Monday, March 03, 2008

Baby Sweaters and EZ and Me…

About three years ago we went through one of those periods at work where it seemed that everyone was having a baby. You know what that’s like – you get one person making an announcement and next thing you know there are five, and you’re seriously debating the merits of bottled water as an alternative work-time liquid!

Since three of the people bursting at the seams were friends of mine, I started looking at baby sweater patterns. I had managed to pretty much skip that part of the “becoming a knitter” process – at the time I probably should have made a couple, I didn’t have anyone around who needed a baby sweater! Needless to say, one of the first things I found was Elizabeth Zimmerman’s lovely baby surprise jacket (BSJ) in garter stitch. I was intrigued, and decided to knit one just to give it a try. Next thing I knew I was casting on for my fourth! These things are not only fun, they’re quite addictive and wonderfully magical! The sweaters were received with great awe, and I was hailed as something of a magician myself.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had begun a tradition. I work, day in and day out, with about 200 people. So babies, while not an everyday occurrence, are still born at least a couple of times a year. I’ve now become almost bored with baby sweaters. I’ve tried different patterns (from various sources), in various yarn weights, and enjoyed all of them – they’re fast and pretty. But I still prefer, for simple, fun knitting, the old reliable EZ standby.

In order to liven up that old standby for the newest arrival (a girl), I decided that I ought to be able to insert some lace into the pattern. Heaven forbid I should do an all-over lace stitch, though! Actually, I was afraid to do a lace fabric. I wasn’t too sure how the twists and turns would look when the whole thing was finished, and I also was a bit nervous about keeping the pattern aligned during all the decreases and increases. Not to mention what an all-over lace pattern might do to the shaping of this gem!

So I hit the world-wide web and Googled “baby surprise sweater in lace.” I couldn’t possibly be the only person who had ever thought of this, right? I came up empty. There were all sorts of hits for the BSJ, of course, but none of them seemed to include lace! I gave up and emailed Meg Swanson. Just in case some of you are brand-new knitters, I’ll explain that Meg is Elizabeth’s daughter as well as a gifted designer in her own right. I asked if she had seen any BSJ’s that included lace patterning, secure in the knowledge that she could probably point me in the direction of a dozen or more. Imagine my surprise when she responded that while she thought she’d heard about one, she hadn’t really seen anything!

Obviously, I was in trouble. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, wanted to knit this BSJ, didn’t really have time to knit it twice and…got out the paper and scissors. I drew (badly) a diagram of the BSJ before seaming, sketched in the areas where I wanted lace to show up, and started trying to work them into the instructions. After a couple of hours and most of an eraser, I thought I had the start of a procedure that would give me something acceptable. Below is a picture of the finished BSJ with lace insert.

As you can see, I had some challenges. I chose a simple Shetland flower pattern as an insert, trying to arrange things so that it provided an edging around the sweater. The sleeves and back were perfect, and the bottom worked out well. But the inserts on the fronts didn’t work out quite as I had hoped. They look pretty, but didn’t quite make it all the way down either side of the buttons from collar to hem, which was what I had visualized.

However, I now have some additional ideas for the next iteration. There’s another baby on the way at the end of the summer, and I’m hoping for another girl. This time I actually DO want to try an all-over lace pattern, probably in a simple garter-stitch lace that will echo the construction lines of the sweater itself. I think it will work! Elizabeth, thank you so much for this incredible design – and for empowering knitters everywhere with the gift of supportive exploration!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Post-Holiday knitting and notes on my own design process

I’ve been busily knitting since the holidays – mostly several versions of Knitty’s Ice Queen in Kid Silk haze of blue and bright pink, followed by the wimple below in a pattern of my own devising. “How can you possibly make up your own patterns?” is something I hear all the time from both knitters and non-knitters. So I thought I’d detail the process that led to this leaf-lace wimple, and share the resulting pattern.

I had decided on a wimple for my mother for Christmas back in early November, and had cast on in a basic Shetland horseshoe pattern. Yarn was doubled lace-weight natural-colored cashmere on size 4 needles – I wanted something light-weight and very warm that she could wear with anything. My mother exercises in all kinds of weather, and even in East Tennessee it can get cold. So I did three repeats of the horseshoe pattern; then did simple double yarn-overs placed at the point of the horseshoe until I hit 18 inches, when I did five more repeats of the horseshoe pattern and bound off after 3 rounds of garter stitch. Pretty, warm, and won’t crush my mother’s hairdo. I washed, blocked and wrapped it for the holiday one Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving.

