Monday, May 11, 2015


In certain knitting circles, it has become a sort of rite of passage to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket.  If you are unfamiliar with the project, you knit the sweater/jacket in one piece and all you need to do at the end is sew up the shoulders and add buttons.  The pattern sets of miters to create shaping and while you are knitting it, the sweater looks like a strange, rippled thing until you finish, fold it up et voila--a baby sweater!
EZ's hand-drawn illustration of how to fold up the
your finished knitted blob.

On the one hand, the sweater is fairly easy:  it's all garter stitch and double decreases and increases, all shaping is done on odd rows while even rows are always knit even.


The directions are not like modern knitting patterns.  Elizabeth Zimmerman took it as an article of faith that knitters are clever people* and do not need their hands held during a project.  Therefore, she gives you rather minimal directions for knitting this strangely constructed baby sweater.  The Baby Surprise Jacket is one of the patterns in the book The Opinionated Knitter, which consists of a series of newsletters Zimmerman sent several times a year to subscribers and anyone who bought yarn from her.  Each newsletter appears to have been two pages (or maybe one sheet front and back) and includes the instructions for one knitting pattern plus any knitting-related news she had (new books coming out or TV shows and similar).    They look to have been typed up on an old typewriter and sometimes included her hand-drawn diagrams when necessary.  In this space she would give you a complete pattern for a fair isle sweater (including steaks), or how to make wool leggings for both babies and adults, or how to make an Aran sweater, etc.  So, you can imagine how brief the instructions must be.

Baby Surprise Jacket after knitting but before folding
For instance, for the surprise jacket, the first thing you do is start a series of double decreases at two points, creating 3 different sections of knitting.  Then, she tells you that, at 5 ridges (1 ridge = 2 rows in garter stitch) you should evenly increase by 5 stitches across each of the two end sections.  She doesn't explicitly tell you how to make the increases and she doesn't mention the middle section at all.  Do you keep doing the decreases you had been doing?  Well, yes, because she didn't say to stop the decreases and the next instruction tells you that after 22 decreases, you knit three rows even. So, obviously you must keep decreasing at the previously specified two points or you never would have that many decreases.  Oh, and she's not talking about stitches decreased, she means 22 decrease rows.  You can figure this out because you start with 160 stitches and at 22 decreases she says you have 90 stitches.

So, given the unusual style of directions, a few pointers can be helpful when you knit your first BSJ.  Here are my tips:

  1. When she gives you an instruction keep doing that thing until a different instruction that is contradictory to the first.  For instance, when she tells you to do decreases at two different points, keep decreasing in addition to any new instructions until she tells you to knit even.
  2. When she tells you to increase 10 stitches across the middle section, you can do this by repeating K5, m1 across that section until 6 stitches remain in that section, then knit those six stitches.
  3. Don't try to understand the directions for a future section because they likely won't make sense until you are actually knitting that part.  
  4. For the buttonholes, she tells you to work 5 buttonholes evenly spaces across the end sections.  To accomplish that:  k3, (yo, k2tog, k8) four times, yo, k2together, k2, then continue in pattern.
  5. In order to have the buttons correctly placed for the gender of the baby (the convention is for buttons to be on the left for boys and the right for girls), EZ suggests you make buttonholes on both sides, then, when you find out if the baby is a boy or a girl, sew the buttons on the appropriate side, right over the buttonholes that you don't need.  This is a great idea if, 1. you actually care about that sort of thing and 2. the parents of the baby care about that sort of thing and are waiting to find out the gender of the baby at the birth**. I don't know many people who actually know what the convention is, so I decided it wasn't important enough to me to worry about it and just did buttonholes on one side.

Pattern:  Baby Surprise Jacket, from The Opinionated Knitter by Elizabeth Zimmerman
Yarn:  Cotton-ease by Lion Brand
Needles:  US size 4
Buttons:  from Joanns
Size:  6-9 months maybe?
Notes:  I crocheted together the top seam rather than sewing it.  The fabric was a little dense, next time I would use larger needles for that yarn (gauge was around 5 st/in).  

*And we are clever!

**I've known a couple of parents like this, they said they wanted to be surprised.  As if the act of giving birth wasn't exciting enough in its own right.  Personally, I was of the opinion that the birth was the last place I wanted to be surprised since "surprise" usually translates into "complication."

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