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Friday, 19 September 2014

DESIGN FEATURE - swatching

Swatching is a designers best friend
I know you will have seen the dreaded word 'swatch' in the title, so I want to reassure you that we are going to look at this essential part of the creative process from the side - a sort of  glimpse in the direction of, rather than head on, to make it all a little more palatable . . .

Instead of going into the many virtues and advantages of swatching for whatever knitting project you are ever likely to embark on, I thought it would be useful and interesting to take a look behind the scenes of the creative process - how and where the swatches begin to appear, and the function they provide.

For Helena, Creative Director at MillaMia designing a collection and realising the individual garments within that collection moves from the sketching stage to definite design decisions regarding knitted fabric, drape, texture and colour choices incredibly quickly. A garment will require specific attributes from the knitted fabric and at this early stage the best and quickest way to see if a particular stitch pattern, colour combination or gauge will work is to swatch it.

A garter slip stitch pattern and a swatch mixing fairisle and moss stitch

And so, we introduce Tanya, our Design Assistant who has the (some may say) unenviable job of producing stack upon stack of 4 inch squares in a myriad of different colours and patterns. Tanya and Helena are very often found with heads bent over a couple of swatches, discussing how a particular texture will look when replicated over a whole garment, whether another has the required amount of drape or if a specific combination of colours works for them.

Swatching the new Aran for gauge

A great example of this sometimes lengthy, but essential process is for one of our latest patterns, the Annette Scarf from Finishing Touch. After the initial design had been sketched out, they began to look at all sorts of cable patterns to see which they liked and which would work best for this oversized accessory.

As with all designs, the Annette underwent quite a journey before the final choices were made about the size and type of cable, and you can clearly see the evolution of this design through the swatches below:

Giant Ribbed Cable

Giant Braid Cable

20-stitch Twisted Candle

The end result is a simple arrangement of 2 different cables patterns running the length of the scarf to make the most of the new Naturally Soft Aran colours - particularly the melange (shown below in Stone) which adds subtle nuances in individual stitches while still highlighting the beauty of the cable motifs. Scarf
Annette Scarf in Stone

I'm told that designers actually come to love the swatching process and even utilise them in decorative displays once their technical function is long past. A pretty glass jar stuffed with all sorts of colour, texture and cataloguing a history of design development can be a object as beautiful and relevant as the finished garments themselves. And for me at least, the thought of these small scraps of knitting having some sort of purpose or function after their vocational work is done, gives me a sense of satisfaction. Maybe, just maybe I will embark on my next knitting project the way I know I should . . . with a swatch.
(posted by Max)


  1. Love this post so much ~ thank you! Oh, and that scarf is heavenly.

    1. Thanks so much. I completely agree about the Annette Scarf - I want one for myself!!

  2. Lovely blog post Max, as always! I love reading them xxx

    1. Thankyou Louisa - always so nice to receive great feedback!