January 2023 Swatchathon

I started dedicating my Januarys to swatching in 2016. Every January Swatchathon has influenced my various fiber media for the rest of the year, although some years some of the swatching satisfies my curiosity about the technique without inspiring a project. Sometimes the swatching is just a small introduction into a method that needs to be revisited many times before it turns into a full project. But this year, every swatch I attempted is either going to be incorporated into a project or gives gauge information about something that I fully intend to make during the year. Nothing theoretical about the Class of 2023 Swatchathon.

I actually started the January 2023 Swatchathon in December 2022. The crochet teacher at Melissa’s store Lovelyarns was running a class on overlay mosaic crochet using a mitten pattern, Hekla by Tinna Thórudóttir Thorvaldsdóttir, patterned with multicolored chevron stripes. New technique, chevrons, stripes, lots of colors, urgent need for warm mittens in December, and who’s going to prevent me from starting my own January Swatchathon a couple of weeks early? I didn’t join the class because I get impatient in classes, but I worked on it at the same time as the class in case I ran into problems and needed to grab Brittni, the teacher, to sort me out before she went upstairs to her students. The pattern took some work to understand, but I was able to do it on my own after some days of trial and error. In fact, at one point, Brittni had to run downstairs during class to look at my mittens so that she could answer a student’s question.

My reaction to the pattern was typical for me. The verbal instructions were clear and the numbers were accurate, but I longed for charts and more photos because I learn best from a mixture of media. As usual, the best way I learned the pattern was to do it until I understood the concept, and I could have spared myself some trouble if I had thought to mark the row I was on from the very start. The pattern called for DK yarn and a 2.5 mm hook, and it produced a very thick, dense fabric. The mosaic technique combines single crochet and double crochet to create a layer of one color from which the pattern is formed by reaching down into the previous row with double crochet stitches. This made a thick fabric that I started envisioning as a sweater or even a jacket. I started off crocheting the mittens using leftovers from my “When Will This Sweater Be A Crime” dress, but I needed more yarn in DK weight that wasn’t superwash, because the mittens were coming out too big and I was going to need to shrink them to fit.

Mosaic crochet mittens in colorful stripes, felted to fit

So I found myself threading my way into the spare room where we dump all the old stuff that we can’t decide what else to do with it, to rummage through my stash from my First Knitting Era 30 years ago. I found some very nice stuff that was still intact. Some of it was right for my mittens, but there were also heavier weights that were thicker than I have been using in my Modern Knitting Era, and I realized that this yarn would finally achieve its true destiny in the Hekla-inspired jacket that was taking shape in my mind. The question was, how to achieve the opening for a jacket? The mittens were crocheted in the round, and if the mosaic crochet technique can be worked back-and-forth, it’s way beyond my skills. Tinna Thórudóttir Thorvaldsdóttir does a lot of flat pieces using this technique, but she cuts long ends at the end of each row and does very pretty fringes. But I’m a hand knitter and I think like a hand knitter, so I thought of a hand-knitter solution: steeks, that is, a bridge of extra stitches between the beginning and end of a round and then cut right down the middle, then securing the cut edges with stitching or enclosing it inside additional knitting. Does anyone put steeks into crochet? No? Why not? I gave it a try.

Using heavier yarn from deep, ancient stash and a 5 mm hook, I crocheted a side-to-side ribbing that was long enough for 24 stitches to be picked up from the top edge and worked the first row of the stitch pattern. At the end of the row, I chained about 5 or so extra stitches for the steek and added the second color for the chevron pattern. After the second row, I alternated colors for single crochet on the steek, that is the 10 extra stitches bridging the gap between the beginning of the round and the end of the round. I made sure that the yarn was unprocessed so that its fibers would stick to each other and stop the fabric from raveling when I cut into it. I did a series of stripes so that I could get a row and stitch gauge, and also so I could play with some of the colors I dug out of deep stash. I found some mohair yarn that I combined with other yarn and got a nice hairy fabric as well as new color effects. When I decided I had enough of a swatch to answer my questions, I got my needle felting device and punched it into the steek to intermesh the fibers. Then I cut it, which is always exciting. After that, I folded the edges onto the inside of the fabric on each side and punched the needles into the fabric to affix the steek into it. It worked pretty well! I don’t know why I’ve never seen anyone else do this, but it works.

