Monday, December 8, 2014

Baby Surprise Jacket

This was a fun baby sweater to knit. It is a classic called the Baby Surprise Jacket (BSJ),  by Elizabeth Zimmerman.  It is knit all in one piece, the only seams being two short ones on the shoulders that extend down the upper side of the sleeves.  I expected the variegated yarn I used with a garter stitch to have a more tweedy random outcome but I could not be happier with the serendipitous striping that emerged. I bought the pattern through the Ravelry website which states
The Baby Surprise Jacket was designed by Elizabeth Zimmermann in 1968 and remains a popular baby garment to this day. It is an excellent pattern for making use of oddments of yarn or self-striping yarns with long color repeats but looks equally nice knit in a single color with a contrasting button band.
Oddly enough I bought this pattern by mail several years ago because I saw it knit up in my local knit shop and the construction fascinated me. The printed pattern had taken several weeks to arrive and, when it did, I was a bit disillusioned because it was just a black and white xerox copy on ordinary newsprint type paper. Of course when I wanted to use the pattern last month I could not find it. Somewhat chagrined and convinced this was the sweater I wanted to make, even though the pattern was, and had been, sitting filed away somewhere in my house for years, I sent off for the BSJ pattern again. To my pleasant surprise this time, a lovely 12 page color glossy booklet with options for collar and hood and child and adult sizes arrived in just a few days. The pattern also had notes and hints and helpful ways to interpret and optionally modify the original instructions from 1968. It was well worth the $12! The pattern source was Schoolhouse Press both times. I guess the company has matured. The BSJ pattern is not yet available for download in pdf form though.

The striping came out really cute mainly because the yarn had a relatively long expanse between color changes and the colors were symmetric in sequence:
 pink – rose – lilac – green – yellow – white – yellow – green – lilac – rose – pink 

Here is the front of the sweater I knitted. I added an optional collar once the two shoulder seams had been sewn. Those pink flower buttons from my personal stock were just lying in wait for the right sweater!

Here is the back – and the stripes go on! The color sequence and orientation on the collar even cooperated.

It is hard to believe that this BSJ folded up from this oddly shaped swatch of knitting full of strategically placed increases and decreases.

I used size 6 needles with the Lion Brand Babysoft yarn to make this sweater for a nearly one year old. Since I usually knit loosely, I generally use a needle one size smaller than suggested to get the desired gauge. I then also up the needle size by one when binding off to be sure the edge remains stretchy enough. Interestingly, the pattern calls for making buttonholes on both edges and then sewing buttons over the buttonholes on the edge of your choice. I thought this odd, but complied and it turned out to be a great idea. Not just for gender selection, this method has a couple other advantages. It was a guide as to exactly where to sew the buttons so they align with the holes and it allowed me to pick my favored side of the sweater to be the outside. Especially with a garter stitch in multiple-colors, the determination of "nubs" on right side or wrong side could be chosen at the end.

Here is all the yarn I had left from one 4 oz skein. It is a good thing I quit my 4" wide gauge swatch when I did, and was not more cavalier in expending yarn to make it longer. That yellow length of yarn off to the right is a slight concession I made. I sacrificed a bit of length so the optional collar I added could start with pink. I also made the collar a few rows longer so it would come out edged in the lilac. I picked up the stitches for the collar from the wrong side, rather than from the right side as is the norm, so that there would not be a ridge at the inner back that could irritate the baby's neck when she wore the sweater. Technically, the added collar makes it a two piece knitted garment but, since the collar is optional, I think it still qualifies as being a one-piece design. The entire sweater was knit on straight, not circular, needles without ever having to break the yarn.

My daughter has had a best friend through middle school, high school, college, weddings, and motherhood. This sweater is intended for that friend's almost one-year old baby girl. The baby's mom is also a knitter so I think she will get a kick out of this garment's construction, as well as enjoying the sweater itself. I have my fingers crossed that this BSJ is not too late in coming and already outgrown. If so, and if her mom lets me know, I would be happy to make another in a larger size. It was an interesting challenge, sort of like a mystery sweater, and it was fun!


  1. So far over my knitting ability - but so adorable! It's a very lucky girl who will get this sweater.

    1. This sweater looks complicated when it really isn't. You would be surprised. If you can count and knit garter stitch (every row is knitted, no purling) you can do this. The yarn does all the striping. Really. And it is great there is so little seaming at the end! Just wait, Tami... when the baby bug bites you... you will be able to do it if you want. Thanks for visiting.

  2. That jacket sure did turn out cute! The buttons are perfect and the collar looks great. I am sure the recipient will love it!