Many knitters through the years have been intimidated by the somewhat scanty directions Elizabeth Zimmermann originally gave for her Baby Surprise Jacket when it was originally published in Knitting Workshop. Knitters who've worked the pattern once know that it's not difficult, but to bridge the gap for knitters who are reluctant to give it a try, Meg Swansen has released both a DVD showing how the jacket is made and a line-by-line pattern for the jacket in various sizes.
"Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket DVD" takes knitters through a Baby Surprise Jacket, as well as some variations from the original pattern and a super bulky version for adults.
Step by Step
Viewers of "Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket DVD" learn a bit of the history of the pattern, which was first developed in 1968 for Zimermann's first grandchild, Cully. The DVD takes knitters into the world of Meg Swansen and the schoolhouse, showing plenty of fall scenes as she completes most of the knitting for the project outdoors. This seems appropriate, since the Baby Surprise Jacket feels to me like a fall project.
Swansen begins at the beginning, with a long-tail cast on, saying "I kind of like the game" of wondering whether her long tail is long enough. (She also offers a tip to help if your tail is a little too short.)
She slips the first stitch of every row and deviates from the original instructions only in that she uses a more traditional make one increase as opposed to Zimmermann's backward loop increases.
The DVD shows how to change colors to make crisp stripes, how to knit an optional collar after sewing up the sleeves, a variation that makes a more obvious line of knit stitches where the increases and decreases fall and more.
Instructions for the Baby Surprise Bonnet are also included. The pattern was originally worked all in Garter Stitch, just like the jacket, but Swansen also offers a variation with a Stockinette section worked in the round on two circular needles.
A common change that many people make to the original instructions is lengthening the sleeves, but Swansen points out that a three-quarter sleeve is a good choice for a baby, who won't be able to get the shorter sleeves as messy.
If knitters use bulkier yarn to get a bigger jacket, however, the sleeves will shorten in proportion to the increase in size, so adding length becomes necessary.
Knitting the Adult Baby
Swansen also notes that if you use really bulky yarn you can use the exact same instructions for the Baby Surprise Jacket and come out with an adult size (skipping the increases for fullness around the diaper, of course!). She explains the changes she made to the pattern in order to make it bigger, including an invisible cast on to make it possible to add considerable length to the sleeves.
She illustrates one way to cast on invisibly, which is basically a wrap cast on worked with two strands of yarn. She also shows how to add I-cord to the edges of the garment (either through an I-cord bind off or by knitting an applied I-cord) to make it look nicely finished.
"Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket DVD" shows knitters just how logical and simple the Baby Surprise Jacket pattern is even though it seems complicated if you just read through the pattern. The DVD is fun and educational, and you can really see Zimmermann in Swansen if you've ever seen any of Zimmermann's DVDs (though this one has better production values than any of hers).
The DVD is sure to inspire knitters who haven't yet tried this innovative garment to, as Swansen says, knit one or a dozen.
Those who are already fans of the jacket might still enjoy watching Swansen demonstrate the techniques and show off the original garment as well as its many variations.
Publication date: 2005