Elsewhere: The great swatch experiment

Elsewhere: The great swatch experiment

This week shook me up, friends — I’m having a whole lot of trouble wrapping my brain around what’s happening in this country right now. Under other circumstances, today I’d have a nice juicy pile of links for you, but my focus has been, uh, elsewhere. That said, though, I do have one bit of brilliance for you to explore. My friends over at Kelbourne Woolens have been doing something fascinating: The Great Swatch Experiment. It all started with a tweet, which led to a crazy idea:

What if we did an experiment? We could write up a quick “pattern” for a 4″ square stockinette stitch swatch, with a nice little garter border. Tell people what needle size to use, of course, but not tell them the gauge. We could send a skein of each of our yarns out to volunteer knitters to knit the swatches and mail them back to us. (They would keep the rest of the skein, of course). If we had three or four different swatches from three or four different knitters, all using the needle size we recommended, how different would the swatches be?

Which led to a whole lot of swatches (75 of them!) and a whoooole lot of number-crunching. Each yarn’s swatch instructions were based on a specific pattern — so the swatch dimensions could then be compared to the garment dimensions — and the results are dramatic. Take the Canopy Worsted example — and remember each knitter just cast on the designated number of stitches using the suggested needle size. If the knitter of the loosest swatch had cast on with the suggested needle and knitted and blocked the sweater, it would be 3.5″ too large. If the knitter of the tightest swatch did that, hers would be 8.5″ too small! Eight. And a half. Inches. But in addition to a lot of jaw-dropping case studies, the whole thing has afforded a chance to talk about all sorts of knitting and swatching issues and concerns. You can (and should!) check out the whole series on their blog. (Scroll to the bottom for the start.)

I hope we can all find some peace and understanding in the coming days. Please be kind to yourself and your neighbors this weekend and always—



Photos by Linette Kilenski/Kelbourne Woolens, used with permission

39 thoughts on “Elsewhere: The great swatch experiment

  1. That’s a brilliant project, thank you for sharing it. I’ve been mindlessly browsing for distractions and those posts are just the ticket.

    I am heartened by the kindness I’m seeing in the knitting community. I’m finding every expression of our common humanity very moving right now.

  2. It’s been a tough week. Knitting can relieve stress–if it becomes a meditative process. Imagine meditating on the great swatch. Each swatch individually represents diversity, one amongst many, and the collection represents the grand whole of humanity.

  3. Karen, I love your wonderful blog so much. You are an inspiration, and I look forward to reading your posts. I was taken aback this morning reading your comments regarding the recent election. You will survive. I’ve survived the past 8 years. Knitting transcends political ideologies, and liberals don’t have a corner on creativity. We do not all think alike! That’s what makes life interesting.

  4. I know knitters who think, if they get gauge with the recommended needle, they are better knitters than the others. Like it’s a test. I don’t understand it but i do know them. I rarely get gauge with the recommended needle. We have a great country and we are stronger together than apart. I will mourn but I refuse to think the sky is falling.

  5. I live in Canada and we have been watching….and yesterday, yet another loss, Leonard, gone. Sending you hugs! Blogs like yours are needed in these times.

    • Leonard has been feeding my (American) soul since the 70’s. And it will, long after the jejune message of DT has evaporated.

  6. Fascinating experiment. Do professional yarn companies try the pattern with several people before determining gauge and recommended needle size? I was struck by how few of the swatchers got gauge.

  7. Yes, its been a rough week. Thank you for just saying it! Knitting, spinning are sanity savers. On to… these swatches!! My mouth literally fell open. There is nothing like a visual to drive home how very differently we all knit (a metaphor?) Thank you for this fun project.

  8. Seems like a perfect post for this week. We can all get the same information and come to veeeeery different conclusions. We will now see how this new American sweater turns out.

