Minding the Motifs on Blaster Modifications

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Blaster’s chunky triangle motifs are the feature of the pattern, but they also make it a little tricky to modify and customize. The pattern has triangles at the base of all of the eyelet columns, and for some sizes, there are additional triangles at the sides, so they fully wrap around the waist with no gaps of plain stockinette. If you adjust the waist shaping for better fit or convert the cropped cardigan to full length, you may run into trouble with placing the triangles.

If you want gap-free triangles, you need to have stitches in an increment of 18 plus 3 edging stitches, and you’ll need to keep in mind how the columns of eyelets will flow. Your safest best for a gap-free set of triangles is to add sets of 36, one extra triangle at each side. Now that might be manageable if you’re adding length and need hip shaping, but it’s a lot of extra fabric if you just want a looser waist. It’s also not much help if you want a smaller waist for your cardigan!

If you’d like to add or remove from the waist without much fuss, you’ll need to add sections of stockinette in between triangles at the sides. Use the eyelet columns as guidance for the triangles that do fit, and fill in the rest with plain stockinette. If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can fit in shorter, smaller triangles in your stockinette sections. You’ll want to start those after you’re partially through the full-size triangles, so they sit nicely next to their neighbors on the final rows before the ribbing.

Keeping Track of Blaster’s Eyelets

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The eyelet columns on Blaster are worked every four rows, so it can be a little tricky to keep track of them if you’re not experienced with reading your knitting. The easiest way to figure out if you’re on a plain RS row or a patterned RS row is to work to the eyelet column and then flip your knitting around a look at the wrong side for a moment.

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Is there one purl ridge above the eyelet or three? If there’s one purl ridge, the RS row you’re working on should be a plain row. The single ridge will be sitting close to your needle and there won’t be much visible fabric above the eyelet, as you can see above. If there are three purl ridges and more fabric like the picture below, you’re on a patterned RS row and need to work a new set of eyelets. If there are five or more ridges, you’ve missed a set of eyelets and need to rip back.

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Once you finish your upper back and start on your upper fronts, you might find that the eyelet columns don’t line up over the fake shoulder “seam.” That’s not a mistake, and in fact it’s just a coincidence that they line up across the shoulder for a handful of sizes. The eyelets are positioned so they’ll flow smoothly into the triangle motifs at the waist after you’re done with the armhole and waist shaping, so you don’t want to move the columns from where the pattern says they should be.

Cast On Your Blaster!

The Blaster KAL starts today! For my second blaster, I really wanted to do something different from my first. I wanted a warmer color, so I was looking for orange or red; I wanted regular, non-superwash wool; and I wanted a solid color, which made thing surprisingly tricky. All of my favorite DK wool yarns are from indie dyers who do semi-solids on superwash bases. I like Jo Sharp’s DK, but it’s a little tricky to get. It was a conundrum, so I started knitting swatches with basically anything that might be close that was in my stash.

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I finally settled on Quince & Co Chickadee, which is not technically a DK. Their website lists is as Sport/DK, but it’s on the lighter side. I do get the right number of stitches per inch, but it takes more rows per inch. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts on gauge, row gauge differences can be an indicator that you’ve got a different fabric than the pattern sample features, and that’s true in this case. The sample is knit moderately densely, and my chickadee swatch is a much airier fabric. I’m okay with that and understand how that will change my sweater, so I’m moving forward with it. I’ll have to make some adjustments to work with my new row gauge, because if I don’t my sweater will be 2.5 inches too short, but it won’t be too complicated. I need to add some extra rows to the underarms to make sure that they’re the right depth, and then the body will be easy to adjust the length on.

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I picked the colorway Winesap because it caught my eye when I was at Tolt looking for yarn. It’s a nice berry-toned red, and I like that it’s a little different from the shade of red on my last cardigan project. I thought that Blaster would look really good in red, and I kind of wanted to use red because of this excellent post on how characters are color coded on Halt and Catch Fire, the TV show that helped inspire the design. (That post contains Season 2 spoilers.) But I didn’t want to knit two sweaters in a row that were the exact same shade of red. My previous cardigan was knit using a Rowan Yarn, but Quince & Co.’s Peak’s Ferry is a very similar true red, and I didn’t know that Quince has added more reds to the line. I was so excited to find this softer-toned red yarn and am looking forward to having more shades of red in my wardrobe.

Please Knit a Swatch

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Is there anything as painful for a designer to read than declarations that a knitter didn’t make a swatch and check their gauge? “I always get gauge,” is almost just as cringe-worthy and indicates a fundamental misunderstanding about how a pattern’s gauge is determined. There’s no swatching conspiracy– designers ask knitters to do it because it sets them up best for a successful project, not because we delight in wasting your time.

Here’s where a pattern’s gauge comes from: A designer knits a responsibly large swatch on the needles of their choice, washes and blocks it, measures their personal gauge, and then bases all of the math used to calculate the pattern on their personal gauge. That’s it. The needle size the designer used is almost always the size listed in the pattern. If the designer knits a little tighter than you, they might use larger needles than you need. If they knit a little looser, they might use smaller ones. You just don’t know. There’s no directing board of pattern gauge who decides that all patterns knit at 4.5 stitches to the inch must be knit on US 8/5mm needles, not US 7/4.5mm needles or US 9/5.5 needles. You might be able to always match a specific designer’s gauge if you always use the same yarn and needle sizes as them, but that’s about it. “I always get gauge,” just means you haven’t knit a diverse number of designers’ patterns and/or gotten adventurous with yarn substitutions and needle brands. Some day you won’t get gauge, and it’s a lot less frustrating to knit swatches before you start than to re-knit an entire ill-fitting sweater.

