Welcome to Swatch Class
Thanks for joining me with the kickoff of Swatch Class!
In the coming year, I’m going to share with you a lot of ways to really use your stash creatively. I’ll show swatches to get your creative juices flowing, and will have free patterns in knitting, crochet and weaving to utilize these techniques.
I’m going to be like Ike and Tina and start this out sloooow. That means utilizing the most fundamental stitch of all knitting, garter stitch (knitting every row).
But first, let’s define “stash”. Stash can mean anything fiberarts-related: buttons, beads, quilt fabrics, vintage silks, knitting and weaving yarns, and spinning fiber. Stash for rug weaving or twining can be anything from old tee shirts and sheets to thrift store wool garments to be cut into strips or beautifully hand dyed wool yardage. Within the yarn category, stash can mean you have a storage unit of sweater-quantity yarns, or it can mean a basket of beautiful mixed yarn leftovers by your sofa.
I will be focusing primarily on the latter, and giving you hints on expanding your palette in cheap, fun, and free ways at the end of this article.
Let’s touch on “stash guilt”, a common (and wrongheaded, in my opinion) phenomenon. Stash is your palette, and without it no fiber artist can create. Make no mistake, you are/will be a fiber artist by using these techniques. Your stash does not have to be deep, but in my view, it should be wide. This means that you don’t need to buy 10 skeins of a beautiful yarn when you can use 10 yards.
And yes, I am going to show you how to use fragments of as little as 10 inches in a project.
So let’s get started!
How do I mix yarns together successfully for knitting?
The answer is testing. There are quick, theoretical ways (wrapping) and there is actual swatching. Wrapping (below) is useful, swatching definitive.
Gather your stash
Pull out all of the yarn you have in one major colorway. Don’t worry about using different fibers in a single project—silk, wool, cotton, mohair, linen, synthetics, novelties—we want them all right now, and will edit later.
Arrange these in a sequence that’s pleasing to you. If you really like process, make a wrap sample. This is not going to be a true representation of your finished project, but will give you an idea of how things work together, and will show you if something needs to be toned down or zinged up.
I can see right away that that gorgeous red-brown ribbon is a little dominant. On the second photo you’ll see that I’ve paired it with the adjacent mohair. That functions as a little note to self that when I get to that yarn, I’ll want to double strand it with something else, but, given it’s bulk, it will need to be something very fine like a lace weight mohair.
Step 3—Swatching; the creative core exercise
For this garter stitch swatch, choose a needle size appropriate to your largest yarn—then go bigger. Your end project is going to be a scarf, and it should be super drapey. My yarns range from fingering to dk to bulky, and I have used US 10.5 (6.5mm) needles. Cast on 24 stitches. Work one row of each color, cutting your yarn at the end of the row (leave about 5”). If you have very lightweight yarns, double them up or add a strand of something fluffy to bulk them up. Every fourth row, tie an overhand knot into the ends, but don’t trim then yet.
Work this swatch for about 4 inches, then bind off. Wet block, pinning out the corners and straightening the fringes. Let it dry fully, trim fringe.
Your swatch is going to look different on both sides. Which one do you like best? What’s working, what’s not? Would you like more bling, contrast or texture, or would you like to tone it down? Is there one yarn that just stands out too much? Armed with this information, you can make design decisions and shop for more colors and textures if you need to.
The Amazing Multiyarn Scarf, aka 8000 gloriously entertaining stitches
This is a wonderful, exciting project for those of us with ADD tendencies. It is a joy to knit and you will not get bored!
A wide variety (10 to 20) of yarns mixing fibers, weights and textures within one color range.
Calculate a stitch count from your swatch to make a scarf 80” long if your want to wear it doubled/pulled through the loop, or 50 to 60 inches, if you prefer to just wrap it in front, pinned.
My 30 stitch swatch is 12”, stretched slightly. To calculate my gauge, I divide 30 by 12, resulting in 2.5 sts per inch. My yarns are mostly worsted and heavier, and I wanted my scarf to have a lot of drape, so this is appropriate. Your gauge will be based on the yarns you have chosen, but just remember that you want your scarf to drape gracefully, and not have a huge amount of bulk. I wanted my scarf long, so I cast on 200 stitches.
Cast on loosely, leaving an 8” tail for knotting later.
