Friday, September 25, 2009

Adult Surprise Jacket, almost done

I've been knitting a classic Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern called the adult surprise jacket for the last few months. I made a baby surprise jacket (known on the internet as BSJ) years ago for my nephew, but I had sort of forgotten how strange and ingenious the design is. EZ somehow figured out how to make a jacket in one piece out of garter stitch. The shaping relies on strategically placed decreases and increases. You start knitting at the top back, and your decreases cause the ends to turn until they form a ninety degree angle with the back, at which point they begin to resemble sleeves. You just have to follow the directions and have faith.

EZ describes the way she "unvented" the first baby surprise jacket: she was just sort of mindlessly knitting along on a square of garter stitch, making some decreases. At one point in frustration she threw her piece of knitting against the wall. It fell on the floor and miraculously, it folded itself in such a way as to suggest said sleeves. "Aha!" she thought, "A baby jacket!" The original baby jacket pattern, first knitted for EZ's grandson Cully, was printed in her newsletter in 1968. It has become a very popular, even classic, pattern, and there are groups on the internet devoted to discussing the knitting of it.

The thing that's so cool about this pattern is the way it uses up odd bits of yarn while you knit the stripes, in a totally spontaneous process that results in something very planned-looking. The symmetry happens on its own because of the fact that it's knit in one big piece. But it looks as if you labored mightily to make the sleeves and fronts symmetrically striped. Also, the way the decreases and increases miraculously turn and shape the garment is fascinating. EZ was a genius. (Well, everybody knows that.)

The new BSJ pattern from Schoolhouse Press includes an adult version (the one I'm knitting) and a child version. For the adult and child versions, you lengthen the elbow-length sleeves by knitting up from the bottom of the cast-on edge of the sleeves.

I'm at the part where you knit up the button band around the front. (The button band also travels around the back bottom edge of the jacket.) You make an ingenious one-row buttonhole by casting off four stitches, and then making four backward loops on your needle. When you come back on the next row, you knit up those four loops, and there's your button hole.

I am using some cotton yarn in a worsted weight that I've had for almost fifteen years in my stash. I bought it from Webs years ago, back when they sent out yarn samples once a month. I was going to use this thick yarn as weft for placemats, but I never made the placemats.

When we were on our road trip this summer, we went to Northampton, MA. Webs is there! It turned out to be within a few blocks of my son's apartment. So one day I walked down there with the old yarn to try to match it and get a little extra. They didn't have that exact yarn, but they had something nicer that was very close in weight and color. It was fun to actually see the gigantic Webs warehouse of yarn, which had acquired a sort of mythical stature for me over the years when I was a professional weaver.

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