Swatch, Swatch, Swatch

comments: 35


Little Flower Cover 2


I'm swatching yarn samples like crazy, trying to decide what yarn to use for my little kid sweaters. The doll sweaters use Nature Spun Sport. I wanted something slightly heavier for the kid sweaters but I wanted it to feel the same-ish. Right now I'm leaning heavily toward using Cascade 220. Huge palette of colors, light worsted—/DK-weight. It has the kind of halo I like, and the "yarniness" I like — I liked plied yarns without a ton of twist, and I like yarns that aren't too smooth and round. Just round enough. It feels old-fashioned and rustic-y, but it really softens after blocking and it is durable. It's affordable and very readily available, and this was really important to me. Downside, it’s made in China. :(. Originally I was totally going to use acrylic for these, but it just was not working for me, no matter what I did. It just wasn't make me happy when doing colorwork. It just wasn't giving and stretching the way it needed to. As soon as I switched back to wool it was just like . . . yep. There's a superwash 220, too. I'm getting the same gauge for the superwash and the regular, which is apparently a bit unusual, as the superwash is supposedly lighter. I'll do samples in both, just to see.

This brought up a conversation at the yarn store yesterday. When you knit a pattern, do you use the yarn that is suggested? Do you just go to your own personal favorite? How much does the yarn used by the designer influence you? Can you see past that if you don't like it, or is it a major factor in whether you can visualize your project? Do you just go to the store and pick something out and then try to find a pattern for it? Tell me everything. I'm really curious about this now. I almost never use the yarn that's recommended. I have no idea why. Rebel.

***By the way, for you non-knitters, "swatching" is the process of working up a little 4"-square sample of knitted yarn, generally in the stitch pattern the design calls for, to see exactly how many stitches you get per inch, and how many rows you get per inch. This is your "gauge." All patterns should have a gauge, and it is super important. One stitch short on a 4" gauge swatch can add up to being several inches off on your finished piece, so it really matters. Number of stitches across is more important to match; matching rows can be trickier. Usually patterns will tell you how many rows (or rounds) to knit and also give you the length in inches and centimeters you are aiming for (on a yoke, sleeve, or body, or an amount of ribbing, etc.). If you know how to knit and you've heard about gauge but you still think it's kind of confusing (I did, too, when I was first learning), leave me questions and I will answer them. And also by the way, if you are interested in writing knitting patterns, The Beginner's Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns by Kate Atherley is excellent. I highly recommend it.


Love the doll sweaters! I usually use the yarn recommended by the designer, often even the same color. I guess I just see it, like it and want that EXACT knitted thing. If it's not possible to get the recommended yarn I choose something as close to it as possible. Not very creative or original, but it makes me happy!

I rarely use the yarn the pattern suggest! First , I have a huge stash and I need to use it up, second, I can only knit with pure wool-I'm allergic to all other fibers. Cascade is a great all purpose yarn with a wonderful price point! Your sweater yokes look amazing!

I'm so curious what people will say about substituting yarns. I almost always use a different yarn than what is called for in the pattern. I seem to have a knack for choosing patterns that suggest an obscure or pricey yarn, so I check my stash first or go with something I am familiar with. I even bought a "wrap tool" so I could compare wraps per inch to try to find a truly compatible yarn.

Have you seen the Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) “Four Tendencies”? As you said, maybe you’re a rebel. I’m apparently a questioner, which makes sense to me because I question why I have to use that particular yarn. But if I agree with the designer’s rationale, I’m all in. :) I try to use yarns that are more eco-friendly if I’m not knitting for someone who just needs to chuck the thing in the wash. Or local-ish— or a small business. You get the idea. I’m more likely to substitute in favor of something like that.

Angela Pea says: October 22, 2019 at 06:28 PM

Hmmm...I'm split about half and half...sometimes use the designated yarn, sometimes go rogue and pick something else. It's the price that usually drives the decision. I mean, OF COURSE the ultra-baby-alpaca-silk blend spun by fairies and delivered by Llamas straight from Peru is luscious and incredibly soft and beautiful; but seriously, do I need a $795 sweater?

Wow - you mean you're supposed pick the pattern first?!! I seem to be incapable of not-buying yarn because I love the fiber/color/feel... So my goal is to match-to-a-pattern and knit my stash, then experience the Pattern First Mode. So the answer to your question is no. Kimberly was talking about a wrap tool--I don't know what it is, can you address that? Thank you!! Love watching your creative process.

In love with these super cute small sweaters!
xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

It was interesting to read the previous comments. I mainly use yarn from artisan dyers so buy when I see it. I can honestly say that I never use the recommended yarn. This is because I mainly knit socks and because I’m in the UK so would not be able to source the yarn. My stash needs to be reduced (don’t we all think that?). It was fun to read about the birthday parties. What lovely parents you are to your beautiful daughter.

