January Swatchathon

When I’m on Ravelry, where I see the world’s best knitting and crochet, I fave project after project that were created using skills that are unfamiliar to me, and think “someday”. These last couple of years, I have designated January as that someday. January 2016 was my first swatchathon, and I learned how to crochet and to follow stacked-stitch patterns, and I tried out an idea that had been floating in my head for a while and decided not to do it because it wasn’t pretty enough to justify its boringness, and I made a swatch that worked out the math for a jacket to go with a dress I had made earlier. The swatches I made in crochet and stacked stitch were the basis for many months of projects in 2016.

This is the January 2016 Swatchathon class picture.

Swatches for learning unfamiliar techniques
…whose swatches resulted in these finished objects, as well as a lot of my 2016 blog posts, including an analysis of why white can be such a disturbing color:

This year I wanted to build my machine knitting skills, play a little bit more with stacked stitch and short row patterns, and crochet my plant-dyed yarns in Sophie Digard color experiments. I have a serious fiber artist crush on Sophie Digard for her use of natural colors, how she uses bright colors amidst subtle colors in a way that makes the eye welcome the disruption rather than reject it as an incongruity, and the way she turns inexact geometric shapes into design decisions. My challenge in interpreting the visual effects she creates is to use her influence to create something new while avoiding imitation.

My first swatch was Granny Diamond by Sany (Sanita Brensone), a crochet pattern that riffs on the classic granny square. The arrangement of the kite-shaped quadrangle has an off-kilter rhythm that pleases me quite a lot. I was envisioning it in gradients to blur the focus of the eye, which, combined with the off-balance arrangement of the kites, brings on a feeling of drunkenness. I made four kites and learned how to crochet the pattern and how to form angles at specific places in the shape, before I moved on to the next swatch. I didn’t make enough kites to achieve the effect I was looking for.

Granny Diamond pattern swatch

It’s a nice start for something, probably a jacket if I get around to doing it. I think that I could get that intoxicated look if I turned the work on its axis and made a lot more kites. That orange spot is disturbing in its limited context, and it needs more interaction between the natural colors and Wollmeise’s acid-dyed colors before the orange will have the desired effect of waking up the eye without sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. In order to get the effect I’m envisioning, I would need some additional number of diamonds that emphasize the natural colors and get the shape delineations from the contrasts within that range of colors. After there’s some space in which the natural colors establish their dominance over the design, then the acid-dyed colors can shake things up in a pleasing way. Right now they just look kind of hectic.

The next swatch is Natalia Moreva’s Flower Meadow. I wanted to keep on playing with the combination of my plant-dyed colors and the Wollmeise colors, the blue and the pinks in the bottom layer of flowers.Swatch of Flower Meadow stacked stitch pattern

I have done a number of other stacked stitch patterns by Natalia Moreva, and I found this one the easiest I’ve ever knitted. Maybe it’s because I have some experience with stacks by now, or maybe it’s because Natalia wrote the pattern in a way that made it easy for me to keep track of where I was in the pattern. She used a spread sheet format, with the instructions for the start of the pattern in one cell, the repeats in the next cell, and the end of the pattern in the last cell. Other patterns write the instructions in a long string of numbers, abbreviations, and symbolic punctuation, and I have to demarcate the start, repeats, and end of the pattern with circles and underlining so that I don’t get lost. I appreciate that Natalia did that for me. I wish that all patterns used simple devices like this to make them easier to read.

Once again, I’m not so sure the colors worked optimally in this swatch. The blue is a bit too intense for the plant-dyed greens, and I regret that there isn’t more contrast between the colors in the two sets of blossoms. Well, that’s what swatches are for, to find out what works and what doesn’t.

I have already blogged about the hats that added to my machine knitting skills, so I won’t repeat myself. Here’s a picture of the five hats I knitted both as a skill-building exercise and as a statement.

Machine-knit hats for learning to use ribber attachment

After the machine knitting, I returned to my comfort zone, hand knitting. I have had swing-knitting on my to-learn list for years, but I’ve been put off by the color-coded safety pins and musical terminology of the trademarked methodology. I wanted to do a short-row pattern as a way of backing into the concepts of swing knitting without having to wade through the tutorials. I doubt I avoided that process by swatching Svetlana Gordon’s Snood Barcelona, but I enjoyed learning the logic of this beautiful pattern, and learning its logic builds the holistic, structural basis I need for understanding more complex short-row designs.

