Samples? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Samples!

I hate sampling more than I hate swatching? Why? Because swatching is part of sampling, if your end product is to be knitted. Throw a scenario at me, and I can guarantee you that I can come back with a good reason why the sample or the swatch won’t help you in the end.

My favorite excuses, er, justifications?

  1. I only bought x ounces of this fiber. If I make a sample, I won’t have enough for my final project. (Even if I don’t have a project in mind. Or especially if I don’t have a project in mind — what if I need that extra 2 yards of yarn?)
  2. This is hand painted fiber. To get a true representation of how the colors interact in various spinning and knitting methods, a sample won’t capture all the colors and the effects of the repeats.
  3. This is hand painted yarn (whether spun from #2 or started out as hand painted yarn. Again, a small swatch won’t be reflective of the whole piece. You need the juxtaposition of the colors in a finished garment to get the full effect. A 5″ swatch is going to tell you diddly about how the finished garment will look. You need something more like at 10″x10″ or larger. Does the color pooling make me look fat? (Don’t ask your partner that question if you don’t want to hear the answer. Of course, Martin always knew to flee the room what that starts up.)  So, just cast on! and knit your garment.  Oh, and be prepared to rip and change your plan if you don’t like how the colors are working out.
  4. And the best? I have no idea what I want to do with this resulting yarn. I just want to spin. Don’t distract me with the technical stuff. Of course, I usually have an idea of what I’m going to make with a fiber, since the amount of the fiber will determine the size of the garment (hat, socks, scarf/shawl, sweater), and I will spin to the approximate weight.

Having said all of the above, I will also say that I’ve been burned, scarred, even, by not sampling/swatching. For larger projects (where I have a pound of wool or so), I will play out a few different spinning and plying methods: long or short draw? 2 or 3 ply? Or cabled? What wpi do I want? I’ll spin a yard or so of each and mount part of it on a card in both single and plied form. Fondle the rest of the length for the hand of the yarn. Is it too lofty? Not enough loft? Will it pill? Is it too dense and therefore, make too heavy a garment?

Once I have it down to the final 2 or so, I will spin about 10-20 more yards of my top pick. I’ll knit up a small sample. How’s the drape? How well does it show stitch definition (for cables). What’s the gauge? Do I really want to knit a whole sweater at 30 st/4 inches?

If the first spinning sample doesn’t work, I’ll either vary the sample a bit toward what I want, or move on to the second sample if I think the original is not salvageable.

I then try, really, really hard, to keep my chosen sample card with the unspun fiber as a reference. But one of several things happen:

  1. Because I don’t always start spinning the rest of the fiber immediately, I lose the sample card before actually start spinning the fiber, so all that sampling is lost.
  2. Same excuse as the 1st, but instead of losing the sample card, I decide on a different project.
  3. I spun the fiber, but I lost the sample card before I start knitting (it’s been sitting in my yarn stash for a year or 4), and I can’t remember what I wanted to do with this fiber.

Yeah, you guessed it. I end up just winging it a lot.

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