So please knit a swatch. And please don’t tell the designer you didn’t because you always get gauge. And if you ignore this advice, please don’t blame the designer for your sweater being too big or too small.

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Once you’ve embraced knitting swatches, there are a few things you need to do to knit a good one.

You should plan on making your swatch in the main stitch pattern that’s used for gauge in the pattern with at least a 5in/13cm square of that stitch pattern. To figure out how many to cast on, assume that you have the correct gauge. Pattern typically list gauge over 4in/10cm, so divide the stitches per in/cm by 4 or 10. Multiply the resulting number by 5/13 and add on 4-8 stitches for a non-rolling edging. That’s how many stitches you’ll need to get your swatch started. Work in the given stitch pattern with your non-rolling edging until you have a square.

Wash and block your swatch like you plan on washing and blocking your finished item. You’re going to wash your sweater some day (I hope) so don’t skip this step. Some fibers are particularly rebellious when they meet water. Linen and silk have a tendency to relax and drape, which can change your stitches to rows ratio. Some wool and alpaca yarns will expand and get extra fluffy when washed. Superwash wool likes to stretch, and it can sometimes snap back if you throw it in the dryer, but not all superwash wools behaves the same way. To block your freshly washed swatch, you’ll want to treat it like you will treat your sweater. I never pin out my sweaters, so I don’t stretch and pin my swatches. I just lay them flat and reshape by nudging them into shape with my fingers on my drying rack. Washing and blocking takes time, but it’s best to find out what your knitting is going to do before you’ve committed to a needle size and spent weeks on your project.

Once your large, washed, blocked swatch is dry, the next step is the measure 3-4 4in/10cm squares within the 5in/13cm stitch pattern square of your swatch. Note down all of the different stitch and row counts, and then take the average. That’s your gauge! Does it match the pattern? If not, it’s time to knit more swatches. Here’s a list of things to try if your first attempt at matching gauge didn’t work out.

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I understand that this is a frustrating piece of the process if you’re itching to start your sweater, but it’s an important step, and it’s not something that experienced sweater knitters skip. There are a few things you can do to make it less miserable, though.

Think of swatches as a taste-test to try a new yarn, and knit some swatches before you ever have a project in mind. I’ll often pick up a single skein of an interesting yarn and knit a few swatches on different needle sizes. I keep track of my swatch and needle pairings with photos, but you can also use purl ridges in a bottom corner or knots in the yarn tail to indicate the US needle size. It’s a good, low-commitment way to try new yarns, and if you want to buy more to use for a project, there’s chance that you already have a swatch on hand to tell you if it will work or give you a jumping off point for needle sizes.

Related, knitting multiple swatches at once can spare you some frustration. Knit one in the suggested needle size, one above, and one below, and wash and block them all at the same time. When your knitting is dry, you’ll hopefully have a winner in the mix. And don’t forget that swatches are one of the best portable knitting projects out there. They’re fast, small, and simple, so they’re good for working on the bus or while chatting with friends.

Last but not least, don’t forget that finished projects are just really huge swatches. If you knit a different project in the same stitch pattern and yarn relatively recently, all you need to do is measure your project or check your Ravelry project page to find out your gauge.

In conclusion, please knit a swatch. Please check your gauge. Designers don’t beg knitters to do this because we like to waste your time. We ask you to do it because it will give you better results more consistently.

Blaster KAL

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We’re so close to my favorite time of year, which means it’s time to get ready for the Fall KAL! The KAL runs from September 15th to November 1st, and this year we’ll be knitting my new-ish cropped cardigan pattern, Blaster. I say “new-ish” because the pattern was originally an exclusive pattern for the Neighborhood Fiber Co. Sweater Club, but now it gets its public debut and a place of honor as the Fall KAL pattern for this year.

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Many of my patterns were inspired by movies or TV shows, and Blaster is no exception, although the TV show that inspired it is set in a much different period than most I watch. One day last summer I was looking for something new to watch after getting caught up on Mad Men, and I decided to give Halt and Catch Fire a try. It’s about an 80s tech company, and I always scrolled past it on Netflix because it’s not the prettiest era, and well, when I think “80s tech,” I think of my parents and their friends because they were those people. Not exactly as glamorous as Mad Men. But I gave Halt and Catch Fire a try, and I’m so glad I did! It’s a really engaging show with great writing and a talented cast, and it inspired this design.

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One of the main characters on the show loves video games, and it gave me the idea for a cropped cardigan with triangle motifs at the waist that shoot up columns of eyelets, like little blasters on pixelated games. I stubbornly applied the motifs to my favorite construction method, top-down and seamless with short-row set-in sleeves, despite the fact that this pattern would have been much easier to write bottom-up. Top-down is just more pleasant to knit and more easily customizable, so I think it was worth the effort.

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Blaster is knit using Neighborhood Fiber Co. Studio DK, a superwash DK-weight yarn, on US 5/3.75 mm needles. The pattern comes in seven sizes, and if you stay focused on your knitting, you should be able to complete any of those sizes in a month and a half during the KAL! The pattern is available on Ravelry for 20% off until the KAL starts on September 15th when you use the coupon code “BLASTERKAL” at checkout.

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Join us in the Untangling Knots group on Ravelry for KAL chit-chat, and use the hashtag #BlasterKAL to tag your post on social media. You’ll have until November 1st to finish your sweater, and I’ll randomly draw three winners from the knitters that finish on time to win two Untangling Knots patterns of their choice and a third Untangling Knots pattern sent as a gift to a friend on their behalf.

P.S. If you were in the Neighborhood Fiber Co. Sweater Club and would like a copy of the pattern for your Ravelry library, send me an email. I’ll ask you to identify something on your copy of the pattern to confirm and then send you this version via Ravelry.