Power Tip #1—use your bounciest, stretchiest yarn for the cast on and bind off, particularly if you are doing a long tail cast on.
Work as directed in the swatch section. Every 4th row, gather the hanging yarn tails into a loose overhand knot.
Work 40 rows. Bind off and wet block. Trim fringe. Wear proudly and bask in the compliments! The scarf that I made to this tutorial is still blocking, and I will add the photo when it's dry. It took about 6 hours to knit.
Secrets to Success
Don’t be afraid to try unusual color and texture combinations
Double up thinner yarns
Double up hard/shiny yarns with a softening laceweight mohair
Do use metallics, novelty yarns, carry-along threads, ribbon yarns and fuzzy yarns for accents and bling
It almost goes without saying, but your gnarliest beginning handspun will find the perfect home in one of these projects.
Power tip #2
Laceweight mohair is your secret weapon! It’s a great yarn to use to bulk up a thinner yarn, soften metallic threads or overly shiny ribbons. I regularly use it in knitting, carried along the main yarn to soften the look and feel and add a softening halo.
Power Tip #3—the Yarn Exchange Party
But-but-but, I hear you cry, nobody has stash like Ellen. I will admit that this may be true. I’ve unrepentantly collected yarns for 30 years and have had a yarn business since 2006, in addition to spinning my own. But never fear! You can quickly expand your palette for little or no money at all!
Need more variety in your stash? As you’ll only need a few yards of each yarn depending on your project, throw a holiday stash exchange party with your friends or fiber group! You can work this as a round robin creativity exercise. Each person should bring 8 to 10 skeins of leftover or unloved yarn to share. If you are okay with having rules for this, I'd say everyone has to bring at least one novelty yarn, and one mohair yarn. Have everyone place their yarns out on a table and arrange them in color harmonies.
Now, one at a time, select the yarns that speak to you. Get input from the group if you need it. Then cut 3 yard strands from each of your selections. This is your working swatch palette.
Repeat with everyone in the group. No two people will have the same palette of yarns.
Try to complete your swatches during the party/meeting, then pin them up and discuss what’s working, what’s not. You’ll come away from this creative exercise really energized.
Free and Cheap Stash!
Yep, I have a yarn business, but for the purposes of this project, I want to encourage you to think outside the yarn store box! Don’t worry, I still love you and will welcome you back with open arms.
More places to look for very low cost yarns:
Fabric stores: You can find metallic machine embroidery threads at just about any fabric store. Strand, ply, or core-spin these with a fuzzy mohair.
Thrift stores for sweaters you can unravel. Just check the seams to make sure they aren’t cut and serged.
Fabric stashes: silk habotai scarves are tightly woven and don’t ravel much when torn into strips
Thanks for reading! I hope this inspires you, and I would LOVE to see what you come up with! Please feel free to comment below.
Next Swatch Class: Pattern, Interval and Intensity: building on the one-yarn-one-row method using simple stitch patterns
Footnote: these are the yarns I used in my swatch and scarf:
Left (top to bottom)
Trendsetter Dune—a wonderful yarn for mixing. Blends well with plainer yarns and is currently available.
Unknown vintage wool boucle from a friend's destash; worsted weight
Louet bulky mohair
Handspan wool, thick/thin texture, worsted weight
Plymouth alpaca boucle, bulky
Moda Dea Spellbound— nylon ribbon with metallic thread component
Pocket Meadow Farm handdyed mohair loop
Stacy Charles Ritratto (currently available), light weight metallic blend
Right (top to bottom)
Pocket Meadow Farm handdyed aran weight wool
Mountain Colors 4/8s wool
Classic Elite Tapestry—sadly, long out of production wool/mohair blend. DK weight
Lion Brand ribbon—a little flashier than the Spellbound, but still nice in the mix.
Pocket Meadow Farm handdyed loop mohair
Phildar Sunset—fingering weight metallic
Fiesta Yarns La Boheme—gorgeous rayon/mohair 2 strand yarn
Dark Horse ladder yarn—available, inexpensive
These yarns are from my personal stash, and are mostly discontinued, but I have recently found a good wholesale source for undyed regular and loopy mohair and will add those back in my line by spring.
By the way, the swatchcards are my own design/production. I can brand them with text/logos for your shop or personal use. Shoot me an email if you are interested.