Enter my current student intern. She saw the wimple I’d done for my mother just before it was finished, and fell in love with it. So I thought I’d make one for her in blue kid mohair to match her pretty blue eyes, and went yarn shopping at my local LYS. I splurged – there’s no other word for it – on two skeins of blue and two of bright pink Kid-Silk haze. Came home and decided to cast on for the intern’s version in another lace pattern I love – feather and fan – and got a couple of inches completed that very day.

Within the next day or two, the winter Knitty was brought to my attention. I enjoy this on-line ‘zine for knitters, and have used several designs from its talented crew as a starting point for my own creations over the past couple of years. But I hadn’t knit something entirely from the magazine as yet. As you may have gathered, I’m just not a pattern knitter! Ice Queen changed that temporarily.

I had already completed quite a bit of the intern’s version, and went on with my original plan. She loved my own feather and fan version, by the way, and couldn’t believe I had made her something for the holiday. I do enjoy knitting for those who appreciate it! But I still wanted to do the Ice Queen in the pattern as shown – the decreases intrigued me, and I thought they’d solve the one problem I’d run into – the face is a bit wide. I thought I’d prefer something more snuggled up to keep the breezes out.

I had already decided that I’d like another wimple for myself. My winter leather coat is warm enough, except for the leather right around the neck that leads into the collar. That gets cold! I usually use a scarf to cover my neck in that area, and wear a hat. But I don’t really like stocking caps – they flatten my hair in an odd fashion, and I’m now working in an office where day-long hat hair is a bit too informal! So I used the pink mohair-silk and cast on as directed in the Ice Queen pattern. Knitting went very quickly (especially without beads!), and I had my own Ice Queen finished in time to wear on Christmas Eve. Talk about garnering compliments – everybody loved it!

We were heading for the Midwest to see two of the children just after the New Year, and I needed a car project for the half-time my DH was driving. My daughter has beautiful blue eyes as well, and loves pretty, feminine things. I had one skein of the blue Kid Silk Haze left – and two ounces of beautiful Czech beads in the right size to make pinpoints of starlight when the light catches the knitted fabric! So I cast on (can you believe it of me!) another Ice Queen – this time in a beaded version! I finished it up during our visit, and she does indeed love it.

But before we ever left home, I was tinkering with another possibility. I wanted the same general shape, wider at the shoulders to as to anchor firmly under a coat, but tighter around the face to keep the ears warm. I liked the picot edging in both the beaded and unbeaded versions of Ice Queen – it was simple to work and an effective, pretty edging. But I was finally (and almost-certainly temporarily) tired of feather and fan. I wanted to try another stitch!

I had bought a ball of Mongolian lace-weight that had 400 yards of pure softness in a lovely light gray that would work much better than the fuchsia pink with my red wool coat! I had spent one evening at my daughter’s dining room table sketching lace patterns out on graph paper, figuring out ways to get the decreases I wanted, and finally settled on a Shetland leaf-lace pattern. I took the cashmere along on the trip, knowing I’d also need a project for the car on the way home, and cast on as we headed east. So my Leaf Lace Wimple pattern is below:

Leaf Lace Wimple Pattern

Yarn: Lace-weight cashmere, 55 gms = 400 yds
Suggested needle sizes: US 3 for main body, US 1 for face edge, circular, 24-inch
Gauge: 4.5 – 5.0 stitches per inch

Cast on 11 repeats of 14 stitches – 154 stitches; join into round and knit one round.

Follow pattern as written, knitting even rows, and repeating rows 49 through 60 (green shaded rows) until length from cast-on is approximately 20 inches (about 100 rows), ending on row 52 or 60 of pattern as shown. (Click for a larger version of the chart.)

After the final repeat of either row 52 or row 60, K3P2 around for two rows.
On the third row, K3, twist 2 purl stitches around.

Bind off with either a picot bind-off pattern (like the one from Knitty’s Ice Queen pattern) or another decorative BO. Go back and crochet an edging on the shoulder end, or pick up stitches and repeat the picot bind-off.

Wash and block and enjoy! And here's a photo of my own version - apologies for the shortcomings of the model are hereby tendered!