Crocheted swatch being prepared for steeking by felting the stitches that will be cut down the center
Here I’m about to put the uncut swatch onto the felting pad and punch the felting tool into the center stitches so that the fibers interlock and don’t unravel when I cut down the center of the steek stitches
Crocheted steek after cutting
After cutting
Edges of cut steek have been punched into the fabric of the swatch with a felting tool to prevent them from raveling
Then I folded the cut edges over the wrong side of the fabric and used the felting tool again to fuse the fibers of the edge to the fibers of the fabric. When I perform this operation on the actual jacket, I’ll decide on a way to cover the cuts with stitching or envelop it in a casing.
Right side of finished steeked swatch
Here is the steeked swatch from the right side

I was still in a crochet kind of mood, so next up was the Granny’s Eye Granny Square pattern by Christine Anne Melvin. This swatch was just easy fun. It was the kind of motif crocheting that I’m used to doing, the numbers make sense, and the color play is a great opportunity for combining gradients with contrasts, my favorite. This first swatch will be the start of the patchwork sweater I’m going to make. It was so much fun that I had to force myself to stop at one square to move onto the next swatch on my January agenda. I’ll probably work on the sweater during the summer. In the meantime, I’m thinking about how to do shoulder shaping on an oversized dropped-shoulder pullover made up of square motifs.

Granny eye crochet square

Next it was time for some hand knitting swatches. I had seen a yoked sweater on Ravelry that had woven big lumps of colorful handspun into knitting that seemed to use the roosimine method, which creates designs by carrying a second yarn across a row of knitting and bringing it between the stitches to the front for some number of stitches and then bringing it behind the stitches, according to pattern. I thought for about a split second about learning how to spin so that I could make this big, lumpy, colorful yarn, but I don’t want to spend my limited time on earth making yet more yarn when my goal before I die is to use that time to knit what I already have. I did the efficient thing and bought some art yarn at Lovelyarns. It’s fat and thin and pink and sparkly, and I didn’t have to spin it myself. I knitted it with some other pink yarn and did the roosimine randomly, just so that the thick parts of the yarn were in front and the thin parts in the back. I think that when I knit the actual sweater, I’ll put more plain rows between the roosimine rows because I want the knitted yarn to be more visible, since it’s really pretty.

I have a plan for this swatch, which I’ll unravel when I start knitting the actual sweater. I’ll knit it top-down with a somewhat loose neckline, using needles that are pretty big for the yarn, U.S. size 8. I’ll do 25% increases (knit three, make one) many, many times as I travel down the yoke so that it’s a full circle or maybe even bigger, until I run out of the big lumpy yarn. I want to have a big, floaty sweater without adding stitches after the armpits, to avoid the maternity look. After I run out of yarn for the roosimine, I’ll switch to loose, random stranding.

I deliberately chose two Wollmeise lace weight colors for the stranded swatch that were close in value because I enjoy the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t ambiguity of low-contrast pairings. I like the way these two colors pick up the colors in the art yarn. The pink-mauve yarn was pretty badly eaten by bugs, and I probably should have just thrown it out, but I wound it into lots of little cakes and balls and decided to use the breaks and weak places in the yarn as an organic cue for a design element that would also reinforce the fabric, that is, the embroidered bullions in the yellow yarn. The bullions echo the circles of the improvised stranding, and they introduce a textural contrast into the low-contrast color pairing. I might end up not using this particular pink yarn in the actual sweater, because if it’s too eaten up, it might demand reinforcing embroidery multiple times in the the course of a 300-stitch. That could be a nice effect, but embroidering an excess of bullions might drive me nuts.

Two swatches for future sweater, thick and thin art yarn woven into knitting using roosimine method, and stranded improvised knitting embellished with embroidered bullions

Almost a decade ago stacked-stitch knitting patterns were an exciting new fad, thanks to Xandy Peter’s Foxpaws. I attempted Foxpaws in the first January Swatchathon, and I admit that was the least fun I have ever had knitting. I just couldn’t conceptualize it holistically, and I was stuck counting every damn one of the zillions of increased and decreased stitches in some really awkward, tortured maneuvers. I tried some simpler stacked stitch patterns with better results, but the overall experience left me with an aversion to the entire stacked stitch genre. But a couple of years ago I encountered a sweater adapted from Kieran Foley’s Jacaranda scarf pattern, and I was intrigued enough to buy the pattern and gather together yarn for my own version. The swatch and the knitting were on my schedule for last spring/summer, but other things jumped the queue. So this January I gave stacked stitch knitting another chance. And this time stacked stitch knitting wasn’t a misery. As my friends told me, Jacaranda is a simpler pattern with lots of plain rows, and once I understood the structure (please, Kieran, include schematics and photos for orientation, not just numbers and abbreviations!), it knitted up nicely. Kieran’s numbers were accurate and the instructions were clear, once I understood what he was talking about. This time I remembered to mark the row I was knitting, every row.

