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Summer is a great time to consider the yarns in your stash that you are not sure what to do with. You might have bought yarns for projects that you no longer want to knit, yarns that you fell in love with in person and bought, yarns that you read about and bought without touching.

Time passes, and you don’t do much besides squeeze these yarns and sigh because in order to find a use for them, you would have to hunt for the perfect project match. Or swatch. Wait, did you hear that needle scratch?

When I have a yarn that I’m excited about but unsure what to make out of it, I do some of my favorite knitting work.

I don’t swatch; I audition the yarn.

I can sing the whole of A Chorus Line. It was the score to audition with when I was in high school. The first song in the show is “I Hope I Get It.” In the scene, there is an audition in which the performers are doing their utmost to shine in a sea of other performers, to be noticed, to be perfect with whatever the director calls out.

I want yarn to show me what it’s got. I don’t have to take what the label is giving me. Sure swatching is part of it, but there is so much more.

I get to be the director sitting in the empty theater shouting out changes: lace, now garter, now a slipped stitch, yessss.

My yarn for today’s audition is Plied, a collaboration between Neighborhood Fiber Company and Ann Weaver. I’m intrigued by the yarn and the colors. I bought four skeins, and some wee bobbins. Then I bought a sweater’s worth—without ever having swatched. It’s how I get about yarns that excite me.

Now the yarn gets to show me what it can do. Can it cable? How does it YO? I want to see how the yarn looks and feels with different types of pattern stitches and gauges.

I look for what I like, what I think looks good generally, and what feels good.

No matter what anyone tells you, knitting is about what you like, or it’s just no fun.

Once I know how the yarn performs, I can hunt a pattern as a better-informed knitter based on the stitches and gauge I like.

How I Audition a Yarn

I find out all I can about it.

I want to know the fiber, the spin, the ply and the grist. Most of this information is on the yarn label, but sometimes I will go to the company’s website to dig deeper.

Here’s the low-down on Plied:

  • Fiber: 100% wool. When a breed is not specified, it’s usually a variety of medium breeds like Corriedale.
  • Spin: Woolen, lofty and fuzzy. This yarn is spun at Harrisville in New Hampshire.
  • Ply: 2-ply with a loose-ish twist
  • Grist: 250 yards/50 gm (1.8 oz) = 138.8 yards per ounce. A sweater for me (XL) is about 7 skeins, which is 12.6 ounces.

I Knit

First I knit stockinette. I do what I need to do to get the stitch gauge suggested on the label—if it’s a range, I go for the middle number first. Then I work a few more stockinette swatches looser and tighter. I go up or down two needles sizes at a time; I can get real change that way, from a half a stitch to a full stitch an inch.

Plied was a great gauge shifter. The label suggests 5 stitches to the inch. I took this yarn to up to 6 stitches to the inch, and down to 4.5. I would even use this at 4.25 or maybe 4 for an open knit. Because it is spun woolen, the fabric keeps structure knit at a looser gauge.

I wet-block my completed swatches. Sometimes, if I suspect that a yarn will bloom or if I’m just feeling wary about a yarn, I will steam my swatch while I’m still knitting it.

After they dry, I examine the swatches. What do I like, don’t like? How do they look and feel at each gauge? These stockinette swatches give me ideas.

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I Keep Knitting

Now is the time to bust out your stitch dictionaries. I go through three or four, marking stitch patterns I’d like to try with my yarn. I look for lace and texture patterns, color work too, when I’m in the mood for it.

I choose two lace patterns, one very open and one with lace elements. For texture, I usually choose a stitch I use a lot, and a new one that I’m excited to try. Frequently I knit many more than a couple of stitch patterns in a yarn; sometimes I’ll spend a whole weekend trying stitch patterns.

(Kiss the weekend goodbye, the sweetness and the sorrow. Wish me luck, the same to you.)

Color. This yarn has an additional attribute to consider, color, so I kept my stitch patterns to a minimum. Plied yarns are marled—a 2-ply with a different color in each strand. A marled yarn can really affect stitch patterns depending on the contrast between the two colors. The higher the contrast the more impact it has. A red + yellow yarn is high contrast, medium blue + dark blue is low contrast.

High contrast marls move—they seem to shimmy across the fabric. Low contrast marls look semi-solid with color that undulates across the fabric.

I knit each of my swatches with one low-contrast marl, Lady Day, and a variety of higher contrast marls. For my stockinette swatches, I kept to the suggested gauge of 5 stitches to the inch, and I like how it looks in both colors. I like to give a 2-ply yarn a little room to wiggle around. I think the 6 stitch to the inch swatch makes the yarn look constrained.

