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…
This is a a story of indulging in (almost) instant knitting gratification. I’m hard at work at the moment on an exciting project, using gorgeous yarns, that I can’t share anything about just yet. Since it involves a garment (gasp! Not an accessory!) there’s obviously quite a lot of knitting without seeing finished results. In addition I’ve been learning about, and experimenting with, short row shaping. My starting point was this free Craftsy course from Carol Feller and although I’ve decided it’s not the thing for the design I’m working on, I’ve definitely learned (and frogged, but in a productive kind of way) a lot. Pleasing though all this is, last week I felt an urge for a quick, fun and colourful knit.
Ah, the joys and financial dangers of the internet! After a quick twitter conversation with fellow yarny types regarding where I could find hand-dyed, preferably British, superwash wool I ended up ordering (among other things) this fantastically rainbow coloured merino DK from Moonlight Yarns. I’m pretty sure I ordered at some point in the afternoon so you can imagine my surprise and delight when it turned up in the post the very next day.
A quick whizz with the yarn swift then- I’ll never regret the day I bought that- and onto the needles for a Milo. If you knit for babies, especially for parents of a slightly hippy persuasion, then this is definitely one to have in your library. Written by Georgie Hallam of Tikki Knits, who has some great kids designs, it’s really well put together- easy to follow, neat and works just as it should, in a range of sizes. It’s so useful for popping over simple babygros, giving an extra layer of warmth round little tummies but leaving the arms free. An easy, quick knit, it also makes for a bit of a change from the normal choices of gift knits for babies.
The pattern gives a number of options for the cable decoration running down the front. At one point I considered leaving the detail out altogether, given the frequent colour changes in the yarn. However, in the end I went for the horseshoe cables and actually I rather like the way they look in rainbow stripes.
I don’t actually use multi-colour or self-striping yarns very often, but when I do I enjoy watching new colours pass through my fingers every few rows or stitches and then seeing how they work together. In this case, the effect on the mitred neckline where colours clashed together in the garter stitch rows was quite psychedelic. Then under the arms I ended up with colour pooling that formed diagonal rainbow stripes running all the way round…
…Finally, on the body of the sweater there was the serendipity of stitch count and colour runs leading to near-perfect rainbow stripes, so that stitches that were red on one row met orange yarn for the next row, then yellow the next etc., right through to the gloriously intense violet. Having ever-so-slightly OCD tendencies this made me VERY HAPPY.
The whole thing was done and dusted in an afternoon and evening- only just over 24 hours from ordering the yarn to blocking the finished result. At some point I’ll use the last of the skein to make a matching hat I think, but for now it’s back to work
There’s an invisible element of love worked into handmade items created for family or friends. Perhaps you can only really understand that if you’ve ever made such an item. All the thoughts and hopes you have in the hours you spend on it, the devotion and patience you put in when the pattern gets dull or something has to be ripped out and reworked, I’m convinced it somehow works its way into the fibres. Maybe that’s what makes certain handmade items- like the blanket in the picture above- last so long; used, loved and handed on.
The ‘season’ section of the children’s magnetic calendar says ‘Spring’. I write this with sunshine streaming through the window. However, as anyone who ventured outside during the Easter weekend will know, Spring really hasn’t sprung very enthusiastically yet. Undaunted, we nevertheless managed a family weekend of Easter fun. This included a Friday morning walk up Orrest Head above Windermere- a little longer than anticipated for those with littler legs and the iciest wind you can imagine when we got to the top, but the residual patches of snow were thoroughly enjoyed by certain members of the party and the views were spectacular.
With that chilly air still fresh in our minds, if not on our faces, I spent much of the weekend preparing ways to keep warm, as well as the all-important food, for the Easter Egg hunt we had planned on the Monday. The venue was a beautiful little patch of woodland recently bought by a friend’s mum about half an hour’s drive from us and the plan was to meet for egg hunting, food and a fire for as long as we could take the weather.
While our boy runs hot, my little girl takes after me and really feels the cold. I had layered her up with as many clothes as possible without her losing the ability to bend her limbs, but she nevertheless punctuated her forays around the woods looking for eggs, waving bubble wands, throwing dry leaves about and shouting with spells spent by the fire, wrapped in the Grandma blanket. This had been thrown into the car as an automatic reaction, just as it has been for picnics, beach and camping trips so many times before. Not just with the current configuration of the family either, because the ‘Grandma’ who made this simple, stash busting crochet blanket forty, maybe fifty or more years ago wasn’t my children’s Grandma, or even mine, but my mother’s. So technically M should call it the ‘Great-Great-Grandma Blanket’. I know how much love and thought and hope for endurance goes into making items like this, but nevertheless it’s hard to imagine Great Grandma saw her blanket still being in more or less daily use all this time later.