I knitted two iterations of the pattern in my swatch in order to play with my colors in a couple of different ways. First I arranged the colors in distinct stripes. Second time around, I blended the colors so that the purl bumps would blend the colors. I got a pretty smooth gradient in the second iteration, so smooth that I was asked if the color changes were dyed into the yarn, even though the ends where I changed colors were hanging out for all to see. That was when I realized that I have gotten kind of bored with smooth gradients blending a wide range of colors. They look too much like someone else did the thinking. My plan for the sweater is to knit the front and back in separate pieces and scramble the color arrangements on each side. It will be kind of an airy sweater, thanks to all the holes in the stitch pattern. Again I am ruminating on how to shape the shoulders. (Just so I don’t forget, I knitted the swatch on U.S. size 4 needles.)

Swatch of Kieran Foley's Jacaranda stacked stitch pattern

Up to this point, all of my swatches were done by hand because the knitting machine was under occupation by a very troubled sweater using one of the machine’s preprogrammed stranded stitch patterns, which revealed problems with the needle selection mechanism at 16-needle intervals. One of these days I’m going to have to get serious about fixing that, which is going to require me to learn a completely new skill set. But finally the sweater came off the machine, and now I could try some machine-knit swatches. The best part of the sweater, described in A One-Eyed Solution, was the neck band. This happened when I made the transformative discovery that a pattern in the Brother knitting machine Stitchworld books didn’t have to be labeled as fairisle in order for it to be knit as fairisle. It’s all in the settings, which I’m finally starting to get comfortable with. I discovered a series of one-row patterns in the garter carriage section of the first Stitchworld book, programmed the one with the 1×1 color alternation (#532), and knitted it without a hitch. The beauty of such a simple pattern is that if every 16th needle is out of place, it would be obvious and I could push it back into position. But that wasn’t necessary with this pattern because every 16th needle was supposed to be in the place where the mispatterning would have put it.

1x1 stranded knitting using a garter carriage pattern
It’s nice that this time the 16th needle mispatterning was actually part of the pattern

After knitting my really perfect neck band, I was encouraged to try out the 1×1 pattern in a swatch with a bunch of different colors. It looked wonderful and will be a recurring theme in my 2023 knitting. Then I tried the 2×2 pattern, which did suffer the 16th needle problem, but pushing the errant needles into position was simple, if not ideal. I can use this pattern in garments as well, even before I tackle my machine’s underlying needle selection problem.

Machine knit vertical stripes in 1x1 and 2x2 color alternations

My routine is to knit on the machine for an hour or two in the afternoon, while also working on a hand knit or crochet project for the rest of my production time away from the knitting machine. This project, the final hand-worked one for this year’s Swatchathon, was the first rectangle of Junko Okamoto’s Hana project, an oversized pullover knitted modularly with various cable stitch patterns, with the side seams joined with visible embroidery and the modular joins also decorated with visible embroidery. I wasn’t interested in this Junko design until I saw the interpretation of one of the members of my Ravelry group, The Interior of My Brain, which she knitted in white and pastels with big embroidered stitches in bright primary colors. I was so inspired that I didn’t care if my version shamelessly aped it.

I got a gauge that was slightly bigger than the pattern called for, which I took into consideration when I chose which size to knit, by combining sport weight undyed off-white alpaca yarn with a fingering weight multi left over from a machine knitting project a few years ago. The multi is blue, pink, orange, and yellow, and the combination with the heavier alpaca yarn lightens the resulting fabric to a warm, pale pastel, similar to the version that inspired me. I don’t knit cables very often, so this piece was an enjoyable reintroduction to cabling without a cable needle, since I find cable needles to be annoying and awkward and I can never find them when I need them. This time the pattern provided charts and schematics, so I don’t have to complain about their absence, but I don’t understand why Junko is so stingy with the photographs.

Cabled knitting using variegated fingering weight yarn and sport weight undyed alpaca yarn

By now it was February, but I couldn’t call the January Swatchathon over until I learned how to use the knitting machine intarsia carriage that my machine knitting fairy godmother, Rebecca Yaker, sent me last summer as a gift. Gadgetry intimidates me, so I procrastinated, but I looked at a couple of videos, attached the row counter tripper, and fastened the carriage to the needle bed, and gave it a push. It was really easy. Then I jumped in with both feet for a 50-stitch swatch with 10 color changes, for a 10-stitch all-over harlequin diamond pattern, consisting of five repeats of nine stitches in one color and one stitch in a different color. But a couple of rows in, it stopped being easy and turned into the knitting hell that has been my previous experience with machine-init intarsia. Why??? I was being so careful to make sure that all the latches were open, that the latches weren’t being held down by the stitches, and that I was laying the yarn on top of the open latches and not behind them, and still I was losing stitches from random needles every single row. I did so much surgery on those dropped stitches, I could have been a brilliant brain or eye surgeon if it hadn’t been for the small matter of medical school, residency, and fellowship.

