Sunday, October 14, 2012

Swatching Wisdom at Stitches East

When Deborah Newton arrived for her swatching class at Stitches East the other day, she brought a big black plastic bag full of swatches. It was like an endless magic bag from which she pulled out more and more and yet more squares of knitted fabric—cables, lace, Fair Isle, stitch patterns of all kinds. The mountain of color and texture on the table in front of us was a testament to her 30 years of creative experimentation and innovative designs.

If you've read Newton's Finishing School: A Master Class for Knitters, you know she doesn't make little stockinette swatches just to get gauge. No, she makes really big swatches—anywhere from 8-12 inches tall and wide—big enough to allow her to really see how the fabric will behave and to try out options for edgings, trims, buttons, pockets, etc. Throughout the afternoon she picked up swatch after swatch and shared what she learned from it, what challenges the stitch pattern presented, or how she developed a garment design from the swatch.

My pen was constantly busy scribbling down her gems of wisdom about knitting and swatches:

--"The swatch is a valid object. It is an objet de knitting. In and of itself, it tells its own stories."

--"Don't think about a swatch only as a means to numbers. Think about creating fabric."

--"I don't want my sweaters to look machine knit. I want them to have the vitality that only a handmade fabric has."

--"Just as you might have a regular meditation or yoga practice, have a swatching practice. Set aside time regularly to try new stitch patterns and unfamiliar yarns."

--"I want everybody to feel great about what they do."

--"I believe in fun."

I don't think I've ever heard anybody in the knitting world express so much enthusiasm and sheer delight about swatching. I loved that she started out her talk with a slide of Henri Matisse surrounded by countless sketches of a woman's face. It illustrated perfectly her point that swatches are like sketches, and "all creative work is about experimentation."

Since I've just bound off a new design (more on that soon), this weekend I allowed myself to cast on a new project—Newton's Cabled Patchwork Scarf from Finishing School. It has a unique construction—the cables run both vertically and horizontally because you pick up and knit stitches in the side of one block to start the next. I'm only on the first block and can't wait to see how it turns out.

Cabled Patchwork Scarf_Start
Pattern: Cabled Patchwork Scarf by Deborah Newton
Yarn: Berroco Peruvia
Needle: US7

I'm sure some of you are wondering, how was the Stitches East market? My answer is: BIG! Maybe not as big as in previous years, but still pretty amazing: all kinds of yarns, from "old standbys" like Cascade 220 and Louet Gems to specialty yarns from vendors like Habu to hand dyed yarns from String Theory, Dragonfly Fibers, Wandering Wool, and so many other dyers. Plenty of other stuff, too: needles, shawl pins, hand lotions, buttons, roving, books and patterns. I found the perfect yarn and pattern for a gift I want to make (but I can't say anything about it here, as the recipient might be reading). That alone made it completely worth going to Stitches.

My favorite discovery? Reversible fabric bags by Jessica Dekker, who sold her bags in the Wandering Wool booth. All of her fabrics were so delightful, it was really hard to choose. I ended up with a medium-size bag big enough for several small or medium projects, with handy pockets inside and out. I've already embellished one pocket with a couple of pins, and might embroider my name on the other.

New Project Bag_4

New Project Bag_2

Fabric Detail

New Project Bag_3

 New Project Bag_1

All in all, it was a productive and fun Stitches East. I won't be at Rhinebeck next weekend, but I look forward to reading all about it. Are you going to Rhinebeck this year?


Denise said...

Oh, so jealous...could not go to Stitches East this year... Glad you enjoyed the class and the bags are gorgeous!

Betsey said...

Sounds like it was an excellent class. Like the idea of a swatch practice. Ultra cute bag.

Jessica said...

Thanks for the shout out! It was so fun to be at Stiches East, and really wish I were close enough to make Rhinebeck this year.