Our knitted patchwork blanket

When Stephen and I married in 1991, we each brought to the marriage a stash (a dowry, so to speak) of  children, books and knitted swatches.

Children and books both found their places, respectively settling into a pecking order and a merger.  But the swatches – what to do with the swatches?  What about a patchwork blanket?!knitted blanketWe come from different knitting traditions.  Stephen is a whizz at the knitting machine, which allows full expression of his sophisticated designing skills.  He’s a mathematician and is never happier than when with a notebook or computer, calculating patterns, repeats, algorithms.  Stephen works with coned, oiled yarns, preferably 2-ply Shetland wool.

I’m a spinner, and a hand knitter.  I’d knitted on and off from my teenage years, but what really sparked for me in the early 1980s was the combination of learning to spin and the multi-coloured knit designs by Kaffe Fassett. My chunky, wildly-coloured, homespun yarns worked perfectly with his garments.Katherine knittingBoth Stephen and I swatched – and we still do.  I’m always hearing of people who skip this essential step.  But how do you test colour mixes, patterns, designs – let alone tension – if you don’t swatch?

These old swatches now tell stories.  They are reminders of garments we have made, perhaps for others, possibly for ourselves, – and some, for one reason or another, never got made at all.

Let’s start with one of the most popular Kaffe Fassett patterns, and definitely one of my favourites: Poppies.  PoppiesI’ve knitted it again and again.red and white poppiesBoth the two swatches above became cardigans for good friends of mine. My old photographs leave a lot to be desired, but they still give some idea of one of the finished knits.  Odd buttons are the perfect finishing touch to this riot of colour.SJK cardiganSmall swatches in the blanket remind me of other colourways I’ve experimented with.pink and yellow poppiesEventually I made an orange version for myself.K's poppy cardiganPoppy cardiganI still have it – little worn, alas, these days because it is huge affair, with massive square shoulders (so fashionable at the time).  You can make out quite clearly the mix of yarns I’ve included – somewhere in there is my own handspun hair!

These were my first attempts at rainbow dyeing.  I had some beautiful yarns to work with, notably the fleece of a local Shetland sheep called Charity.  My sister brought the long lustrous mohair back from Turkey for me  – it caused great alarum among my fellow spinners at the Devon Guild – ooh, it might have anthrax, scrapie ….!  I survived.

There are all sorts of other interesting bits and pieces of yarn included as well that I used to pick up in charity shops or was gifted by friends.Orange poppy cardigan (details)Kaffe Fassett aficionados will recognise the patterns in these swatches below.  They were experiments that never took off – I forget why now. In some places the yarns have faded very badly.  Those are yarns I dyed with natural dyes, and this explains why I am so reluctant to dye with plants nowadays. The fade completely changes the pattern.Kaffe Fassett pattern IrisesLet’s move on now to one of Stephen’s swatches.  Here are two examples of the same interlocking pattern. He writes:

This is based on a tessellating design trying to interlock the shapes with a variety of different colours – alas, some of them did not have enough contrast to bring it out.Interlocking patternsmall interlocking pattern swatchThese are wave patterns he was experimenting with.  Over to you Stephen:

Trying to do 2 things here – firstly a pattern that moved sideways, and secondly trying to capture a wavy design so that the finished fabric looked as though is was rucked up or creased. Alas this version was not particularly successful.Wave experiment patternHe continued to experiment with wave patterns and came up with this fantastic wave pattern which is part of another blanket we made.

A much better version. This blanket looks even better when lying down under it in bed after a drink or two – certainly brings out the wavy effect.wave patternI too have worked with wave patterns.  My inspiration came from this small saddle bag.Saddlebag for inspirationIf you change the colours, replace the reds, browns and oranges with sea colours, you come up with something like this.blue wave swatchOr Or try the blues and greens in a slightly different arrangement, and you get this.blue & green wave swatchI used the design and colour plan from the first swatch to knit a Kaffe Fassett-style cardigan.  A beachside cardigan that I still have.  It’s huge and bulky but such a good friend.Blue sea cardiganWe could not be more of a contrast, Stephen and I!  While his knits are all about calculation and accuracy, mine are wildly colourful  – and remarkably inaccurate.  I have two pieces in this blanket which are testament to how very bad my calculations can be – perhaps the reason is I never swatched, because I can not find the swatch I might have knitted for this particular cardigan.  Instead, I have the two side panels I had to cut out of the finished cardigan because it was so huge!  I’d even gone so far as to knit pockets into the cardigan, so the blanket has the rare distinction of have two pocketed swatches!

