Exploring Brushed Alpaca

Last time we chatted I was showing off my latest project, Paprika, but like all accomplishments, a bit of work went into it before it happened. Before starting, I swatched … I know, you hate swatching, you avoid swatching, swatching is gross, swatching is boring, blech. I think I understand how a dentist feels, telling their patients to floss – it’s a Sisyphean task. Instead of listing all the important (aka. boring, grown-up) reasons to swatch I think I’m just going to share ….

I once read that designer Veronique Avery learned how to knit, and design, by making swatches EXCLUSIVELY for a year. That’s right a YEAR of swatching. When I read that, I thought “Wow, this lady is single-minded.” But you know what, I bet by the end of that exercise she REALLY understood hand knitted fabric. She understood how different fibres, different tensions, and different stitch patterns behaved.

Designers understand that swatching is knowledge. But swatching is more than just the way to make sure your project is going to fit. Swatching is a way to experiment with yarn, explore it’s potential, see how it behaves. It’s a way to decide how you like it, how you don’t like it. Will it do what you want it to do, will it look like you want it to? Most people remind you that swatching is a way to avoid being disappointed, but it can also be a way to find new things you like!

Before I started my Paprika, I experimented with the yarn I was thinking about using, Drops Brushed Alpaca and Silk ….

Initially, I was thinking about making the sweater with some colour. I grabbed 3 warm colours and cast on a little cowl based on the Snap hat I made a little while ago. Yup, that’s right, it’s a swatch AND a project. Squares swatches are ok, but not so much fun. To start with I was playing with colour, so the tension didn’t matter, and I made something that made me happy – an actual garment (which is what the end product will be, anyway).

I initially thought I’d be into this colour combo, but once it was done it was full of NOPE (at least for this sweater)! Such is life. But I did find out how the yarn knitted at a new tension, what it looked like on both sides of the fabric, how some of the colours looked combined, and I have a great little cowl! (all of the project details are in my Ravelry Project Notes)

Materials

Following up on my colour-speriment, I thought maybe I’d rest my eyes and try a neutral ombre/colour gradient. So I made a cowl to swatch the tension and colours. The fabric is lovely, the colours blended well, and my swatch, a cowl, is lovely (an added bonus). But as I thought about the sweater, I decided simple was better, and that figuring out when to change the colours in the sweater felt like too much work for me. Sometimes the KISS (Keep It Simple Sister) principle is extremely effective!

Drops Brushed Alpaca and Silk is a great yarn to play around with colour gradations and colour combining. The strands stick together and the texture blends nicely. As far as a swatch, it gave me my tension information, helped me narrow down my colour concept, and its a really nice, light, airy cowl! I haven’t written the cowl up as a formal pattern, but all the directions and details (needle sizes, yarn colours) are in my Ravelry Project Notes.

Materials

Following the second cowl (and a couple other swatches that I really did not enjoy, and I pitched the results) I learned a lot:

  • The yarn is really nice and soft, very cuddly and cloud-like
  • It’s quite versatile, it adapts to a whole bunch of different tensions
  • I like combining the colours in some projects but not in others
  • If I’m going to make an ombre sweater, it is best made from the top-down (so I don’t have to think too much about colour placement, matching the arms to the body, etc.)
  • I now have a reference for how some of the colours look combined

And of course, the most important thing I learned from the process, was that I really enjoyed working with this yarn, and I wanted to keep exploring it in different ways. At the risk of sounding like the final paragraph in a serial mystery novel … I did, and the results were unexpected! But You’ll have to wait for the next instalment to find out more.

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