It really depends on if I absolutely love the color and texture of the pattern sample. I have a rather large yarn stash and so often I try to use it before buying yarn. There are many times, too many, when I fall in love with the yarn the designer used and find the price point for the item is sky high. I will then search out yarn that is "close enough" to the original with a smaller price point.

Light worsted is a great choice! So versatile, and there are tons of nice yarns you can substitute if you're not into Cascade 220. Personally I love Cascade 220 -- woolly but not itchy, durable, not prone to pilling, lovely heather colors. I sometimes use superwash or cotton/acrylic for kiddos since they are easier to care for, but superwash seems to pill so much more and stretch out.

I tend to pay attention to the yarn a pattern calls for, but I only sometimes use it. I like to think about why the designer chose that yarn -- sheen, drape, general woolliness, color, availability, but then pick what my heart wants that fits within those general guidelines.

I've had my Passap Vario knitting frame for almost 30 years now - I love seeing beautiful sweaters knit in wool that look so luxurious BUT - my husband and both my boys are very allergic to wool. I always look for alternative yarns that are close in both thickness and color and swatch to get as close to the gauge as I can. So comfort has always been my motive for substituting yarn when the pattern calls for wool.

Ha!! This made me laugh out loud — I never even notice the name of the yarns in most patterns I knit. Just give me yardage and weight and I’ll find something is my motto. Stashing is a bad habit but I can’t stop 😂
My 13 yr old is finally letting me knit for her again (so gracious of her) and yoke sweaters are all she wants — you nailed it with yours!

Yeah, i buy yarn i like, usually on sale, and then struggle to find a pattern for it. I do pay attention to the recommended yarn to consider drape, twist, etc. But even when i have the recommended yarn i have a hard time getting gauge. A lot of designers i think are gifted really expensive yarn and their recommendations are wildly outside of what i am willing, at this point in my knitting abilities, to invest in a project. $150- $200 for a shawl or a sweater? I have a hard time justifying that. Thanks for choosing a reasonably priced but nice wool.
Love the doll sweater swatches.

I, too, rarely use the yarn required. I check out the gauge for a pattern, look at how many grams others took to make roughly my "size," and pick a yarn I like. There are so many, many commercial yarns available, but they feel so impersonal, like getting a gift card at Christmas. I just want something raised on a small farm. That way, I look at the FOs in my wardrobe and think, "That's Hebridean wool from a little farm in Yorkshire!" It's my way of traveling (since going there myself isn't an option just now), and supporting local businesses. Though, perhaps not always local to me. There is this beautiful, silvery shawl I made last year. I just learned that one of the sheep whose wool is in it died two weeks ago. There can never be another shawl just like it now. I think that's kind of cool, and part of why crafting appeals to so many people. We make things that can't just be picked up in a shop anywhere.

confessions of a knitaholic:
I have alot of yarn, so stash diving at this point is a must. I learned to knit many years ago but picked it up again seriously about 12 years ago. In the beginning I used the recommended because I didn't really know alot about yarn. I have gained alot of knowledge because I do a lot of test knitting now for designers (this has really helped). I do try to use my stash when I can and sub yarn most of the time. Alicia I appreciate the "rebel" in you, I have abit of that myself! Because of that I almost always use a different yarn and often different needle sizes too. I think it is good to see people knit with different yarns than the designer because not everyone has access to the original yarn for different reasons and it might give them courage to try and color outside the box. As for matching yarn and pattern...I have alot of yarn because I used to go to the lys and go crazy! Everything was beautiful and I wanted it all! Now I try and have something in mind. I do think learning to sew first has helped me with color etc. I understand construction well and can see color and pattern together pretty well in my head. Ok, I am rambling, off to Ravelry...a great place to research ideas.
I love your designs and enjoy your vintage sewing patterns, I used alot of them in the 80's to sew for my girls.

I don't know if I've ever used the suggested yarn in a pattern! I agree with the other commenters, they're usually very pricey and while I love to support independent designers/dyers, my budget just doesn't allow for it all of the time. I do love Cascade 220 and use it often for my children's sweaters. The navy heather is a great blue-not too dark and not too bright. Also-I sometimes find a pattern I like and then find a yarn to fit it, but I almost always find a beautiful yarn and figure I can find some sort of project for it. It tends to be seasonal too! Depending on the time of year, I can usually find inspiration in a yarn's color. Burnt orange in the Fall, aqua and coral in the summer, etc. It's really my favorite way to shop!

Interesting questions you ask. I am not a knitter (and now you frighten me a bit to learn - haha!), but I am a crocheter. I have only done blankets and a couple cushion covers. Crocheting is very relaxing for me and I just love seeing the pattern develop and feeling the yarn move through my fingers & hands. I tend to look for the yarns used in the pattern because that's what attracts me to the certain pattern to begin with, its colors and the patterns it forms. I have difficulty finding yarn in the US that I like when I have tried to go with something different than that which the pattern author used. I REALLY love working with cotton yarn which I order from Israel. It has such a nice quality about it, works up into a beautifully soft, colorful, and weighty blanket. I really enjoy your creations and blog, Alicia!