  9. I haven’t been able to knit a stitch since Tuesday. I’m hoping I’ll have the heart to get back to it, although now there is LOTS of non-knitting-friendly work to do. Courage! And thank you for some lovely photos to help us remember there is objective and tangible beauty in the world.

  10. Thank you for sharing this swatch experiment. I’m terrible at remembering to swatch. And when I do, I’m not always confident that I can keep my tension consistent for a larger garment. I look forward to reading the whole series.

  11. Though the KW Swatch Experiment: Knitting Tight vs. Knitting Loose is very interesting, it is NO SURPRISE AT ALL to me. I doubt I ever made gauge on anything I ever attempted knitting from a pattern. I have knit MILES of yarn in that failed attempt!

    Knitting ‘close’ (not tight) is my preference as I dislike loose stitches on anything other than summer wear. Most of the things I knit are intended for the colder months, so that means sweaters, cardigans, capes, shawls, hats and the like.

    It is very rare that I knit from someone else’s patterns. And generally speaking if I do, it’s because I LOVE the design. Right now I am ready to cast on for a top-down round yoke cardigan. However, since I want the fabric to be worked ‘close’, I have had to rewrite the pattern to meet the FINISHED measurements. You can just imagine the fun I have had working out the changes to all the increase rows. Thank God for Excel! Without it I would not be able to make all those calculations and changes in an hour or two. Two hours for the additions I made and ‘proving’ those changes… like handy dandy pockets because I do not carry a purse, and a shawl collar to keep my neck warm.

    Between swatching and recalculating the pattern, I have kept my attention away from the insanity going on in the aftermath of the election. I am UNABLE to listen to or watch the Left’s reactions. I find it extremely self-centered, immature, and frankly… embarrassing that some people would say and do some of the things my husband insists I listen to or watch. If my family acted in this manner, I would be horrified that they did not have enough dignity to keep their responses to themselves. The final straw from my husband this morning was to watch a 30-something woman in public, naked from the waist down, defecating on what I presumed was a Trump sign, then bare handed… rubbing the defecation over the whole sign. Want to talk about completely gross and hideously appalling?!?!?

    For those who have an adverse reaction to the election, you have my understanding.

    As for me, I am keeping my feelings to myself… and KNITTING.

    • Hi MJ,

      I just wanted to reply to your comment. Of course, many people who read and comment on this blog are disappointed by the results of the election. I am one such person. Oddly enough, I am comforted that there are people out there who feel differently. It is good to be reminded that this election is, after all, a reflection of our collective will. I also understand how offensive and upsetting it must be to see reports of some of the extreme negative reactions going on. I feel like I want to mention that the opposite kinds of extreme behavior are also happening and much of the fear and grief expressed here on this blog are a response to acts of: racist graffiti on elementary school buildings (Oakland and Berkeley), students counter-protesting wearing blackface and shouting racist slogans (Eugene, Oregon:http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2016/11/uo_student_sees_3_people_weari.html This particular event was witnessed by a friend who is an international student. When people were shouting about deporting people he had a panic attack), a Saudi student was beaten to death in Wisconsin (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/11/01/saudi-student-assaulted-wisconsin-dies-his-injuries/93101338/), and on and on.

      Defecating on a picture of Trump is not just disgusting, but hurtful.

      I understand absolutely that 99% of people who voted for Trump didn’t do so because they support racism and intolerance. At the same time, please understand that most of us who feel bad about this election are not out there, pooping in public or whatever. I’m sure you can also agree that threats of violence against people based on race, national origin, religion and sexual orientation are not just disgusting, not just hurtful but terrifying. These incidences are incredibly rare–but they are happening and they cause incredible alarm because we see them everywhere on social media.

      Nobody knows what the future will bring. But it is useful to remember that whatever it brings, it will be brought to all of us. Trump supporters’ gain should not be other people’s loss. We are all members of this nation, lucky to live in a country where we have some level of input in how the system of governance works. With that privilege comes great responsibility–and also the burden of having to learn how to work together because that is what we must do: to move forward as a nation, we must learn how to compromise and listen and cooperate. Part of this burden is learning to accept that people whose views we disagree with also get to run the show from time to time. We need to accept it when this happens.