Yes, the wind blew cold and M wasn’t the only one seeking the comfort of the fire and the blanket. But we hunted eggs and we feasted- on barbecued sausages, homemade flatbreads, irresistable Cambodian Wedding Day dip (from River Cottage Veg Everyday), grilled courguettes in minted Greek yogurt, maple syrup popcorn (based on this recipe from Soulemama), Simnel Cake and toasted marshmallows. As we drove home, deliciously tired and scented with woodsmoke, the views included the snow-capped splendour of the Lake District peaks touched by decidedly Spring-like sunshine.
You win some, you lose some. The cherubic (and dare I say photogenic) boy you see wearing my ‘Coniston’ sweater in the pic at the top of this page is my son. How fortunate, you might think, to be a knitting designer blessed with a ready-made model. Think again. This child has been known to choose shorts and (reluctantly) a t-shirt as his attire even in the depths of winter. He runs hot. In addition, if he thinks it’s a handknit, especially a mummy-made handknit, he won’t touch it with a barge pole. Coniston was designed especially for him, in non-itchy recycled yarn, with a hood because he likes them and a wide neck for his large noggin. Other than the day I bribed him with chocolate to take this photo, he’s worn it maybe half a dozen times if I’m lucky, and even then under extreme protest.
Even my boy with his penguin-like abilities to withstand cold sometimes gets cold hands, however, and it was making me feel bad as a mother, let alone a knitting mother, that he didn’t have a decent pair of mittens. Not so bad that I would spend my time making something he wouldn’t wear though, so a design conference was called. I can’t really recall who came up with what aspect of the design, but we decided that if I could make something that was easy to get on, like a mitten, but had a bit more finger-moving ability, like the ‘lobster claw’ gloves he’s seen his Daddy wear for bike riding, he might just wear them. Furthermore, if they made his hands look like monster claws, then the chances of him wearing them went up even more. This is how the ‘Dragon’ part of the ‘St George & The Dragon‘ set was born.
When I decided to see whether Knit Now might be interested in our idea, it was a natural step to come up with a hat to go with the gloves. Knowing that my boy’s tastes usually run to the simple, rather than the ‘full on dragon’s head’ complicated, I thought that a beanie replicating a knight’s helmet was the way to go. With a simple cross of reverse stocking stitch on stocking stitch, it’s easy enough for even a beginner.
The design appears in Knit Now’s Best of British issue, which I’m delighted about. I’ve become more and more drawn to using British-produced yarns in recent years, for reasons including environmental considerations, a desire to support this ancient industry that’s part of our heritage and, selfishly, the sense of integrity and linking to the past that I feel when I’m using them. For this project I got to try out Woolyknit Aran. Woolyknit yarns were a new one on me but I suspect this won’t the be the last time I use them. The quality of colour and soft, springy feel were lovely to work with and the finished items blocked to a quality-looking finish. Furthermore, they aren’t bank-breakingly expensive, a factor that can lead some people away from buying British or buying wool.
So, the question is, will my reluctant little model wear them? Hmmm…the jury is still out. The gloves have had a few outings, but since they knit up so quickly in the aran, I don’t mind too much if they end up being passed down without much wear to his little sister. Now, there’s a much more willing knitwear model (she is particularly attached to a textured beanie made by her great-grandmother)- if I could only get her to stay still for pictures….
When I get the chance, I love to rummage in charity shops. Having two small children in tow is not ideal for this, so whenever we take the littles to see one or other set of grandparents I take full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy unencumbered browsing time. Fortunately, both my parents and my parents in law live in or near to towns which are ripe for my sort of second-hand hunting, as the population is elderly and fairly well-off. This tends to lead to good quality retro heaven.
My best finds while at my folks recently have been a barely worn winter coat and a number of lovely old knitting patterns. The latter often serve as inspiration, one way or another, for my designs, whether it’s an interesting stitch pattern or an old-fashioned style that I think is due for a revival.
This weekend it was a pop-up Macmillan shop that proved fruitful for knit-related goodies. However, rather than patterns, I found this fabulous workbasket. It’s a simple, foldable wooden frame covered in a groovy graphic print. It’s definitely got a ‘worn in’ look, but it still seems pretty sturdy and has useful pockets inside too.