Finally I eked out a mostly coherent swatch, but I still didn’t understand why it had had so many problems in the making. I posted a picture on the Swatch-a-long thread on my Ravelry group, The Interior of My Brain, and earburned a machine knitter who had made a sweater composed of tiny intarsia triangles. She couldn’t diagnose the problem from the picture of the finished swatch, but I did happen to have a picture of the knitting while it was still on the machine, and she immediately saw my problem: the tangled yarn that was draped on top of my ribber, rather than hanging down free and straight between the main bed and the ribber so that the yarn had the tension it needed to stay on the needles. I absorbed the advice for next time and called my Swatchathon over for 2023.

First machine-knit intarsia swatch
Pretty little diamonds of stress and tribulation
In-progress photo of machine knit intarsia showing dropped stitches because yarn is lying over ribber and has inadequate tension
What not to do: yarn has inadequate tension to stay on the needles because it is draped over ribber instead of hanging free and unimpeded between the beds

Then I started to assemble all my swatches so that I would have them available for the January 2023 Swatchathon class photo, but the intarsia swatch had gone missing. Did it go out for cigarettes and never return? I looked in the logical places for a couple of days, then I got mad at it. Walk out on me, will you??? Well, I’ll show you! I’ll just make a better machine-knit swatch than you! So I applied the advice I had been given, and what do you know, it worked! I have a plan for the intarsia carriage that is much simpler than the swatches I made, using skeins of self-striping cotton DK yarn that I bought for a project that I’m no longer interested in. DK pushes the limits of my standard gauge machine, so I did a little swatch with the tension dial as loose as it could go. It seemed to knit fine, although I haven’t tried it with the intarsia carriage.

Second machine-knit intarsia swatch after doing recommended corrections
So much better
In-progress machine-knit intarsia with yarn hanging between beds, for a better result
Having the working yarn between the beds instead of hanging over the gate pegs of the ribber is the difference between knitting properly and wanting to poke out one’s eyes to relieve the frustration

Now the January 2023 Swatchathon is over, but each of the swatches was so compelling that I wanted to keep working on each of them to make a full project. Originally I had planned to come back to the mosaic crochet and make that steeked jacket in time to wear it in the spring, but I was in the mindset of the Hana swatch and have continued on with the successive pieces so that now I’m almost done with the back. On the knitting machine, I’m working on a prototype for 1×1 vertically striped stranded socks. I have made the first sock, which fits my husband, so now I’m tweaking the tension to give the fabric a bit more ease so that the seam isn’t so stressed. Really, that was the ugliest seam I have ever made, but my husband is tolerant. Next, I’ll figure out the length to fit me, since this prototype was supposed to have fit me. Hopefully I’ll get better at the stranded short-row heels and toes so that its angled edge isn’t porous as it now is. This year’s Swatchathon was no mere theoretical exercise!

January 2023 Swatchathon Class Picture

Group photo of 2023 Swatchathon swatches
Not planned, but the colors are so compatible

January 2022 Swatchathon: Where are they now?

Looking at last year’s class picture, it seems that the 2022 Swatchathon was also no mere theoretical exercise either.

The hippie van might be the Class of 2022 January Swatchathon valedictorian, according to my assessment a year ago

Everything I worked on last year expanded my skills, and almost all of these pieces turned into knitted work in a material form, even if it it ended up not looking much like the swatch. The little yellow plaid-ish swatch is still a theoretical piece, but I have a plan for it. Maybe several plans. The machine-knit intarsia, using the i-cam built into my machine, gave me experience that helped me with this year’s intarsia harlequin diamonds using the intarsia carriage. Now I’m ready to knit intarsia garments.

The embroidered sweaters and hippie van gave me skills with a one-eyed needle to do visible mending and an invisible rescue.

The neutral and colorful stranded swatches became sweaters that I wear often.

It’s the same pattern, but the different palettes and different use of contrast scrambles how it’s perceived

The machine-knit face swatch was incorporated into a sweater with disembodied facial features scattered all over. I also isolated the lips and strewed them all over a sweater for my older daughter.

The most-transformed result of last year’s swatching was those cute little representations of my daily routine for a hønsestrikk sweater, the little swatches for bird-watching, food, yoga poses, the lettering about my daily German study. That turned into wearable political art about the U.S. Supreme Court.

4 thoughts on “January 2023 Swatchathon

  1. Looking at your intarsia in progress, I still think you need to add a bit of weight to prevent further eye-poking-out headaches. I strongly recommend wooden clothespins. Attach one to each strand of working yarn a few inches down from the needle bed, and move them down as you knit and the yarn is taken up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve opened so many interesting paths for further exploration, both last year and last month. And I’ve learned a wee nugget about machine-knitting just from your pictures re the intarsia troubles. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.