There are several reasons why Elizabeth Zimmermann (EZ) is the knitting icon of the 20th century, and one of these is the Baby Surprise Jacket. It's an ingeniously constructed piece of knitting, where you start at the collar and along the length of the sleeves, decrease for a while to shape the sleeves, and then increase for a while to shape the lower body of the little jacket. After you bind off, you end up with this strangely misshapen rectangle, but if you fold it just so and seam up the top of the sleeves, you end up with one of the cutest little baby jackets ever.
I recently got an opportunity to make one of these when I found out my cousin is pregnant. Mom had given me EZ's The Opinionated Knitter for Christmas, and so I had the pattern all ready to go. By the way, if you only get one EZ book, this is the one you should buy. It's pretty damn awesome. Anyway, I copied the pattern into my little notebook, balled up a skein of Noro Kureyon Sock, picked out some 3.75mm needles from my interchangeable needle kit, and threw everything into my suitcase for my trip to NRDA.
I managed to knit the entire sweater during the conference. Seriously... I cast on on the Thursday, and bound off during the car ride back on Saturday. The fact that I was sitting through hours and hours of talks (and that the wi-fi on my laptop refused to work) certainly didn't hurt, but I think I'll attribute the speediness of this pattern to the rows of mindless garter stitch paired with fairly intuitive increases, once you get the hang of it. I only had to look at my written pattern a few times to check how many increases or decreases I was supposed to be doing. It also didn't hurt that the colour changes in the Noro are absolutely fabulous.
I should say something about that yarn. Reading comments on Ravelry, people seem to have a love/hate relationship with Noro. They complain that it's scratchy, that there are lots of knots, that they find little pieces of hay in the yarn, that the thickness is too inconsistent to knit socks with, but then they also just go crazy over the colours. In my ball, I found only one knot (and so took the opportunity to do my own version of a Russian join) and quite a few pieces of hay. However, the knot happened where the colours more or less matched up, so that was ok. I was actually pretty lucky when it came to that knot. The colour changes were supposed to go from pink to green to yellow, but because of the knot, they went from pink to green to pink again. This meant that after picking up the stitches, the pink continued in the right place! Rather fortunate coincidence, I think. The yarn was also rather thick & thin, in some places it was as thin as crochet cotton and in others as thick as heavy worsted, but considering my needle size, and that the sweater was garter stitch, it didn't matter so much. It was also not quite as scratchy as I had expected.
But the colours... oh the colours! My pictures don't quite capture the depth of the colours of this yarn. I think the trick is that they don't dye the yarn after it's spun (or even the roving with multiple colours at a time), but instead spin in one colour for a while, and gradually introduce roving of a different colour. If you look closely at the yarn where the colour changes, you can see two strands of colour spun together. It gives the illusion of the colours bleeding into one another without the muddiness that would result from dying the colours long enough to obtain the same vibrancy. This way, they can dye a piece of roving in one colour, as long as they want to get the intensity of colour you see in the final project. Pretty smart, actually.
To go with the jacket, I decided to also knit up some Bootees, also an EZ pattern from the same book. They're knit in a similar way to the BSJ, by decreasing to a point, picking up stitches along the side of the knitting and then increasing until the piece of fabric can be folded to make a little foot shape. Because of the colour changes in the Noro, mine ended up being completely different colours, which is ok because even though they don't match each other, they both match the jacket. I also decided not to sew the booties all the way up the leg, as suggested in the pattern, but instead leave the upper part open so that the top parts can be folded down to look like little elf shoes! I also added i-cords to be tied in the back to give it a bit of a girly touch (the baby will indeed be of that gender).
My cousin reacted appropriately with all the squeals and thank-yous she could muster, and so I think she can probably expect to receive more baby things in the future... muahahahaha!