Any professional musician or entertainer will advise that the key to a polished performance is preparation. Whether it is live on stage or in the recording studio, rehearsals are essential.
The practical experience of rehearsing allows artists to experiment, practise new techniques, consolidate skills and organise their plans. A rehearsal is often the only way to identify potential problems and iron them out–I know I would rather discover a hitch at rehearsal than during the main performance.
As it is for musicians, so it is for crocheters.
On 18 March 2012, two days after I had brought home an armful of 8 ply* acrylic, my rehearsal for the Fab Four Amigurumi started with the magic word "swatch"!
There's a great debate out there in crochet and knitting land about whether a swatch is essential. I will admit up-front that I am all for making test swatches before embarking on a project. The benefits of making a swatch for me, mirror those benefits of rehearsing for musicians.
It's a great opportunity to:
- experiment with different yarns, hooks and stitches
- learn new techniques
- practice the pattern stitches and develop a smooth working rhythm which helps to maintain regular tension*
- check the tension* and measurements to make sure the project will be the right size
- find out how the finished fabric might look, feel and drape
- find out how the finished product will respond to wear and washing–will it felt, shrink or stretch?
Make sure to use the same yarn and hook as for the project, especially if stitch measurements are needed from the swatch. Following this rule, I began with a 4 mm hook and black acrylic. The little Fab Four jackets are based on a rectangle of crocheted fabric, perfectly simple for measuring tension* etc.
The problem that I did not foresee was that the black yarn made the stitches very hard to see. The only time I could work effectively on the black sections was in the evening at the kitchen table under a lamp. I will often crochet while out and about but the black was "too black" to see clearly in many of my regular locations.
My first task was to determine the correct hook. I chose aluminium hooks because, in my experience, they work very smoothly with acrylic yarn. I soon discovered that the 4 mm aluminium hook was too wide for the 8 ply* acrylic for the purpose of amigurumi. The resulting fabric was too open and would allow the stuffing to show and possibly leak out.
When the hook was too narrow, the resulting fabric, while tight with no holes, was very difficult to work into and would make for a very arduous and slow production. I needed a fabric that was dense enough to hold the stuffing inside but also loose enough for easy working with a pleasing texture and look.
My final choice was a 3.5 mm hook with the 8 ply* acrylic which meant that I was using a yarn that is lighter and a hook that is smaller than those in the original pattern. This resulted in a doll smaller in scale to the original pattern but that was quite acceptable to me; small = cute!
(The pattern also stated that "gauge* is not critical for this project".)
The construction of the Fab Four Amigurumi is detailed. Instead of a basic five-piece toy (body/head, arm/hand x 2, leg/feet x 2) with embroidered details, the Fab Four have 9 different pieces: head, neck (yes, a separate neck–I had never seen that before), jacket, jacket collar, sleeves, hands, shoes/pants/shirt, shirt collar and tie! When allowances are made for two sleeves and two hands, each doll has 11 pieces to assemble.
Because I was making a set of four dolls, I wanted them to be uniform in look. It is common (for me, at least) for the first item of a crocheted set of anything to be slightly 'rougher' than the rest for no other reason than it is the first attempt, especially when there are new techniques involved.
A swatch is great for working out tension* but, like a dress rehearsal, a prototype allows one to discover things about the pattern that are not obvious from just reading; e.g. I did not realise that the shape of the heads were more like a Christmas bauble, tapering to a point, and not rounded or spherical like other amigurumi heads that I had made before.
At first it looked so odd that I thought I had made a mistake! A second attempt had the same result so I figured it was a purposeful design. The reasoning became apparent at the assembly stage when one pointed end was useful for joining the head to the neck while the other pointed end was a better base shape for attaching hair.
If I discover something about a design that I don't like, the prototype stage is great for experimenting with variations and customisations of the pattern. I used the prototype to experiment with embroidery of the eyes and different methods of sewing pieces together. It made for a very uneven result but it served its purpose well. Think of a prototype as a "3D swatch"!
|Not the prettiest prototype|
but it was very useful
I worked on my prototype in March 2012 in between a number of gift projects. In April I had to set it aside to work on an urgent Autumn project–to complete a garment that I wanted to wear that season! So the Fab Four Amigurumi had to wait until May.
Do you regularly make test swatches or prototypes?
Do you have no need, preferring to adjust your work
as you go? Do you always, never or sometimes make a swatch?
Tell me where you stand, I'm interested! If you do not want to leave a comment on the blog, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Differences in Terminology
|Australian Term||USA/Overseas Equivalent|
|8 ply||DK, light worsted|
|4 mm hook size||G/6 (USA) / No. 8 (UK/Imperial) hook size|
|3.5 mm hook size||D/3–E/4 (USA) / No. 9 (UK/Imperial) hook size|