Here is one of the pieces.  You can see the rib at the bottom, and the slit for the pocket in the centre.striped cardigan swatchAnd here is the finished cardigan – before the side panels had been removed.K's huge stripey cardigan - frontK's huge stripey cardigan - backIt was so huge that I had to run elastic round the neck to draw it in before casting on the enormous collar. It’s very 80s, isn’t it?  Actually, I still have it, and it is a great cardigan to wrap myself into on bitterly cold winter days.  None of this is handspun so it’s much lighter to wear than the Kaffe Fassett cardigans I have.  It’s a happy joke to myself of my terrible calculation skills.

Back to Kaffe Fassett and this lovely pattern, a sort of variant of the poppy pattern earlier.Aunty Jilly swatchI used this pattern for a pullover for my aunt – and I believe she still has it.  I love the colourway – her choice.  It was knitted predominantly in Colinette hand-dyed yarns which are very soft and comfortable to wear.Aunty Jilly's pulloverThis little snippet is a another variant of one of Kaffe Fassett’s patterns.swatch for stephen's sweaterI knitted it into a vast sweater for Stephen.  Occasionally, I would wear it, but was soon banned because I turned the sleeves up! It doesn’t get worn very much because it is just so bulky.Stephen modelling sweaterI don’t know how to describe this colour change pattern that Stephen came up with – so I will leave it to him:

In this pattern I used the random function on my computer program to select the stitch colour at random, the probability of a particular colour being chosen changing from 1 stich in 12 to 11 stiches in 12 over 120 rows – the idea being that the colours should seem to merge from one to the other, From these designs you can see that some give a better effect than others.
blue through yellow swatchThe colours in the swatch are very strident, but the design was used to much better effect in this panel that Stephen knitted for another blanket.colour change patternThis is another Kaffe Fassett motif that I am very fond of.yellow gold swatchI knitted it up several times, and eventually came up with this.blue gilet swatchWhich became a gilet (which I still have, and still wear).giletThere are some more interesting swatches in the blanket which Stephen made. Here is his Briget Riley piece. Eye-boggling, isn’t it?! Tell us about it, please, Stephen:

I was just playing about with trying to capture some of Briget Riley’s op art designs and this just seemed to work. Very effective as the shapes seem to swirl and catch the eye.Bridget Riley swatchThis stridently green and orange swatch went on to become something much nicer!

Not my own pattern, and the swatch was done with some spare bits of yarn to see what it turned out like.  Pleased with the design, but not these colours!
star swatchA beautiful, softly-toned jersey. Alas, very little worn these days.  It was knitted cuff to cuff making it quite short and bulky. But it is such a beautiful work that I have felted it in the washing machine, and plan to cut it up for another life, one day …. Perhaps make bags, hot-water bottle covers …

Much better colours – but making garments with ribbing like this takes an awful lot of work. Anyway at present I no longer have my ribber.cuff to cuff pulloverSome kind friends, thinking I was lacking inspiration, brought me back this wonderful print of the golden altarpiece in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.Gold altar, St Mark's, VeniceI did have a go at knitting it  – honest!  but it was a nightmare to knit … so never went any further.Venetian swatchThe same was true of this cat swatch.brown and white catsIt’s interesting to me looking back on all this knitting to see how very little of my knitting was textured.  The emphasis is almost all on colour and pattern.  However, there is one swatch that indicates that I was toying with textures.green homespun swatchAnd then I reverted to pattern!  This is another disappointing 80s knit (with the same homespun yarn), with enormous upper sleeves (you can just see at the join on the right side how big the sleeve setting is).  Consequently, the jersey has been little worn, but I do love the pattern and have it in mind one day to re-knit it.green tree pulloverSo here we are some twenty five years on, and what do we have?  There is still knitting going on … a new knitting machine, no less ..Stephen knittingnew swatches …

Based on a medieval tile we saw at Fountains Abbey on our recent Yorkshire trip.brick pattern

In fact, there’s a whole new pile of swatches waiting to be made into a blanket … perhaps one day …a new crop of swatchesI guess you could say these blankets are a metaphor for our marriage.  A mixture of talents and skills, many of which you wouldn’t think would work well together, but amazingly they do.

(Should you wish to make a blanket of your swatches, this is what I did: I crocheted round each swatch, sometimes several times to enlarge the swatch to fit the space available.  The crocheted pieces were then sewn together, and I crocheted round the entire blanket several times to finish it off.)


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34 thoughts on “Our knitted patchwork blanket”

      1. I saw a Craftsy class in which the teacher had swatches in a drawer and would, from time to time, open it and play with them. She said they were like a memory of what she made and how she got there, which makes sense I guess, but having them in a blanket would make it even more prevalent in her life, right? 😊


        1. Well, it’s great that she’s kept her swatches and treasures them, but I definitely recommend putting them into something like a blanket – or a wall hanging, perhaps? – then you see them so much more easily!

