January 2022 Swatchathon

My annual Swatchathon at the beginning of every new year is usually my test bed for most of the knitting I’m going to do in the course of the year. That mostly didn’t happen in 2021, not because my 2021 Swatchathon failed to provide interesting ideas– it did– but because 2021 came around and I was still working with machine-knit entrelac, which I explored in 2020’s Swatchathon. Also I took an online machine knitting seminar in February with Diana Sullivan, From String to Things, where I learned her sew-as-you-go method for joining an already-knitted piece to a second piece while that second piece was on the machine and in the process of being knitted. So machine-knit entrelac took up the first half of my 2021 and paneled machine knitting took up the second half of it, bringing me to January 2022 with a lot of unfinished business with the interesting ideas from 2021, such as embroidery, crocheted bullions, and machine-knit intarsia.

At the end of December last year and in the beginning of January this year, I machine-knit a couple of sweaters using embroidery and intarsia to try to sneak them in under the wire for my usual “where are they now” section of my annual Swatchathon post, to show off how I have applied the things I learned during the previous year’s Swatchathon. However almost a year had passed since the first time I tried them, and whatever I knew about embroidery and machine-knit intarsia had been erased by the passage of 11 months. The embroidery on the pink sweater was my reentry to techniques Britt-Marie Christoffersson depicted in Embroidery on Knitting. The French knots were a completely new thing for me, and I can’t give the Christoffersson book credit for teaching me how to do them. Melissa sent me this link, and it really is as fool-proof as it says it is. I was way down at the bottom of my learning curve when I embellished this sweater, but the use of color distracts attention from the deficiencies in my technique.

I described my experience with the machine-knit intarsia sweater in my previous post, Melissa’s Largesse. Executive summary: It was painful, I persisted, I learned, it came out fine. The embroidery was a kind of running stitch wrapped around the stitches, one by one. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I tried to do it as carefully as I could.

Some of the intarsia squares that I suffered for but learned from
Running stitch embroidery sewn in striped blocks as accent to machine-knit intarsia squares

The next item I made crams one new or new-ish thing after another into one small space. I call it a Swatchathon-in-a-Bus. A yellow toy VW bus that my husband bought for our grandson inspired me to look on Ravelry for a pattern for a VW bus that I would decorate in hippie style, and I found exactly what I was looking for in a free pattern by someone writing in English, probably not her native language, named Wilma. People who offer free patterns on Ravelry deserve thanks, not criticism, even when the instructions aren’t perfect for one’s way of thinking or the numbers have some problems, so I followed the instructions and numbers that made sense and improvised the rest. The bus pattern served as my swatch for learning the basics of tapestry crochet. I took a class in tapestry crochet a few years back, but I don’t do well in classes because I expend way too much brainpower trying to keep up with the others. Working now at my leisure, I found that tapestry crochet is a lot like stranded knitting in which you catch the carried strand around the working strand at every stitch, encasing it on the back side of the work. Each piece of the bus was worked flat, so I turned the work around and did the stranding on both sides. Sometimes the carried strand shows through. Oh well.

Pieces of tapestry crocheted VW van with marijuana leaf appliqué on rear piece

Crocheting the pieces of the bus was a bit of a slog, but after I did some of the seaming, I could then have fun with the embellishments. Melissa (BFF, owner of Lovelyarns) suggested a marijuana leaf, so I found a free pattern on Ravelry and made one, although it is not a cause I personally have ever advocated. I wanted to crochet paisley appliqués, but I don’t yet understand the mechanics of getting the tail to curve, so I found a pattern on Ravelry. There are free paisley patterns and patterns you pay a few dollars for, and the free patterns looked kind of crude. They would have taught me how to achieve that curved tail, and then I could have improvised a paisley in the size and shape I wanted, but I got lazy and decided to use a pattern in which someone had already done the thinking for me. Some of the paid paisley patterns went on for 20+ pages because they were so elaborate, and a single paisley would have wallpapered the entire surface of the bus. I found a paid pattern that was a little on the large size, but it was really pretty, it had a great photo tutorial, the numbers were all exactly correct, and I didn’t have to reinvent the method. Maybe someday I’ll reverse-engineer it to make paisley appliqués ranging in size from tiny to enormous. I guess that the curve happens when the inner side of the tail has fewer stitches than the outer side.

