Making an Elizabeth Zimmerman knit feels like something of a rite of passage. Since sources including Ravelry alerted me to the existence of ‘EZ’s’ seminal works on knitting I’d got as far as reading Knitting Without Tears and, like so many before me, warmed to a book about the technicalities of knitting which also makes you smile with its humour. I’d also tried out a few of her techniques, like making a fold-up hem for the bottom of a garment, which features in my Coniston sweater design. Somehow none of the actual, classic EZ designs ever made it to the top of my ‘to knit’ list.
Then I found out I was to be an aunt for the first time and the question of what to ‘not knit’ for the baby arose. I say ‘not knit’ because, while I’m not superstitious in general, I am deeply uncomfortable with the counting-chickens-before-they-hatch nature of knitting for babies yet to arrive. To balance this with the desire to have something ready to give as a present to the newborn I have to knit things but claim I am ‘not knitting for such and such a baby…it’s just a baby thing that could happen to be ready for when that baby arrives’. Silly, I know, but that’s just the way my brain works. My first piece of not-knitting was the Rainbow Milo I blogged about a couple of weeks back. I decided that to add to that I would make my first EZ- a BSJ.
A BSJ, for the unitiated, is a Baby Surprise Jacket. It’s a modular jacket- that is to say, it’s knitted in one piece then formed into a garment with the addition of two seams- in garter stitch. It’s described as “a very entertaining bit of knitted engineering” and given that the pattern has been around for over forty years and that there are over nineteen and a half thousand projects on Ravelry alone you have to conclude it’s worth making one at least once in your knitting lifetime.
Having seen a number of striped versions of the project, I decided I wanted to make mine in two colours. British, or better still, local yarn is always a preference for me and as one of my favourites, Eden Cottage Bowland DK is not only from sheep in the next county over from us but is also parent-friendly superwash it seemed like a good choice. The fact that Victoria at Eden Cottage is lovely and creates colourways that I adore helped too! I’d already bought and loved the Lichen colourway in some sock yarn and thought it would look amazing paired with Slate. Kind of a Mid-Century Modern feel- still bright enough for a baby knit, but a bit of a change from the usual pastels.
Armed with my lovely yarn and a copy of the pattern, I was ready to go. Having mentioned on Twitter that this was what I was attempting, I received a number of responses along the lines of ‘It will look really weird, but don’t worry, it works’. Admittedly, the hand-drawn illustration of what the completed, unseamed item would look like did look odd- rather like one of those ribbony, frilly edged bits of seaweed. Even so, I was confident I could handle it- how weird could it be?
Really weird, as it turns out. As someone used to working from- and writing- modern knitting patterns, where everything is set out row by row and new stitch counts are given every time there are increases or decreases, this was a departure. EZ is much more ‘do this for a bit, then do that’ and although it’s all accurate and works if you follow it, it feels a lot more like you’re freestyling. However, I was all ‘yeah, I can handle this, I’m not fazed’ and soon got into the swing of it- hah! As the lady herself suggests, I kept calm and knitted on with [sort of] confidence and [quite a lot of] hope, but the further I got the more I felt that this was less BSJ and more WTF? The thing is with this design is that you don’t know until you’ve done all the knitting, cast off and done the folding thing whether you’ve got it right or not. While you’re knitting you really can’t tell if you’ve messed up or not- it’s not for the control freaks among us. The pay-off for this nerve-shredding is at the end, when you do the folding thing and ‘AH!’ there is the sweetest, neatest little jacket.
Even the sweetest, neatest piece of knitted engineering will always benefit from good finishing- at the very least blocking, but I decided this merited extra TLC. I’ve been a fan of applied i-cord since making Kate Davies’ Manu cardigan. It’s a bit fiddly and yarn hungry but it gives such a smart finish, especially to the slightly raw looking selvedges you get on a garter stitch project like the BSJ. The Purl Bee has a really good tutorial for applied i-cord here, which I consult every time I forget between projects how to do it- which is, literally, every time. I added it around all the edges, including the wrists, and included loops for the buttons I blogged about here.
With this classic amongst my projects I think I can consider myself initiated into the extensive ranks of EZ knitters. Now I just have to wait for a baby that, you know, might just happen to arrive and seem worthy of a hand-knit or two…
What’s more exciting than having a design published in a magazine? Having two designs published in a magazine! Knit Now Issue 7 is due to hit the shops on 5th April and I’m delighted to say that you’ll be able to find both my Starry, Starry Night stole and Elfine pixie hood patterns included.
This happy situation had the added bonus of giving me the opportunity to work with some of my favourite yarny people. In the case of Starry, Starry Night it was Vikki at Eden Cottage Yarns. I first came across her hand-dyed yarns when I was looking for something suitable to make my Treacle Toffee mittens (still available through Just Giving to raise money for Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, folks!). I’d seen her work mentioned in a magazine and liked the idea of using a fairly local business, as she’s based a little way North of where I am in Cumbria. The Maya yarn in ‘Autumn’ that she sent me lived up to all expectations, with its gorgeous colour and amazing softness and as a result I kept an eye on her website to see what else she came up with. When the ‘Purple Iris’ colourway appeared I knew I wanted to work with it- beautiful deep purples highlighted with soft pink and grey and in BFL yarn produced very close to us in the Forest of Bowland.
