3 kinds of swatches

Swatching! Do you like it? Do you hate it? Why do we swatch?

There are many types of swatches.

There is the “insurance” swatch, the one you make (or know you should make) more or less grudgingly (often more) before you can launch into your new project. This swatch is your insurance for obtaining a finished item that is the size indicated in your pattern, and for not running out of yarn. You have your yarn, you have the gauge information, and you are trying to see which hook will make your hands work to the prescribed gauge.

There is lots to say about the insurance swatch, but right now, let’s just say that though you may not enjoy making it, it can save you a lot of trouble. The insurance swatch is your indispensible partner and your best friend, even if you don’t particularly enjoy spending time with it.

There is also the “research” swatch. You have a pattern, and you are looking for the perfect yarn. Will it be smooth or fluffy? Solid-coloured or variegated? The one you first thought of or something completely different? You start your investigation, you discover how your stitch pattern interacts with different yarns, you make choices, and during your research, you get some good and some bad surprises.

At the end of the day, your research swatch must also respond to the criteria of the insurance swatch. It needs to conform to the gauge in your pattern – or you will need to do a lot of math.

Pictured here is a third kind of swatch, the “exploration” swatch. It’s the kind of swatch that, if all works out (there is no guarantee), can become a new pattern.

Most of the time, when I start my exploration swatch, I know which yarn I want to work with, and I know, or decide rapidly, on the hook I want to use. The actual gauge, the number of stitches and rows per 10 cm or 4”, doesn’t matter. I will indicate the gauge data precisely in the final pattern, of course, but right now, this doesn’t matter at all. The yarn colour is not important. I just use the first light colour I can get my hands on. The colour needs to be light because I need to see my stitches very clearly.

I begin my exploration swatch with a vague idea, some kind of theme floating around in my mind. It might be a family of stitch patterns. It might just be a couple of colours I want to play around with to see how they go together (in this case, of course, I select them from the start). Or it might be much less defined— more like a wish, a longing, an emotion or a simple spark of curiosity.

It’s a long kind of swatch. It takes a long time (don’t ask me how long, I don’t count hours at this stage) and it gets very long – this one is currently 90 cm/34.5”, and it’s not finished. When was the last time you made a meter/yardlong swatch?

It’s not always fun. When making an exploration swatch, I sometimes learn that my initial idea wasn’t good, or that it can’t be made as I thought it could. This is a swatch full of failed initiatives – and that’s the whole point.

Because from the failed initiative sometimes a better idea will arise. The starting point is further and further away, but a new angle comes into view, clearer and clearer, until it becomes truly evident. My heart beats faster when the stitches come together as I want them to, when their appearance is what I had imagined – or something completely new, a treasure I was hunting for without knowing it.

This means that the first half-meter/yard or so in this swatch, as well as dozens of Post-its, notes, drawings and ideas, will seem completely unrelated to the end result. But all these dead ends, halted ventures and failed endeavours were strictly necessary to get there.

There’s no point in showing you a close-up of this swatch, because you would find it unappealing. But in my head, I can already see the finished sample, and I think you will like it.

If all goes well, we can crochet it together this summer.

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