I went back to Prudence Mapstone’s Freeform Crochet and Beyond to relearn how to make the two-color circular bullions that I learned how to make last year, but this year I made it harder by using a small crochet hook and thinner yarn. I don’t really remember seeing VW vans decorated in hippie style while I was growing up at that time, but stop signs graffitied with “WAR” stood at every single corner and intersection. I struggled a bit to get the octagon for the stop sign, but I applied the increase and decrease methods I had used to shape the undercarriage of the VW bus and finally stumbled my way to a plausible octagon in single crochet that was the right size for the bus. I did the white lettering for the “stop” in a crude, inexpert running stitch. It wasn’t very good, but it read, so it was good enough. Then I scrawled an embroidered “war” slanting upward into the “stop”. I was actually a lot more painstaking about the embroidery than it might appear, because the value contrast between the red and the black was not great and wanted to blur the letters, while I wanted the letters to be legible.

I’m quite satisfied with the way I rendered the “peace” and “love”. The scrawled “Peace Now” looks a bit like “Peace Wow”, and “No More War” looks like “No Nope War”, distorted by the texture of the underlying crochet stitches and the curvature of the stuffed van, but I learned a lot about running stitch. The embroidered loop flowers are a new skill. I used them in every space where nothing else would fit until I got sick of making them.

Rear of crocheted VW bus with marijuana leaf appliqué
The instructions for the undercarriage weren’t intelligible to me, so I made it up as I went and hoped for the best

This year my hand knitting swatches didn’t take me into explorations of new techniques. It has been a long time since I did my favorite kind of knitting, two-color stranded knitting, my happy place, which I haven’t visited for too long. As I said in my last post, Melissa’s Largesse, Melissa gave me enough brown alpaca worsted for a plain stockinette pullover, which is something I don’t want to knit. I was looking for a pattern that has all-over stranded patterning so that I could pair the worsted yarn with some alpaca sport weight yarn that is already in my stash. Then I ran into a colorful version of Caitlin Hunter’s Festive Doodle pattern, whose sample photo was knitted in neutrals and looks very different from the colorful version that had caught my attention. Why not do two versions? I made a point of avoiding the photos of the colorful Festive Doodle that had attracted me to the pattern when I assembled my colors and found myself going for aquas and dark red/browns accented by orange, purple, and lime green. I wanted to allow the bright colors to have more impact by using a greenish gray as a background color in one of the longer stretches of the chart, but I got some feedback that it made my swatch look like it was chopped up into color experiments for two different compositions. I’m still committed to making the muted color work with the bright color, so now that I’m knitting the actual garment, I’m using gradients of the muted colors and will repeat the series in different contexts. I did a version of the chart using natural shades of alpaca yarn, which I discussed in my previous post. As I said previously, the swatch in neutrals looks completely different from a colorful version of the same chart.

The swatch for the colorful version of Festive Doodle. The actual sweater is going to be different, but the swatch got me going in the direction I want to take it
This is some of the same chart as the colorful swatch above, but you almost wouldn’t know it

Meanwhile, upstairs at my knitting machine, I had finally gotten the intarsia pullover off the machine, so I did a little swatch of a technique Diana Sullivan demonstrated to create vertical lines in a contrast color, after I saw a project of plaid sofa covers on Facebook. It was very easy. I could imagine making contrasting plaids and connecting them in a garment using my paneled construction. I don’t have anything specific in mind, but maybe it will turn into something someday.