      I hope this election proves to be a tipping point that helps us move past the polarizing politics of our current situation, so that we can move toward a government that encompasses the best of both “left” and “right”.

      • Well said, Zindaginha.

        Incredibly sad as well, are the stories of increased bullying and harassment in schools since the Trump victory. From college level to as young as third grade, teachers are reporting that minorities are being targeted with hate rhetoric, swastikas, students yelling “white power”, “build that wall”, etc.. Tragic, but not surprising considering we have a Pres-elect who himself engages in endless bullying, and whom is endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

        Story can be found at CBS News, under “Post-Trump Bullying, Harassment Reported in Schools”.

    • As horrified as you might be if your “family acted in this manner” there are millions of Americans horrified at the consistent, and recorded behavior of the man who will occupy our White House. At this point, over a million more Americans voted for Clinton than Trump. That number is expected to grow much larger. This means she won the popular vote by a very large margin. This is important to remember. And we do need to change the voting system.

  12. MJ, the SKEINdinavian, you’re not really keeping your feelings to yourself. As far as gross and appalling, I’d include in that category: suggesting Muslims should be deported; suggesting that Mexican immigrants are in general drug dealers or rapists; being caught on tape using the phrase “grab them by the p*$$#”; failing to denounce openly anti-Semitic and white supremacist followers; climate change denial. I’ll stop there. Sorry you were troubled by the protestor’s poop, but come on.

  13. Karen, thanks as always for your beautiful blog. And thanks for not NOT mentioning the election in some capacity. Although I have not agreed with the opinions of everyone in the knitting community, I have been very grateful to see the election acknowledged by almost everyone. It matters so much to me that this group of people (mostly women) I admire so much has felt the impact of this momentous change as much as I do, whatever their specific reactions might be. Myself, I am grieving, protesting, thinking about what to do next, and knitting for comfort when I can.

  14. This is a great article about swatching – thanks! One other factor that can affect gauge is what material your needles are made from. I first read that somewhere a couple of years ago, and it just sounded silly. Until I tried it, that is. Between shiny chrome needles and wood? What a difference – for me, at least. It seems to me that because wood needles will “grab” the yarn more (which is why I use them for slick fibers or very fine yarn) they produce fewer stitches per inch. Check it out – it may not make a difference for you, but it does for me!

    • Yeah, definitely — most people knit more tightly on bamboo than metal, with slicker woods in between. That’s why it’s important if you’re using a combination of needles in one project (i.e. a circular then switching to DPNs) that they be either the same or as similar as possible.

  15. This makes me want to just knit swatches and line my walls with them. There’s something really beautiful about the square of knit fabric pinned on a white surface…

  16. I feel your pain for the event results of this week. Time for some comfort knitting and reflection….then action!

  17. In the yellow numbered swatches, #1 and #6 have the same number of rows???? Really??!! Wow – so much incomprehensibility lately . . .

    • They don’t have the same number of rows, they discuss it in the blog post. I was bewildered too before reading the post. So at least one thing is comprehensible today :)

  18. can I add a gentle reminder that even with a swatch sometimes it still doesn’t work out. It isn’t because the swatch ‘lied’ it is because as we knit and get more comfortable with the pattern we relax and our stitches loosen. so remember to check your gauge as you knit!!

  19. Amazing post, Karen. I would love to see knitting videos of the different knitters just to see if there are any clues to what knitting styles, tools, and habits, produce such wildly different results.

    And yes, My family is also reeling from this election. At the moment, we are on a short getaway to Mexico City where we are being enveloped in the love and grace of the amazing Mexican people and culture. Much needed balm for the soul…

  20. Pingback: Elsewhere + Shop Talk | Fringe Association

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