Like others, I have a stash of yarn that needs to be used. So, when I see a pattern (usually socks), that I'd like to knit, I just knit them.
As long as the weight of the yarn fits what is called for in the pattern, then I'll use it. But, and that's a big BUT, if I come across a fantastic 'new' pattern that just has to be knit. Then I just 'might', purchase the required yarn. But that is rare, very rare. (smile)
BTW: The seasons play a role in which yarns I'll use, too. The colder it is, the more rustic/toothy/woolly my yarn choices become. Even for socks. House socks, that is.

Golly, there are so many factors driving my yarn-for-pattern choice that it’s hard to type out the details. Short answer—I usually buy yarn first and match it to an appropriate pattern later. Occasionally the yarn winds up being used for a pattern that calls for it, but far more frequently it doesn’t. Most of my stash is earmarked for specific patterns, which can change depending upon how long the yarn’s been sitting there. Yarn purchased for a sweater pattern recently was knit into a shawl—I’m thrilled with the result. My gauge is very, very loose, so often I have to be flexible with needle and yarn choice. Also, some DK yarns knit up like they’re worsted, while some fingering could pass for sport, and vice versa. All of that to say, patterns are just suggestions! I do appreciate when designers choose reasonable and easily accessible yarns because it affirms my idea that yarn doesn’t have to be boutique-y to be worth knitting!

S. Molinari says: October 23, 2019 at 08:01 PM

It’s funny, when you started working on the patterns I wondered how you learned to do that. Thanks for the reference. 😃 I very seldom use the same yarn as the pattern. Must be a rebel too. 🤷🏼‍♀️ I am enjoying your process!

I never use the recommended yarn for 3 reasons:

1) Price: I just can't justify $30/skein, especially for larger projects. Beautiful artisan yarn is absolutely worth the price, but it's not a price that's in my budget at the moment.

2) Availability: On the occasion that I do want to splurge on a certain type of yarn, I find that it is often sold out or there isn't enough in the shops where it's sold. I think that once a pattern becomes popular enough, and if the designer uses yarn created in small batches, there just isn't any hope of getting your hands on any in the amounts that are required. Also, I live outside of the US and so many brands are unavailable to me.

3) Size/Gauge: I knit so loosely that I always go smaller on the needles and bigger on the yarn otherwise my knits look really...blobby.

One thing that I DO often try to match is color and texture. I'm not always very good at pairing colors for the proper amount of contrast or textures to avoid losing the pattern, especially with lace.

Lisa Dexheimer says: October 24, 2019 at 08:11 AM

Have you tried O-Wool? ( Jocelyn is wonderful and I love supporting her small business. Her O-Wash Line is organic and washable . She has organic wool in all weights (I think US sourced) plus a blend of organic cotton and wool (balance). I have used them for baby and children’s items. She does a few festivals but is not in too many yarn shops. Her website is easy to use and she has lots of colors. Her prices are less than some of the other popular hand-dyed yarns.

I have also used Cascade 220 in the wool and superwash and it is great yarn . They do source a lot of their yarn from China, I think to keep costs down.

All the best to you and your family!

These tiny sweaters (soon to be larger sweaters) are just exquisite! You've done such a beautiful job. I love their little yokes. I cannot wait to see them in their full-sized glory! <3

I am completely inconsistent about yarn. Sometimes I'll knit with what I have, sometimes I'll look for the exact type of yarn, sometimes I'll buy yarn and look for a pattern to fit it. It just sort of depends on my mood, the yarn, the pattern. I'm just happy to be knitting!

t.a.knight says: October 24, 2019 at 08:46 PM

It is so interesting to read all the responses on other knitters processes! As a knitter I never even look at the suggested yarn, just the suggested weight and needle size. Then I usually size it up or down to adjust to the needles I have available at the moment or possibly the yarn weight I choose is a little different then the suggested or I need a size or two smaller or bigger. I can never ever seem to follow a pattern with out tweaking something. But when choosing a yarn I just go for color and feel more than anything. Sometimes from my stash. Sometimes I shop for something I have already in my mind.

Adorable sweaters! Both for the doll and for their little owners! I do check what type of yarn is used but, price and "feel" are factors for sure! Can't wait until you ship all your lovely items soon!

On another note, I live in Northern California - silk ribbon is almost impossible to find. Please let us know if you find any shops etc in Oregon - perhaps, they would ship...

Your birthday celebration (as always) was sooo cute and sweet - she's one lucky little girl and both of you are as well!

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at