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  1. What wonderful colours and patterns and designs! Indeed a metaphor for your marriage, that swatch blanket – though did I see more of your swatches than of Stephen’s?? I love the idea of those threads of continuity both through so many years of your life and then your shared lives too. Am quite in awe before the richness of it all.


    1. Thank you, Polly! – I guess I contributed more to this blanket (though I have never counted) but our other shared blanket is all Stephen’s knits, and a bit of crochet to finish off by me – so I guess it is all swings and roundabouts 🙂


  2. O.K. So when you,ve finished with the orange poppy jumper…..you send it to me ! : )
    Your beautiful memory swatches are going to make a gorgeous throw to keep you warm next winter.


  3. How very very refreshing to read of a couple who, like Denise and I, share interests in everything to do with fibres, yarns, fabrics, textiles, designs, colour … Instead of her sneaking into a ‘wool shop’ whilst he sits in the car fiddling with its controls or the smartphone … But like Stephen I do admit to being a bit of a geek for patterns based on geometry and numbers. Is it a man thing? Okay I’ve been a civil engineer, but Stephen?


    1. No, Stephen doesn’t come into wool shops to me … but he does indulge all my fleecy stuff very patiently. He was a maths teacher, a designer of timetables …. not sure if it is a man thing. I just blame the Meccano he played with while I was making dolls’ clothes!

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  4. One more: the old photo of you on the doorstep, knitting – now understand the ‘rouge’. My red hair no longer apparent: the red or the hair! Your photo makes me think of when we started spinning, living in Kendal, buying our first wheel from ‘Knitters of Dent’ in … er, um … Dent!


  5. I am one of the old friends who has the beautiful green and red cardigan based on Kaffe Fasset.What a lovely post, Kathy and a wonderful interweaving of your different styles of swatches with your rich and warm relationship!


  6. What a wonderful post! And happy 25 years together this year – your knitted patchwork is such a tribute to what you share. I am also in awe of your record keeping and ability to bring it all together – so much more than the sum of its parts.


    1. Thank you so much, Jane – I have to say I didn’t have the 25 years of our marriage in the forefront of my mind when I wrote the blog – just wanted to share the idea of reusing swatches. Strange really how apposite this blog post is. I am amazed how many pics and old garments I was able to find for this blog. Stephen has far less recorded than I which is sad in many ways – but, of course, photography was so different in those days. So expensive, apart from anything else.


  7. I am stunned at the imagination/fortitude/aptitude etc etc etc……….LOVE them all! from the poppies to the medieval tile. You and Stephen keep surprising us with your treasures.
    Thank you and yes, those sweaters were massive, my sister has one but won’t wear it OR give it up 🙂


    1. Dear Susan – thank you! Nice to hear your sister is just like me! – I think Rebecca has old Kaffe knits likewise. It is a great pleasure to have blogs and other social networks now to share our makes – all these things I made over many years have never really seen the light of day properly before, and I am very touched by the warm response from you and others. Thank you so much.


  8. Love it sooo much!!! First of all, your husband is machine knitter, how cool is that?!!! Second of all, the blanket is spectacular! It is like a memory notebook with so many of your projects. I love how each swatch is different and unique, but together they look so harmonious! Absolutely amazing project, a true heirloom!


    1. Thank you, Alina! Stephen is definitely cool! – not sure I’ll tell him because it might go to his head 🙂 I am so pleased to report that he has a new knitting machine, and is doing some very exciting designs ( @stephenrdunhill on Instagram) – and he’s talking about making a new swatch blanket! 🙂

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  9. Enjoyed your post kd…you and your husband are very talented knitters. The blanket is such a beautiful and resourceful way to use your swatches. I knit, but nothing complicated like a Kaffe! Thank you for the inspiration…I usually unravel my swatches to use the yarn in the project, but now I see a good reason to finish them off and save them up!


    1. Thank you for your kind words on our knitting, Karen – and please, please do keep your swatches and make them into a blanket – it will give you so much pleasure to have mementoes of your knits, especially if you knit things to give to family and friends and no longer have the originals.


  10. have thoroughly enjoyed reading through your knits. Came googling for throw sizes as my knit machine and moi are making squares. oblongs etc to finish off using yarns I have accumulated over the years. Thank you…xx


    1. Thank you Linda so very much for your kind words! Sounds like you have the materials to make a fantastic patchwork blanket of your work through the years. Happy memories! 🙂


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