I’m always on the hunt for ways to use Wollmeise multi skeins, which have a tendency to look their best before they are unwound, and then break the knitter’s heart when they are knitted as if they were just another skein, only prettier. What needs to be understood about using Wollmeise multis is that the colors look beautiful together on the skein because they are grouped together in large enough chunks for the eye to absorb them as separate entities interacting with the other colors as separate entities. When you knit them, you discover that each color lasts for about 10 stitches before changing to the next color, and depending on how many stitches you’re knitting, the colors are likely to be broken up in small pieces, surrounded on all sides by little pieces of other colors. That’s when the seduced knitter, in a manner of speaking, wakes up in bed with someone different from the guy they thought they were going home with. Excuse the metaphor. A lot of disappointed knitters know what I’m talking about.

The trick is to find ways to arrange the colors into shapes that make sense to the eye. In flat stockinette fabric, the kind of patterning you get, or don’t get, depends on the number of stitches per row or round and the tension of the stitches, so you could get stripes, argyles, flashes, or an incoherent mess, depending on your stitch count and the consistency of your tension. You can control the yarn’s patterning through the procedures for planned pooling. Personally, that drives me crazy, so I like to use pattern stitches that impose shapes on the dye pattern of the yarn,  like chevron stripes, or waves like the feather and fan pattern stitch, or Kirsten Hall’s Diamondback pattern, or Snood Barcelona.

I knitted my swatch in two Wollmeise multis, the green-maroon-mustard Raku Regenbogen left over from my Diamondback pullover, and Kürbis, a mustard and orange mix. There are commonalities between the two sets of colors that create a yellow-orange-red gradient and make the warm colors predominate, while maximizing the impact of the dark colors. I’m showing the swatch both horizontally and vertically because my clever daughter observed that when viewed horizontally, the pattern looks like Escher fish and vertically it looks like lava lamps.

Snood Barcelona swatch oriented horizontally

Snood Barcelona swatch oriented vertically

Short-row patterns are a good bet for Wollmeise multis because they enable the colors to concentrate in spaces and shapes that enable the eye to understand the color and a gradient as a coherent form.

January was coming to an end, but I couldn’t let it end without having another go at Sophie Digard-inspired crochet using my plant-dyed yarn combined with Wollmeise colors. The circle-in-a-square motif is a much-used Sophie Digard trope, so I made sure to avoid Sophie Digard designs while I was working on this swatch so that I wouldn’t be excessively influenced. That blocks me and renders me incapable of creating. So I just looked at my plant-dyed colors and combined them with each other and with compatible Wollmeise colors with a view toward correcting my color decisions in the Granny Diamond swatch. I had a little fun with colors I wouldn’t have used for the motifs when I joined the motifs with single crochet outlining. Eventually, a neon orange circle will look great amid all these subtle plant colors.

Crocheted motifs combining plant-dyed colors with acid-dyed colors

Of these 2017 swatches, this is the one that is spurring me to make a project of it and have it done by summer. I’m no expert at crochet, so I want to figure out how to make quadrangles of the double crochet circles, and the Granny Diamond swatch has shown me how to do that. I also have a great big batch of new plant-dyed colors, including several spectacular blues dyed in black bean water, and I’m looking forward to expanding my palette using them. I’m thinking of making a simple square-necked, sleeveless top with square armholes. After I’ve learned how to make other geometric shapes, I’d also like to make gloves using my natural colors and similar crochet motifs.

Maybe I’ll be moved during the coming year to find ways to turn the other swatches, or the skills I learned making them, into garments. Certainly I’ll do it during future years in ways I can’t anticipate right now. I’m pretty sure there will be projects to show off when I do my January 2018 Swatchathon post.

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5 thoughts on “January Swatchathon

  1. What a wonderful idea to designate January as Swatch Month, Try Something New Month, To Hell with the WIPS Month! I will have to try to remember that next winter. And I love your swatches – wonderful use of color!

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