Swatching is kind of like dating

Swatches for IthilienI’ve been knitting swatches obsessively diligently with this Ithilien design, and it occurs to me that perhaps I’m staving off the next level of commitment. You know, figuring the precise number of stitches to cast on and then just doing it. I have all the pieces in my head or on paper or in yarn, but keep thinking things like, “Will it look better if I go down one needle size?” (Yes, it does.) And, “Maybe I should do four rows of this color instead of just three – it might balance out the colors better.” (Yes, it does.) And, “What about charting? Would some other application do the job better?” (Could be. More about that in a minute.)

I really, really like this design, and am enjoying spending time with it, but going through the actual ceremony to make it official is a little scary. Which is probably why I have been swatching and swatching, although I have been making some very valid detail decisions. Enjoying spending time with it… but reluctant to move on in the relationship. So. I’ve ordered the circular needle and additional bronze-colored yarn that I need, and will have no more excuses to postpone setting the date for the wedding cast-on. When the needles arrive, I start in!!

Fortunately for knitters, there are no moral or ethical issues about “project monogamy” (as better knitters than I have called it). I still have several items in progress, and yet more waiting in the wings. I don’t have much of a stash, since pretty much everything I buy is for an actual item. (Sock yarns are for actual socks. They don’t have to have an intended recipient or pattern before they are purchased, and don’t count against a knitter as stash. They live outside of stash designations. All sock knitters know this. Just ask one.) So while I am waiting for my new needles to arrive, I will work on one of my other projects.

other projects

Actually, I will also work on charting the Ithilien Brocade pattern. I have a couple of programs I use for charting patterns, but have run into a couple of issues with them, so I started looking around for an alternative that I can afford. ‘Free’ is well within my price range.

I downloaded and installed Creative Design ChartMaker, which has a free trial, after which you need to pay $30. Not bad, if it will do what you need! However, I found that it didn’t provide any new functionalities for me, so although I played with it, I don’t think I’ll be buying it.

For color patterns, I have been quite happy using my old cross-stitch application, Pattern Maker for Cross Stitch by HobbyWare. And while there are symbols I can assign that approximate some knitting chart symbols, the real problem crops up when I have cables to draw. That is really too much to ask from a program that was written for another craft entirely, so its best use is for charting color work. Also, the graphs are all in squares, which is not proportional for most knitting patterns. But it can do cool stuff like flipping selected elements for mirror images and so forth.

I also use Excel/Open Office Calc. (Open Office is open source- that’s FREE – office productivity software. If you are a Windows user and don’t have Microsoft Office, download OO, install, and you’re in business. I’m sure you can find other things to do with the money you don’t spend on MS Office.) The spreadsheet format lets me make the cells whatever size I like, which means I can make them wider than they are tall for most knitting purposes. Although for Fair Isle patterns, and Ithilien as well, I frequently end up using squares instead of rectangles. You can also color the cells if you like, but that may take a while, and necessitate some massage therapy for your mouse-clicking finger by the time you’re done.

Ithilien charts

I use a couple of knitting character fonts in my spreadsheet charts: Aire River Design Knitting Font and the Knitting Universe Symbols Font (scroll to the bottom of the page for that one). Download the files and install the fonts as directed. Be sure to print out the relevant page(s) that tell you which key on the keyboard creates which knitting symbol character!! To use these fonts in a chart, just select the columns/rows you will be working with, then click to change the font and select the one you want from the font list. NOTE: If there is a symbol that has an ASCII value instead of a single key on the keyboard, hold down the Alt key while you type the numbers from the numeric keypad, and the symbol will appear.

This method actually works quite well, but Excel/Calc can be pretty fiddly, especially when making a large chart. I recommend that you save your work frequently – that way, if you’ve made a mess of the most recent changes, you can just close the document without saving, and reopen it to the last saved version. Or you may prefer to save different versions with slightly different file names, in case you want to revert back to an earlier one.

If you try this, you will know what I’ll be up to in my odd free moments for the next several days…

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2 Responses to Swatching is kind of like dating

  1. Sarah says:

    “Sock yarns are for actual socks. They don’t have to have an intended recipient or pattern before they are purchased, and don’t count against a knitter as stash. They live outside of stash designations.”

    Yes, of course! This makes such perfect sense that I should have realized it ages ago. I will have to employ this feat of logic Saturday.

  2. I think I’m a “speed dater” when it comes to swatching. I make a little swatch, figure it’s great, and jump right in. Many times I find that I should have made a bigger swatch! But the commitment is there; I just have to start over.

    I don’t stash much either. Just the occasional sock yarn. And I’m not a big sock knitter. It just feels like a smaller commitment than a sweater’s worth!

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