Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Baby Surprise Jacket

When looking around for a good toddler sweater pattern, I came across the phenomenon known as the Baby Surprise Jacket or BSJ, as it is fondly known by the knitting masses. It was devised by knitting guru Elizabeth Zimmermann in 1968. She says, in her Knitting Workshop book where the pattern is published, that "it was designed on vacation and puzzles me to this day."

It is knit all in one piece, all in garter stitch, with a series of increases and then a series of decreases. Here it is after 53 or so rows. There are only 114 rows in the whole sweater.
While I was knitting, I was trying to figure out what was what. Where was the front? Was this the neck edge? Why, oh why, did my increases leave the holes you can see halfway up? Would I be able to fix them later?

Once it was off the needles, looking very much like a ray-type of sea creature, it was still pretty mystifying. However, the pattern called for the making of buttonholes on both fronts so that you can at least figure out where those parts of the sweater lie in the picture below. Elizabeth maintains that having two sets of buttonholes means that when the baby is born and you know the sex (remember, this was in the old days when the baby's gender was also a surprise), you can then sew on buttons on the correct side. In reality, I believe that she has you do two sets of buttonholes because you would never be able to tell the left front from the right during the knitting stage.
Now comes the surprise part. You fold a little here, sew up a small seam or two there, and surprise! You have made a sweater. You will note in the picture below that I was able to more or less diguise some of the accidental holes by some judicious sewing-up.

If you should decide to make the BSJ, you can first take a look at thousands of them (over 3000 to date), in all colors and yarn types on Flickr, right here.

You will help yourself immensely, once you have purchased the book and own the highly copyrighted pattern, by downloading and printing these Baby Surprise Jacket Notes by Dawn Adcock. There's potentially a lot of math and a lot of counting in this sweater, all made much easier if you keep Dawn's notes on a clipboard in front of you.

There is an extremely helpful Knit Wiki article containing photos with arrows (helpful with placement of stripes), lots of notes, some variations, and a little chart about gauge and size that will allow you some control over your finished product. The original one-size pattern is made for a baby; this chart will give you some guidance in case you are knitting for an older child.

I wanted my sweater to fit a toddler with a 22" chest, but thought it should be a little bit big so it would still fit by the time I sent it. I worked out the gauge, actually knitting several samples (highly unusual for me!). I ended up using size 10 needles, figuring if the sweater were a little too big, my granddaughter would grow into it. However, my finished sweater will probably fit her sister, who is in 3rd grade. Perhaps it was the cotton yarn I used--not much spring to it.

So, I am ready to try again, using smaller needles and more elastic yarn. It's a fascinating pattern and I can't wait to apply what I've learned so far. We'll see what happens.


Erikka said...

what ages can this fit up to?

clairz said...

Well, Erikka, this is another surprise about this pattern. The original was one-size, made for a baby, knit with whatever size needles will give you a gauge of 6 stitches to one inch. In order to make a toddler size sweater, you use larger needles and/or heavier yarn. The Knit Wiki article gives a list of different gauges resulting in different chest circumferences, the largest the chart shows is 16 stitches per 4”/10cm = 22 ½” chest circumference.

I used size 10 needles that gave me a gauge of 3-1/2 stitches per inch with the cotton yarn I was using. My result was a bigger sweater than I was planning, and I really couldn't tell what was happening until the last part of the process when it was folded and put together. It ended up with a chest circumference of 26 inches, that looks like it would fit my 8-year old granddaughter.

I looked around in the Ravelry website to see if anyone has a definitive size chart, but since gauge varies from knitter to knitter, I think it is just something that I am going to have to work out for myself.

I will make the next version with Caron Simply Soft and smaller needles. I'll let you know what happens.

So, the short answer to your question--the size can probably range from something called "baby" to something that would fit an 8-year old. There is an adult version kicking around out there, too, so perhaps the real answer is any size (but some experimentation will be needed).

Judy said...

This is just the cutest little sweater. It would look great on any baby. I am not a knitter but am an admirer of those who do such beautiful work.

Sylvia K said...

To look so strange in the first couple of pictures, it turned out beautifully! You did a beautiful job!

June Saville said...

Love it! Talk about an intelligence test ...
Thanks for popping 70 Plus and Still Kicking on your blog list Clairz (Clair?). By the way have you had a peek at my writing blog Journeys in Creative Writing? Short stories sprinkled with poety and a distinct Ozzie bent.
June in Oz

clairz said...

June, I've started another BSJ and have a hard time putting it down as it makes up into its peculiar shape. This time I'm applying all that I learned with the first one, and heading off the old mistakes before I make them.

I used to think it was cool the way I could travel all over the U.S. via blog before breakfast. Now, I'm starting to travel to the other side of the world, thanks to you. Hey, I used to think that "all things Ozzie" referred to Dorothy and the Wizard of...

Susan said...

I have been a knitter for many many years and have never come accross this pattern before. It really is remarkable and I appreciate the versatility of it. Baby Knitting patterns are my thing. I really appreciate your post. thanks