in your pocket or purse. Shove it in the glove compartment! See how that baby holds up, and whether your enthusiasm for it grows or wanes.
(For advice on how to knit and measure a gauge swatch, click here. Yarns pictured are Camellia Fiber Company Patrick for something I can’t talk about yet, and Clever Camel for my upcoming Channel Cardigan. Pouch and safety pin/keychain from Fringe Supply Co.)
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Karen, love the second swatch! What is the yarn? Know I have seen it before but can’t remember where. Also my biggest problem is with children’s knits. They get so much wear. They look like a rag in a few months. Any yarn suggestions! Thanks, love your blog and produces.
I added yarn credits above — thanks for the nudge.
Would also like to know what the first swatch is . Love it!
This is a great tip, Karen. I recently knit a linen top and treated it with kid gloves before realizing that it actually liked to be thrown in the washer and dryer! Fancy that! I would have saved myself some time had I put the swatch through the wringer. And I’ve frequently had the opposite result: some beautiful yarns will pill if you look at them funny.
Oh yes! Linen isn’t the most joyous thing to knit with but it totally pays off on the laundering end of the equation!
Glad you are pointing this out! The last sweater I knit (the Purl Soho sweatshirt sweater) I was so excited about the yarn and the swatch that my husband said the swatch made an appearance in one of his dreams ;) I think that is what you are implying with the top photo right?
I’ve been known to tuck them under my pillow or leave them on the bedside table just because I love them so much I don’t want to be apart! /dork
By dork you mean totally legit and necessary! It is all about the swatches and what is best for them, after all :)
Totally defensible due diligence.
You’re right. All yarns will pill…however so much can be done to manage. HAND wash. Don’t throw it into the washer..the agitation and abrasion by other clothing will accelerate pilling.
Depends entirely on the yarn!
I’m working up two swatches right now, for my just finished tank top, for this very reason! I’m not sure how to care for the finished garment so I’ll machine wash and dry one swatch and handwash and air dry the second one. It’s a linen cotton viscose blend with loose spun slubs so I really have no idea how it will wash up.
Great suggestion! I’ve used swatches as coasters, or given them to the person I have made the item/garment for. Making something out of a tencel fiber that I think is going to wear poorly. :(
Speaking of, does anyone have suggestions for an aran/heavy worsted/worsted weight yarn that won’t pill toooooo much? Thanks for the help, you knitting geniuses! Xo.
I’ve heard that Peace Fleece doesn’t pill, but I don’t have personal experience yet.
I love the safety pin keychain!
Also: Wear it! Or, if you can’t (because it’s a swatch), stick under your bra strap or in your sleeve or whatever so you can get a sense of how it is really going to feel after more than just a cursory cheek-rub.
I love this thought, and I think it’s long past time we in the knitting community at large pay more attention to how our yarns hold up once they’re knitted. I’ve been thinking a lot about yarn durability the past few years, and doing some experiments. Even though I haven’t come up with a definitive test or how a test relates to wear in real life yet, I do think that by abusing your swatch you’ll get a rough idea. If you rub it up against another fabric and it starts to pill in the first few minutes it’s not a good sign!
You’re right that there are so so many factors, but I think it’s worth throwing out there that worsted spun pills less than woolen, and multi-ply pills less than single ply. I have felted softly spun thick singles yarn by literally just breathing on it and then rubbing. That’s not a quality I want in a sweater!
I too would love to see a list of any and all yarns that folks have knitted, worn a lot, and still love years or decades later! Comparing the properties of those could go a long way towards figuring some of this stuff out.
i read about this a while back somewhere. knit your swatch. don’t take gauge right away. carry it around for about a week. fondling it and taking it in and out of your bag etc. then measure your gauge for a more accurate reading. never thought about it from a “pilling or liking” perspective. but totally makes sense. :)
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Awesome advice, thanks for sharing! I’ve always heard the tuck it into your bra or pin it to you so see if its soft enough but never really considered that this would work for pilling.
Karen, does the gauge of Clever Camel correspond to the gauge of shelter for the Channel Cardigan?
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