The rich hues of Purple Iris somehow made me want to design something with a bit more of a glamorous, romantic feel than some of my other pieces. It made me think of Elizabeth Taylor with her violet eyes and diamonds, of proper grown up party dresses and the night skies above the sort of evening soirees I rarely get to attend these days! What I came up with is a wide stole with an asymmetric hem trimmed in feather stitchlace. Scattered across the stole at the whim of the knitter- charts are provided so you can decide where you want to place them- is a constellation of stars. Formed in eyelets, these allow flashes of whatever fabric is worn underneath the stole to be glimpsed. I had in mind summer wedding guest outfits and the like, but if you aren’t likely to get many opportunities to wear it in this way, the DK yarn means that while it’s a warm cover-up, it’s light and drapey enough to wear round your neck as a scarf. I’ve loved working with Vikki’s yarns and hope to do so again in the future.
The second pattern I have in this issue is the Elfine pixie hood. It forms part of the ‘Designer Challenge’, where three designers
are given the same yarn to see what they can come up with. This time the yarn was provided by a good friend of mine who’s recently become the sole UK importer of Lion Brand yarns. You’ll see these yarns all over the place on Ravelry, as they are well known and widely distributed in the US. As a knitter, Loraine had enjoyed using the yarns when she got the chance and wanted to let more UK knitters get hold of them. Woolly Madly Deeply is the result, and it’s well worth checking out, not just for the mail order yarns but also for the free patterns, offers and blog.
The yarn used in the challenge was Superwash Merino Cashmere and that, along with the delicate pink colour, said ‘baby’ to me. The pixie hood combines my fondness for vintage styles with my knowledge as a mother of young children. Most babies quickly master the art of removing hats and flinging them out of their buggy so pixie hoods offer an advantage in that they can be gently and comfortably tied under the chin. This might not stop the removal and flinging, but it at least slows things down. The scarf part also provides additional cosiness, since the ends can be tucked into the front of a jacket or wrapped around the neck. A textured stitch in the border is interesting to knit up, but the project grows quickly in this aran yarn, so it would do for a last minute present- there are three sizes for baby up to young child- plus it looks so cute!
Images and information on all the patterns in the magazine are available on Ravelry.
I’m not exactly what you’d call a shopaholic these days. That’s not to say I didn’t spend a good proportion of my younger days trolling around the shops, but our location and lifstyle don’t really fit with that anymore. Apart from anything else, there aren’t usually the funds for it. This has made it even more pleasurable over the last few days to do a bit of guilt-free shopping. Why no guilt? Because I was spending Christmas present book tokens and birthday present money. Hooray!
First, the books. Since we love and get so much use from the River Cottage Family Cookbook we thought we’d add the Everyday Cookbook to our collection, having enjoyed the recent TV series. We’ve already tried making versions of its digestive biscuits, honey roasted root veg and ‘Tupperware Chorizo’ all with great success. We’ve also invested in the River Cottage ‘Veg Patch’ Handbook, which is lovely for it’s textured cover and neat little format alone, but is also inspiring us with all sorts of ideas for what we hope will be our first real venture in ‘grow your own’ this year. Finally, we’ve bought a DIY book because with this house there’s lots to ‘Do’ and noone else to ‘Do’ it for us! As we were using Book Tokens we decided to get all of these from a local independent bookstore. This meant we didn’t get any of the money saving offers we might have done from a chain store, but fits with our ethos of trying to support local businesses. Also when there was an issue with a stitching fault in our first copy of ‘Veg Patch’ it was an easy and pleasant experience getting it replaced.
Next up, I took advantage of only having one tiddler with me this morning to go on a bit of a charity shop trawl. As always I ignored the clothing in favour of homewares and textiles- my favourite charity shop buy is home-embroidered linen tablecloths but alas no joy on that front today. Instead I found this lovely little teapot- cheap, charity shop and using birthday money…perfect, basically! I originally thought it would be destined for the Folksy Shop, but I think I’ve rather fallen in love with it, so it’s probably going to become our regular small teapot. The plainer Brown Betty we’ve been using can go to the shop when I get around to some more knitting- I think some Union Jack teacosies in time for the upcoming Royal Wedding would make sense, and would be really cute as a smaller version.
Last but by no means least, behold our new dining room ‘gubbinet’. Never heard of a gubbinet? Well, it’s a cabinet for all the gubbins that end up lying around downstairs- envelopes, sticky tape and other posting stuff, phone chargers, table linens etcetera. As I write, C is (carefully I hope!) drilling some holes in the back of the top bit so that the stereo can be hidden away, rather than overhanging a shelf as it currently does. I think it’s probably from the first half of the 20th century, as it has curved edges that look a bit 30′s and is pretty solidly made from wood. I don’t really mind to be honest, as it suits our dining room really well and fits the space on one side of the chimney breast just perfectly. Found hidden under some boxes and behind a chair at the back of a vintage shop in Ulverston it was pretty cheap to buy with more birthday money. The only hairy bit was getting it home. I’d taken M shopping with me and couldn’t put her seat in the front due to the airbag, so we couldn’t put the seats down. Of course, when we tried to heft my purchase into the hatchback, it was about 6 inches too long. The only plan we could come up with, apart from coming back another day, was to tie the boot shut with string and for me to drive home ‘not too fast’. Eek! There’s nothing like a large piece of furniture held into your boot with string to make you notice just how many hills there are to go up to get home! Actually, put me on a bicycle and I’ll tell you about every hill, but that’s another story. Anyhow, we made it, I love it and our new (old) house has its first custom bought new (old) piece of furniture. Happy days.