Lace. I call almost anything with a yarn over lace, and that presents a big range of openness. I always try one more open stitch and one with just a touch of openness. I get to see different looks and different amounts of drape that way. For these lace swatches, I used the needle that gave a gauge of 4.5 stitches to the inch in stockinette. I wanted a little looser gauge to help with drape and with opening those holes.

This yarn in the open lace is feather light; a shawl would weigh almost nothing. To my eye the orange/yellow yarn takes away from the stitch pattern, but I do like the brightness.

The less open lace pattern is the winner for me, because I like how both of the lower contrast marl looks in stockinette stitch as well as lace.

Texture. Texture knitting is my favorite type of knitting—anything that interrupts the sea of stockinette. When I audition a yarn I almost always do a swatch in garter stitch. So many patterns, especially shawls, use garter these day that I feel like it’s as necessary to swatch as stockinette. Garter stitch and marled yarns are a great combination, high or low contrast. Woolen yarns with their loftiness feel extra squishy in garter stitch.

The second texture stitch I picked is a simple crossed stitch pattern. I like the simplicity of the texture and wanted to see if the stitch held up to a marled yarn.

I’m actually surprised how well it does. You may have an opposite opinion, but I think the lighter and more contrasted marl works with the pattern better than the darker low contrast marl.

It’s really up to you. Sometimes I keep going trying different stitches, and needle sizes. To me it is very pleasurable, I feel like I’m flexing my creativity and knitting skills, and can experiment with putting different stitch patterns together. I do rip out my audition swatches, but I take photos and notes first.

You know what you like to do. Try this if it sounds fun. You’ll learn a lot about yarn, and get to practice knitting skills.

When I have had my fill of auditioning or hit the limit I’ve set, I will find a pattern that works for my yarn and me, or I will put my stitch combinations into a blank-slate type of pattern for accessories or even portions of a plain sweater.

Who Got It?

For this audition, I’ve found the combination of yarn, stitch and even sweater pattern. Cloudesly by Isabell Kraemer uses the crossed stitch pattern as an accent, and for my yarn, of course it will be this one.

One singular sensation, every little step she takes.
One thrilling combination, every stitch that she makes.
One swatch and suddenly nobody else will do.



This Could Come in Handy

Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Jillian Moreno spins, knits and weaves just so she can touch all of the fibers. She wrote the book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want so she could use all of the fiber words. Keep up with her exploits at


  • Wow. Jillian. At my stage in life (diminishing lifespan and eyesight and general bodily squirminess when concentrating too long) I could never be this thorough, so thank you for creating all that awareness for me. Of course then there is the matter of the needles. Some needles make the yarn flow between my fingers, and others make me grit my teeth. Matching the right yarn with the right pattern And the right needles is knitter’s heaven to me. Chloe

  • Loved your yarn audition. It sang to me especially because I saw A Chorus Line 11 times.

    • I only saw it three times, but I played the cast album untold thousands of times, in vinyl and then in cd.

  • This is such a wonderfully motivating system to get me to swatch! And to stop that stash hugging which usually ends up in frustration. Now I will generate swatches of fabric from my lovely yarns and really be able to identify a project to use it! Thank you!

  • Thanks Jillian, this is fascinating. What do you do with all your auditions once you are finished choosing?

  • For Kay and Ann, this is a great article to save, but I’m unable to find the bookmark symbol on this page. Please help. Thanks.

    • Are you logged in to your account? You need to be for the bookmark to show.

      • Thank you. I bet that’s my problem.

  • One correction: the yarn is 215 yards per 50 grams.

  • This was so helpful and fun to read! And now – as an ex-NYC dancer who actually did audition for A Chorus Line – you know what I will be singing (and dancing) for at least the next week!

    • Your article made my day. I couldn’t stop laughing and singing when I got to the part “KISS the weekend goodbye”! Love that musical! This is a great way to go through my stash and take a fresh look at the yarn. I loved the yarn enough to buy it, look at it longingly, but no longer want to do the project I bought it for. Auditioning is the perfect way to get to know the yarn to figure out what to do with it. And it keeps me from buying more- perfect since I’m on a much tighter budget these days. It is a fun way to simply enjoy stress-free fun knitting with yarn I already love. Thank you so much!

  • This is a new idea to me and a love! I will be doing this from now on.

  • What a great project for summer, auditioning yarns!

  • “You might have bought yarns for projects you no longer want to knit…” Yes, that’s me! Thank you! The yarns in my stash are mostly ones I can no longer match to projects that excite me. Your audition process teaches how to know the yarns in my stash, or a new one, at a deep level… and this will make it possible to find a pattern much more effectively.

    I can tell that your real love is wool, but I would love to read your analysis of a linen or cotton yarn!