I will continue to harbour the sweet illusion that the acquisition of this piece will mean I have just one or two projects stored neatly next to the sofa, where I will sit serenely working away with my children at my feet. In reality of course, I have multiple projects, needles, odd balls, patterns, yarn shop receipts and so on stuffed into a collection of baskets, bags and plastic mailing envelopes which form an unruly pile in the corner of our living room. Every now and again the children’s obedience regarding ‘not touching Mummy’s knitting’ breaks down and they dive in, searching for sharp things to wave around at eye level or hard-to-untangle yarn to wrap around chair legs and each other. I waste valuable knitting time rummaging around for stitch markers, the other needle or a tape measure. Sorting out my craft stuff is on my ever-growing list of summer holiday projects…we will see whether that ever progresses from being a work in progress.
More Mama love in this post I’m afraid! This delightful chicken (from Anna Maria Horner’s gorgeous book ‘Handmade Beginnings’) was meant to be among the presents my parents gave to M for her first birthday. When I conveniently got a nasty bout of tonsilitis in the week leading up to P’s birthday, my lovely mummy flew to the rescue, driving 5 hours up the motorway to look after the littles and in the process ran out of time to sew the chicks in time for M’s birthday the following week. As a result, the finished birdy, complete with six chicks with Velcro wings to nestle safely under their mummy’s wings, arrived today in the post, no less special for its tardiness. It must be a good week for chickens, as our dear old hen Penelope has decided that she will honour us with a precious few of her rarely laid eggs- three in a row!
There’s a baby shower happening this weekend that I can’t be at, so it was time to get the needles out so that I could at least send some handmade love by post. I fell back on what’s becoming an old favourite, ‘Aviatrix’, a free pattern on Ravelry. An evening or so’s knitting in Rowan Handknit Cotton and a vintage button adds up to a bit of old-fashioned loveliness for eagerly awaited baby girl.
Sometimes you just need to get out and breathe. This was very much the case today, after a tough week that had left us emotionally wrung out and rather uncertain about what happens next. The thing about going out walking is that once you’re there, with sandwiches and fruit for lunch in your rucksack, it doesn’t actually matter how much money you have (or don’t have). The heavens will open on anyone’s head, prince or pauper. In actual fact, while the rain was almost horizontal as we toiled up to Blea Tarn (hoorah for our new-old veg-oil powered Jeep! Potholes? Who cares?) and lashed at the windscreen as we ate lunch in the car, it actually more or less held off as we walked, played hide and seek and in some cases paddled round the tarn and back. Wind swirled around the Langdale Valley, threatening to bring the slate-grey cloud down onto us, but for some reason the sun decided it would keep smiling for just the right amount of time. With tired babies and soothed souls, we headed for home.
Like a lot of families, heck, like a lot of people, we’re finding things tough financially at the moment. It was never really the plan for me not to be working at all while the children were babies (much as I know that’s what some people choose to do) just as it was never really the plan for C to be made redundant, or for us to have to move house, three times within two years, with all the attendant expenses. On top of this there’s the rising cost of living and just as food gets more expensive, we’ve two little people who want to eat more and more of it!
Still, we know we’re still better off than most of the people on the planet so we breathe in and tighten the old belt a few more notches. That said, I refuse to eat dull uninspiring food just because every penny has to be watched at the supermarket. So it’s even more cooking from scratch, more poring over recipe books and more building of skills in making everything go further.
For example, on Sunday we bought a Freedom Farms chicken (we just can’t stretch to organic sadly) and had a family roast. That evening, C stripped and chopped up the carcass so I could make stock, which I then froze in measured portions (the measuring was, I thought, remarkably forward thinking of me!). The next day, keeping some cold chicken aside for lunches in the week, I used the meat and leftover gravy to make pasties, using the River Cottage ‘Everyday’ cookbook for guidance and a rough puff pastry recipe and had enough filling left over to make a few baby meals for M. I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of the River Cottage books, although I do find that ‘Everyday’ is pushing it a bit as a description for a lot of recipes, at least on our budget.
While I was in the baking mood, I also made some olive focaccia bread, from the same recipe book, and some hummus using a recipe my sister-in-law gave me. Today this was added to Tabula Kisir (recipe from guess what? That book again!) which is a lovely tabouleh type thing with bulghar wheat, fresh herbs, tomatoes, peppers etc, and made a really rather superior lunch for an otherwise ordinary Tuesday. The bread is all gone, but the hummus and Tabula will do us for the rest of the week I think.
Given that we stayed more or less within our miniscule budget this week, it’s gratifying to have such good eating going on.