EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been saying to you for a couple of years now that I want there to be more than one voice on this blog, and I’m thrilled that today it’s finally beginning to happen. Sometimes (ok, almost always) things take a long time to get from idea to reality with me, and a couple of collaborations that have been swirling in the ether for quite awhile are suddenly crystallizing. I’ll tell you more about them as I can, but for today, I get to introduce you to a new column by Jess Schreibstein which we’re calling Swatch of the Month. Jess first wrote about her Oaxaca adventure here in 2014, and also appeared in Our Tools, Ourselves back in 2013. If you know her as @thekitchenwitch on Instagram, you already know how amazing she is, and I’m pleased beyond words to have her as the first official columnist for Fringe. And with that, I’ll let her tell you more about her column and her first swatch!
First off, I want to thank Karen for inviting me to contribute to Fringe Association. Like many of you, I check in on Karen’s blog daily and am honored to share some of my own thoughts and musings on knitting with you in this space. Thanks, Karen!
For this series, I’m taking a look at the much-maligned and misunderstood swatch. For many new or even experienced knitters, knitting a swatch to get gauge seems like a roadblock, an annoying and seemingly unnecessary step before you can knit your actual thing. But I’m not going to go into the “how” and “why” of knitting a gauge swatch – Karen’s covered that before, and better than I’m sure I could – take a look here and here if you need further convincing.
Instead, I’m more interested in the role swatches play in our creative process. Swatches, these little pieces of knitted fabric, are also capsules of information — about the knitter, the fiber, and the final fabric created by both. What yarn did you use? Why did you use it? How does the weight, the content, and the way it’s spun all inform the fabric? How do the stitches behave? Do they curl or pucker? Is the gauge tight and thick, or loose and airy? How do those qualities affect the structure of the fabric and what it can do?
These questions and the way we answer them (because there are many ways to answer them) say a lot about how we think about and approach our knitting and how a designer might visit a new concept. Swatches are the genesis for the garments they inspire.
So, with this series, I’m going to be knitting lots of swatches! I’m diving into my stitch books, looking at both fashion and tradition for inspiration, and combing through my stash to play with yarns that have been sitting there, waiting for a project. When possible, I’ll share the stitch pattern I used so you too can knit your own swatch and maybe something even greater.
For my first swatch, I was inspired by an Eileen Fisher sweater I spotted in a store. The boatneck, dropped-shoulder, boxy pullover was knit in a dark blue, 100% linen with an airy, open rib. It would make the perfect layering piece or beach cover-up, as I’m sure it was designed to be. Without knowing for certain, I guessed it might be a fisherman’s rib worked up in a large gauge to give it its mesh-like appearance and relaxed drape.
To approximate something similar, I knit my swatch on 5.5mm needles in Quince & Co.’s Sparrow, a fingering weight organic linen that I had in my stash, in the Sans colorway (undyed). Linen fibers are derived from the stalk of the flax plant and produce a lustrous, durable fabric that softens with age. I’ve been quickly growing my own linen wardrobe over the past year or so, and most pieces are vintage finds that are at least 20 years old (or possibly more) — this material is built to last. But knitting in linen isn’t for everybody. Unlike wool, it has zero elasticity and can feel like you’re knitting with grass. It can be hard to control your tension, and whenever I’ve knit with it before, my stitches come out slightly uneven. Call it frustrating or call it wabi sabi, but when you knit with linen, you need to embrace the imperfection.
That’s why I was particularly curious to approach this swatch. The tension (or lack of it) is more forgiving on larger needles, creating varying sizes of stitches and lacy holes that look perfectly imperfect in the context of a larger fabric. But whether you’re knitting this stitch in linen or wool, fisherman’s rib can work up slowly. For the knit stitches in the 1×1 ribbing, you knit into the stitch below the one you would normally knit into. When knit in a tighter gauge with thicker yarn, this can create a thick, chewy fabric. For examples, see Purl Soho’s Seafaring Scarf or Justyna Lorkowska’s Flaum sweater.
My fabric, after blocking, was relaxed and ultra-drapey. I loved the way it held its structure and moved, almost like links on a chain, while I worked up the swatch. After blocking, this behavior all but disappeared and the fabric became more cohesive. I aggressively blocked the swatch and pinned it in place to open up the stitches, but found, even after blocking, that the corners curl upwards. Not sure how to solve for that problem – if it’s a characteristic of the linen or the fisherman’s rib.
Interested in knitting with linen? I’d highly recommend Sparrow for its delicate balance and color palette that is definitely designed with summer in mind. You could also try Shibui’s fingering-weight Linen, or their linen, recycled silk and wool blend, Twig. If you’re looking for a heavier weight, you could try playing with Quince’s worsted weight tube, Kestrel, and even bigger needles.
I could envision this stitch pattern knitted up as a boxy, layering t-shirt. If you wanted to make your own, you could follow the dimensions and structure for Dianna Walla’s Vasa or Michele Wang’s Shatsu — both drapey knit tees that are knit flat in two pieces then seamed. Or choose your own dimensions!
Yarn: Quince & Co. Sparrow, a fingering weight, 100% linen in Sans colorway
Needles: US9/5.5mm Addi Turbo needles
Gauge: 15 stitches / 19 rows = 4 inches, in fisherman’s rib pattern (below)
M E T H O D
CO 40 stitches or any even number of stitches using a long-tail cast on
Set up row: Purl all stitches
Row 1: *Purl 1, knit into next stitch in the row below; repeat from *, end purl 2
Repeat row 1 to desired height; bind off loosely in standard k1/p1 pattern