I have a friend on Ravelry named Rebeca Yaker who does all the fiber-related things, and among them is machine knitting. It seems like every cool idea I’ve had, she had the same idea several years before I did. One of the really interesting things she did was to write a machine-knit version of the pattern for the hand knitted faces that I made a few years ago, and she kindly sent me the instructions she had written for her local machine-knitting group. They were really good, accurate, clear instructions. It took me longer to understand what I was supposed to do than it took to do it, but that’s me, not the instructions. I ended up with extremely googly eyes because I blanked out on how to do automatic wraps for the short rows, and the wrap-and-turn method that I used gave me a couple of extra rows in the eyeballs. It was exacting but absorbing, and Rebecca had added some features to her version that hadn’t been in the original hand knitted pattern, such as forehead wrinkles and hair based on Susan Guagliumi’s hand manipulation techniques. I tried out the lifted-stitch texture that Rebecca mentioned in her pattern, and it was fun and easy and really effective in the Wollmeise multi that I grabbed pretty much at random. I wasn’t planning to swatch machine-knit lifted stitches, but this is news I can use in all sorts of ways. The purl side looks just as good as the knit side too. I’m delighted with the weird, creepy little face I created, and am now planning how to incorporated it into a sweater.

I’m thinking hard about the design possibilities of the purl side of the lifted-stitch technique I used for the hair

As I described in my last blog post, I went through a difficult learning process to achieve the intarsia in the machine-knit sweater for my daughter. While it was still fresh in my mind, I had to apply what I had learned, using the sport-weight alpaca yarn that I’m planning to pair with the worsted weight alpaca that I swatched for the neutral version of Festive Doodle. So I hopped back into the saddle and followed all the steps that I outlined in the post to make a lovely trauma-free intarsia swatch that also showed me that my machine could accommodate the yarn, using tension 9. I might want to take it all the way up to 10. Too bad there isn’t an 11, like the Spinal Tap amps.

Could I possibly be master of my domain when it comes to machine-knit intarsia? Most likely not, but I managed this attempt with little excess trauma

So now I have a grip on intarsia using the built-in intarsia setting of my KH965i knitting machine. I also am getting interested in machine-knit plaids. And then Rebecca, as if it’s fated that her role in my life is to inspire me at the moment when I’m ready, posted some machine-knit plaid projects on Ravelry, combining both intarsia, my new skill, and slipped stitches, which I learned how to do when I was making heels and toes for my entrelac socks. She sent me the instructions and video she had made for her machine knitting group, and once again she has blown my mind. She used an intarsia carriage, which I don’t have but am now researching because she says it’s easier on the brain cells to use a carriage rather than the built-in setting. I’ll give it a try using the built-in setting and if it breaks my poor little brain, it will motivate me to find and purchase the KA8200 carriage that Rebecca recommends for my machine. It’s not January anymore, but January Swatchathon is a state of mind.

Meanwhile, downstairs on the couch where I hand-knit, I still had another stranded project to swatch. This swatching is for a honsestrikk sweater I’m devising for myself. Honsestrikk translates literally from Danish to “hen knitting”. It was an outgrowth of late 1960’s feminism, a rebellion against the strictures of the yarn business and knitting design of the time, in which knitters rejected patterns and made sweaters built on motifs that reflected their personal interests and preferences. Mine is going to depict my daily routine, starting with my daily Duolingo German study and moving along through my day, to yoga, walking, bird-watching, the frogs at the nearby frog pond, lunch, nap, arts and crafts– very much like the daily schedule of our children’s pre-K daycare 30 years ago. I started my swatching with lettering that reads “Morgens lerne ich Deutsch” and a motif that is supposed to represent the Duolingo owl mascot, Duo. Charting motifs is not something I am great at or enjoy doing, but I think I managed to work out a reasonably recognizable representation for Duo. The swatch tells me I’ll need more space between the words for legibility. My older daughter drew the charts for the yoga poses, the walking person, the food, and the bird and binoculars. She also gave me some charts for frogs and a person taking a nap, but I haven’t tried them out yet. The swatches show me that the charts are good representations of what I want to depict, but there’s too much empty space between them.