  • Hi Jillian. This is a really interesting process but you bought the sweater’s volume before you auditioned. What if you don’t end up picking that color?

  • There is yet one more way to audition a yarn — needle material. Once when working with a very simple fingering weight pure wool, I was quite disappointed with its performance. I was ready to write off the yarn as a mistake but decided to try just one more needle size which I only owned in bamboo. What had been limp and lifeless on good quality metal needles became lively and sumptuous from just that wee bit of extra drag on the bamboo. And although I had gone down a needle size, the swatch was significantly larger. The intended project morphed from utilitarian sock to show-stopper shawl.

  • Thanks for the advice, and the earworm!

  • I used to say “Swatching is for Sissies” I now swatch or “audition” for sweaters. I do have a question what do you do with all your auditions? Do you label or make an Afghan?

    • She mentioned that she rips out her audition swatches but takes photographs and notes first.

  • I love this! I think swatching gets presented too often as a chore you have to do before the fun stuff if you are a responsible person (snore). I prefer this idea of approaching it with a mindset of “how does this yarn want to shine?” Then it becomes an opportunity for discovery and learning rather than a tedious stretch of stockinette before you get to cast on the project.

  • Great article, but I would find the cost of auditioning each new yarn to this extent prohibitive. I’ll reserve it for times when I’m particularly uncertain about how a yarn will perform.

    • Yep, fun idea, but WAYtoo expensive, I frog swatches to reuse, but to truly swatch you have to block, and then that yarn will never match the rest.

    • She does mention that she rips out the auditions after taking notes and photos. So she is able to use that yarn in the project she decides upon.

  • I don’t see the icon to save the article. Help

  • Wait, I hope there’s a part II: Cloudesly calls for a fingering weight yarn and a (constrained) gauge of 6 stitches per inch?! –I know there are ways to address this. How are you doing it? LOVE reframing swatching as “auditioning”.

  • Jillian, you are soooooo brilliant. Thanks for this. I’m a newbie to knitting and this will be so helpful.

  • As always, Jillian, I gained a new perspective on the humble swatch. Thank you!

  • Great insight on swatching. I have a question when buying yarn for a pattern does the designer include yardage for swatching or should I purchase additional yarn for swatching? I understand this might be up to the individual designers. Any help would be appreciated.

  • I really love all that I learn from you. Everything I read is chock full of amazing information if only I had time to process it all. I’m still processing spinning information from a class at SAFF 2. years ago (maybe you remember the M&M’s).

    Anyway…I’m not commenting to tell you how much I appreciate your vast wisdom about yarn, though I absolutely do. I’m actually writing to complain that I have had “What I Did For Love” stuck in my head since Saturday. Over and over. And lately, it’s morphing to this weird, “what I did for looooooovve….is a many splendored thing.” Which makes no sense at all. My family thinks I’m batty. They are probably not wrong.

    Off to finish auditioning a mitten pattern/yarn combo for a little project for a friend…”won’t forget, can’t regret…

  • I have been a bit embarrassed when my knitting friends viewed my 2 foot long by 30 stitch wide swatch and asked if I was knitting a scarf. I reluctantly replied that I was auditioning a yarn (and I did say audition). I have loved to see how a pattern looks and how it knits before I start a garment. I thought of myself as fiddly, wanting to know what everything looked like. I would even try out different stitches from other patterns to see if they suited me better. I’ve never been able to get the requisite gauge with the suggested needle so I look for the needle that gives me a fabric that I like. With apps like Knittricks now available, changing gauge is a key stroke away and no math involvement for me. I consider that a win win.
    Thank you Jillian for letting me know that I am not the only one who plays with swatching for the fun of it. I will be sure my knitting friends read your article in MDK.
    P.S. I also love your idea of taking a picture of your swatch. I want to use the yarn I have swatched and I don’t have room to store swatches.

  • Love the term—“auditioning your yarn”. It takes away the stigma of the dreaded swatch. When I “audition” yarn I look at a few more factors:

    1. Washing. If it’s meant to be machine washed, I want to know how it will wash. I just toss it in with the regular laundry. I also check colorfastness, especially when doing color work.

    2. Stretch. If I suspect the knitting might stretch I wet block and then HANG the swatch—er, audition piece. I made a linen jacket for my daughter. I made a large swatch and hung it for a week. It stretched a whopping 30% in length!!! That was valuable info because my daughter is 4’11” and if I’d knit to her size it would hang down to her knees after washing.

    3. Price. Is this going to cost more than I can really justify? I love knitting but no sweater made by me is worth $200 of yarn. Just not in the budget. I can’t explain to my family that we can’t afford something because Mom spent too much on yarn. I save up, I shop around, but there are places I just can’t go. I can’t justify that much money.

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