• Swatching for a Very Special Project

March 07, 2020

I just swatched for a very special project, my wedding shawl.

Swatching for a shawl is something I've never done before.  Swatching for garments, yes, most definitely, but never previously for a shawl, since it's not a fitted garment.

But I'm so glad I did on this occasion.  This little swatch has already revealed a lot and is making me feel more confident about knitting the shawl.

After perusing 1001 lace weight rectangular wrap patterns on Ravelry, I settled on the Madlis Shawl by Nancy Bush.  It features a lovely Estonian lace pattern which can be found in Nancy's book 'Knitted Lace of Estonia'.

With the help of a knitting friend, we managed to obtain a copy of the book from our local library, as the pattern wasn't available for individual purchase on Ravelry.

Once the book arrived, I immediately set about to swatching for it.

Through the swatching process for this shawl, I've learnt a few things - which I'm sure will set me up for success:


1. Swatching helps you achieve a fabric you like

Using our Barrington Merino Silk Lace yarn I firstly swatched a few repeats of the centre lace pattern using the recommended needle size, 3.5mm.

Given the Louie & Lola Yarns Barrington Merino Silk Lace is a heavier lace-weight yarn, at 600m per 100gm, compared with the yarn used for the pattern sample, at 1262m/100gm; the gauge achieved on the resulting fabric from the 3.5mm needles was too dense to allow the lace pattern to open up enough to show the full beauty of the lace.

So for my second swatch I switched to 4mm needles and I'm very pleased with the drapiness and openness of the lace on this swatch, after blocking.

2. I have a better idea of what size my finished shawl will be

Based on the slightly larger gauge I achieved on my 4mm needle sample, I've calculated that my shawl will be around 42cm wide, rather than the 35.5cm noted in the pattern.

I'm totally happy about this!  The sample 'wrap' that I tried on in the bridal shop with my dress was also 42cm wide and I liked how that looked with my dress.

3. Decisions, decisions...nupps vs beads

I was in two minds - would I prefer nupps or beads in my shawl?  So on my first swatch I knit the first pattern repeat as written, with the nupp texture stitch.  On the second pattern repeat I replaced the nupps with beads.

Whilst I absolutely love doing beadwork on lace shawls, on this particular shawl design I felt the beads 'got lost' in the design and that I preferred the look of the nupps.  Decision made!

4. I got to practice and perfect the lace pattern and new-to-me stitches

I got to practice the lace pattern before starting knitting on the shawl itself, which means I'm more familiar with it and (hopefully) less likely to make mistakes.

But even more beneficial was getting to practice the new-to-me '7-stitch nupp' before starting on the shawl itself.

Being a naturally tight knitter I have to be very conscious to work the nupp stitch very loosely!  If knit too tightly, completing the 'purl the 7 nupp sts togther' is downright impossible.

Swatching has helped me get my tension on the nupp stitch right, so to make it easier to purl on the following row.

5. Using the right tools for the job at hand is important

My go-to needles for lace shawl knitting are my Chiaogoo Twist red cable needles.  I love their pointy, but not sharp, tips.  They are definitely the right needles to be using when executing the nupp stitches.

If I was to have chosen my Knit Pro Nova or Lykke wooden needles for this project, they just wouldn't have had the right degree of 'pointiness' needed to execute the 'purl the 7 nupp sts together' stitch.

6. I'm happy with this yarn for this pattern

I've enjoyed swatching with my Barrington Merino Silk Lace base.  I found the yarn glided nicely across the metal needles, but wasn't as slippery as some higher silk content yarns, which can have a tendency for stitches to slip off the needles.  Also, there was absolutely no issues with the yarn splitting or being caught on the needles.  Combined, this will make for an overall more enjoyable knitting experience, whilst working on such a large wrap.

And last, but by no means least, I like the end result of the fabric from the larger needle swatch.  The handle of the fabric, the subtle sheen of the silk component in the yarn and the drappiness & openness of the lace work.


It's all systems go now, as I cast on the shawl for real! 

Wish me luck...I have until the end of June to complete it.