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!