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?!We 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.Both 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. I’ve knitted it again and again.Both 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.Small swatches in the blanket remind me of other colourways I’ve experimented with.Eventually I made an orange version for myself.I 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.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. Let’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.These 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.He 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.I too have worked with wave patterns. My inspiration came from this small saddle bag.If you change the colours, replace the reds, browns and oranges with sea colours, you come up with something like this.Or Or try the blues and greens in a slightly different arrangement, and you get this.I 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.We 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.And here is the finished cardigan – before the side panels had been removed.It 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.I 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.This little snippet is a another variant of one of Kaffe Fassett’s patterns.I 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.I 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.
The 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.This is another Kaffe Fassett motif that I am very fond of.I knitted it up several times, and eventually came up with this.Which became a gilet (which I still have, and still wear).There 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.This 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!
A 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.Some kind friends, thinking I was lacking inspiration, brought me back this wonderful print of the golden altarpiece in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.I did have a go at knitting it – honest! but it was a nightmare to knit … so never went any further.The same was true of this cat swatch.It’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.And 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.So 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 ..new swatches …
In fact, there’s a whole new pile of swatches waiting to be made into a blanket … perhaps one day …I 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.)