Elizabeth Zimmerman is sort of the Yoda of knitting – wise in ways us mere mortals cannot comprehend. In fact, her easy-breezy, it’s-yarn-what’s-the-worst-that-can-happen approach to knitting belies an innate sense of mathematics. Yes, there is a lot of math in knitting – not just in counting stitches, but in creating the right proportions for whatever it is you are knitting. Zimmerman figured this all out, and spread her knowledge to the masses through her knitting newsletters.
Not having such an innate sense of math myself (*ahem*), my few forays into Zimmerman’s knitting patterns have not gone very well. I managed to finish a February baby sweater a few years ago, but there is a glaring mistake that I never noticed until after I’d finished the thing, and so it lives at the bottom of a box somewhere. There is also a monstrosity of an unfinished Tomten jacket that lives in a sewing basket, knit with miles of Kermit-the-frog green cotton yarn; it was supposed to fit a baby and it is probably the size of a giant 4 year old. (This is how I learned the unfortunate lesson that cotton + garter stitch = stretch.) Those not-so-great experiences aside, I’ve been wanting to knit a Zimmerman Baby Surprise Jacket for quite a long time now. They’re sort of legendary, and the sort of thing only “real” knitters seem to attempt. I mean, what other knitting garment has its own wiki?!
A few weeks ago I was in a yarn store that actually had the updated pattern in stock (which can be bought here), and figured it was time to try it. I had a heck of a time finding the right yarn– I needed something that was both gender-neutral and machine-washable, and that meant I was limited to superwash yarn (wool that has been specially treated so it can be machine washed and dried without shrinking). Honestly, I hate knitting with superwash – I find it very splitty and often slightly sticky – but the alternative is acrylic, and I can’t stand the idea of babies wearing stuff that amounts to plastic. So superwash it was. I settled on what I thought was some pretty gender-neutral Cascade 220, which is a bit thinner than the yarn called for but whatever, it worked fine for an infant sweater. (I got home and found out they call the colorway “baby boy”, which sent me spinning into a grand/predictable rage about gender norms.) After a fair amount of knitting, cursing, and ripping things back, I wound up with this:
The knitting itself is not difficult – just garter stitch – but there are increases and/or decreases every other row that must be paid attention to quite carefully. You can see that across the middle there, I kind of flubbed my increases – but at least they were flubbed consistently, so much so that the VEB thought it was an intentional design element. This weirdly shaped thing folds up in a jiffy just like so:
Ok, so if you are a knitter you can see I flubbed some more increases on the front there too, but that’s the beauty of baby knitting, they don’t care what they spit up on. You might also notice that the pattern has you knit buttonholes on each side; this way, you can choose where to put the buttons depending on gender (though honestly, I’m not a parent but after watching my sister raise 3 kids I can tell you the last thing she worried about was which side of the sweater her kids’ buttons were placed). Once you fold this up all you have to do is sew the top of the sleeves/shoulders (which is a bit more difficult than one might think), weave in any ends, and then sew on the (exceptionally cute) buttons.
You’ll have to just trust me that the final product is straight on the bottom – the cat wanted to help take pictures. It’s pretty small; I’m guessing ~3 months? I bought 3 skeins of the Cascade and used about 2 and maybe 1/4 of the third skein, and used size 3 needles. There’s enough leftover yarn to make a matching pair of booties.
It’s not perfect, but I’m mostly pleased with the outcome, and I immediately raided the yarn stash to cast on for another one. I think it might take a few tries to get really good at it!