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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Do you have what it takes to be a yarn scientist?

Registered and ready, I found my first class, "designing sweaters from side to side" with Leslye Solomon.  Although I knew who she was, I had never knit any of her patterns.  My sister knit Quadrephenia, and loved it. When I mentioned that to Leslye later in the day, she said the pattern is great for using up odd quantities of yarn.
We spent the first hour discussing swatching and gauge. Yes, that's right, an hour.  It was fascinating. 

My philosophy when explaining the importance of swatching to knitters, is that even though it may not seem it, swatching saves you time in the long run.  If you don't swatch and knit a hat, there is a good possibility your hat will be too big or too small. 

Personally, I don't particularly love swatching either, however I do believe it is a necessity.  If you thought I was a member of the swatch police before, there will be no living with me now.

Leslye views a gauge swatch as an exercise that can prevent failure. Heretofore, I considered it sufficient to knit a swatch and finding the needle size that gets me gauge.  Other than a few occasions where I washed and blocked the swatch (primarily for  lace designs), I've been content to swatch this way.

What I learned from Leslye was that not only do you need to knit the swatch until you find the needle that gets you gauge, you have to wash the swatch the way you would ultimately wash the garment. You have to duplicate laundry and be a "yarn scientist".  Now, quiet down your groaning.  I can't hear myself think, let alone type, hearing you in my head groaning.  And the language?  Really people, sailors have nothing on you.

Stop and think about this for a moment.  If you only swatched for needle size, you  have no way of knowing how the fiber will react when washed.  You are after all going to have to wash it sometime.  The  whole sweater could shrink or grow depending on the fiber. After the garment dries you have to reevaluate your swatch.  You may have to adjust your needle size and reknit and wash your swatch so you know what your garment is going to do.

Enough said on that topic (for now).  For the balance of the class, we learned how to take a sweater design, turn it on its side, and calculate the pattern from the side. The key is graphing it on knitter's graph paper.  I really enjoyed learning how to design a sweater on its side and look forward to putting it into action.
Leslye shared another very cool thing.  She recently developed an application (Apple) that will read your patterns to you.  It's called Knitspeaker.  She demonstrated it for me. I must admit, it is  extremely cool.  As a yarn store owner, she learned the power of an audible pattern after helping a customer.  She read the pattern line by line for a customer over a difficult section.  The customer got it instantly. That was her AHA moment.  Having done this for customers at Westport Yarns on occasion, I can totally appreciate the use of an app like this. 

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