Honsestrikk swatches depicting German language study, bird-watching, walking, yoga, and very importantly, lunch

And now for this year’s class photo!

The hippie van might be 2022’s January Swatchathon class valedictorian

This is the point at which I normally would do my “Where Are They Now?” segment of the January Swatchathon post, where I show last year’s class photo and show what, if anything, I did with the swatch or the skill I learned during the year.

January 2021 Swatchathon class photo

However, many of the things I did for last year’s swatches are things I’m doing again for this year’s swatches. The two class pictures show that there’s a lot of bleedover between 2021 and 2022, specifically the crocheted bullions, some of the embroidery techniques, and the machine-knit intarsia.

The colorful zigzag swatch grew up to be a great big sweater for my younger daughter, which her boyfriend wears a lot. Finding a way to make those colors work together took everything I know about color and design, but the brioche swatches came in handy for finding an unexpectedly easy way to combine the colors, in a scarf that I use all the time.

Secunda in the chevron striped sweater whose colors looked so wrong to me
But oddly, those same colors look nice together in two-color brioche ribbing

The double-sided crocheted potholder is too pretty to use. I pick it up and admire it when I run across it. I should give it to someone who is cleaner than I am and can use it without destroying it, or can display it as a decorative object.

The Capital Dome hats didn’t teach me concepts that I have reused in later work, but I wear the biggest of the three whenever it’s nippy outside, and I gave the other two to family members. I’ve seen my sister put hers on for dog walking, which is its right and proper use.

There’s a plain machine-knit swatch in undyed cotton. I haven’t done anything with it yet. That doesn’t mean I’ll never do anything with it.

The most important exploration from Swatchathon 2021 was the gloves, which I use whenever the temperature drops below 65º Fahrenheit, and the Bernie mittens for my husband, a prop for a play he was in and useful in cold weather. Their importance isn’t the practical utility of the cold weather gear but the fact that they got me past my dislike of double-pointed needles (DPNs), after years of rejecting potential projects because they require DPNs and I hate working on DPNs. Those gloves are the reason why I took on my magnum opus for 2021, Frog and Toad World, most of which had to be done on DPNs.

Here it all is, the 40+ components of Frog and Toad World, flora and fauna, weather, and fashions. And a popsicle stick sled

The gray felted and bobbled thingy up in the top left corner of the 2021 class picture informed the needle-felted dragonflies and flower sachet, because it taught me not to bother hand-felting the woolen knitting, because it’s not going to instantly shrink up the moment hot water touches it, and it’s probably going to need a lot of rough treatment in the washing machine and drier in order to felt properly.

The stages of a needle-felted dragonfly’s life cycle, except for death, because it’s inanimate and doesn’t die
Thanks to my upgraded needle-felting tools, I made these morning glory-colored flower shapes more quickly, more efficiently, and with much less bloodshed than with my old-school tools. These are the two sides of the sachet before I felted the edges together, stuffed in lavender buds, and sealed the pocket shut

The bobbles in the gray felted thingy also influenced this foray into bobbled madness:

I started off writing this post thinking that January 2021 Swatchathon was mostly an ambitious flop whose influence was deferred to 2022 because I got sidetracked by machine-knit entrelac, from 2020’s Swatchathon, and panels, not a Swatchathon concept. But now that I review what I learned and did in 2021, I find that once again the January Swatchathon was the seminal event for my year’s work, as it has been since the very first January Swatchathon in 2016.

4 thoughts on “January 2022 Swatchathon

  1. Oh, Mandy! Wow! This swatchathon blew my tiny mind. I’m trying to use all the 60s slang I can summon. I was particularly fascinated by the process by which you constructed your hippy bus, mostly because I followed the voting that got you first place in the lovelyarn Happy Hooker contest. But the sweater you made for Zoe might just be the most beautiful thing of yours I’ve seen. I love the fingered gloves. And the felted flowers. I could go on. Thanks for sharing your great wealth of knowledge, even to a no-nothing like me. I know just enough to know how extraordinary you are.


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