Swatching for Colorwork Projects

Usually I like to use Friday blog posts to swatch and talk about a particular yarn, but this week I’m talking about swatching for a particular project. We’ve been talking about colorwork knitting on our Facebook, Instagram, and here on the blog as well. Just as with any knitting or crochet project, swatching is super important for colorwork—you want to make sure your colors are going to play nicely together before you make an entire project!

I used six different colors of Berroco Tuscan Tweed™ to work up this swatch using the colorwork chart from this week’s free pattern, the Fox Grape mittens. The pattern uses Grape and Iris, which are the two colors at the bottom. Then, keeping Grape as the background color, I added in Sweet Briar, and then Oak. I switched to Iris for the background color of the top, using Columbine and then Cherries. img_4305

As you know from Wednesday’s blog post, we’re always looking for color values that balance out. I took this photo, ran it through a quick photo editor (I like to use PicMonkey), and got the monochrome version of it to check the values. Sweet Briar and Iris against the Grapes background look virtually the same, and have really strong contrast, as do Columbine and Cherries against the Iris background. The middle pattern, which used Oak against the Grapes background, has less contrast, but still enough that you can determine which color is lighter and which is darker. If I knit the Fox Grape mittens using Oak and Grapes, each color would still stand out against the other, but the overall affect would be more muted than the sample shown in the photographs.

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But the biggest thing to consider is why we swatch for colorwork. Unless you’re absolutely in love with the colors used in the pattern sample, and as long as those yarns and colors are still available, you can just replicate the colors in the pattern exactly as they are. But maybe you don’t like all of the colors used and want to switch out a few. Maybe you want to use a different yarn, too.

When swatching colorwork, it’s very important to swatch exactly how the project is knit. For a tiny swatch like this, I could have just knit the pattern flat, back and forth, but the mittens are knit in the round, so I knit this swatch in the round using magic loop. And then I steeked it open so you could easily see the pattern, but don’t worry, you don’t have to steek anything. Colorwork makes yarns behave a little differently than expected—because they’re being pulled along behind the work and creating a double-thick layer, it’s important to make sure you can get gauge while knitting colorwork.

Another reason that swatching for colorwork is really important is that colors tend to play tricks on each other when they’re blended together. Take a closer look at the Iris background at the top. I used the same ball of Iris throughout knitting it, but Iris picks up the warmer tones of Cherries, making it appear brighter and warmer at the very top, but cools down when paired with Columbine. So swatching before knitting the whole thing lets you know how the colors are going to affect one another.

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If you, like me, tend to collect scraps of yarn from finished projects but don’t always know what to do with them, they’re great for colorwork practice! Find a simple pattern repeat and work out for yourself what colors you like to see paired together, how you like to hold the yarns, what types of patterns you find appealing, etc. If you prefer to practice with an actual project, the Fox Grape mittens are a free knitting pattern download and a quick knit.

2 Comments

  1. It’s interesting to hear that you try to balance out color values. My wife has gotten into swatching recently, and I’m looking for something that would help her with it. If balancing colors are pretty important I might go with a swatch board or something. I haven’t decided yet, thanks for the advice!

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