Elizabeth does it again

Published on Friday December 7th, 2012

Surplice (not Surplus) Baby Jacket!

I cast on this little cache-coeur for Jolyon last summer during the Olympics, without bothering to swatch or guess how large it would be, and it’s a perfect fit now. I set aside the Vogue Knitting from Spring/Summer 2007… well, back in 2007, knowing that I could leave no Elizabeth Zimmermann baby sweater unknit—put it right on the shelf amongst the sock yarn where it wouldn’t get lost in a box. And then at the first Sock Summit in 2009 I picked up this skein of what’s since become mystery wool, having lost its extraordinarily unassuming label—it was no larger than a tea bag’s label and printed on much less sturdy stuff. It was an American yarn maker… name started with a D, I think… an upper midwest or eastern mill… they had a very modest display of nice heathered wool in quiet colors. (If you bought some and kept better track, let me know!) It has a bit of crunch to it, but is soft enough (in my opinion and, I’m sure, in EZ’s) for a baby. I tucked it alongside the magazine, and the yarn and the pattern waited patiently together for the next three years. Turns out they were waiting for this baby, this big blue-eyed boy, whom they suit exactly.

There’s a lot of leeway in the pattern (which is also in Knit One Knit All and available separately from Schoolhouse Press), as in so many of Elizabeth’s designs; I followed the Vogue directions pretty closely, if I remember correctly, but lengthened the sleeves. I chose not to fuss with stripes and just let the pleasant heathered wool do its stuff—this blue is blended with both red and yellow and is hard to pair with other colors anyway. I used some Rowan Felted Tweed remnants for the edging to give it a bit of dash, and although it might look like i-cord at first glance, it isn’t. I just picked up stitches all around, knit a handful of rows of stockinet, and let it curl up. I wanted something more elastic than i-cord so the garter stitch could be allowed to grow with the baby for a while, as it so obligingly tends to.

The shaping may not be what you’re used to in garments for little boys… it’s quite cropped on an infant the size of my strapping five-and-a-half-month-old. But we’re finding it very useful as an outer layer, especially over his woolen footed overalls. The wide neckline is practical on a baby of slobbering age—so often I’m picking little soggy bits of wool lint from between his chins, but that’s not a problem with this sweater. And he’s finding those leather buttons irresistible for teething. (I sewed them on well, Infant Care Police!)

If you’re just here for the baby footage, these were all taken on his five-month birthday. It still surprises me that we haven’t had him for much longer. This boy. This bright and beautiful boy. At the end of the longest, most trying day (and we’ve had a few of them lately), he can give me a grin and a chortle as I bundle him into his pajamas and all’s right with the world.

Wednesday began well

Published on Friday November 23rd, 2012

It was a day of unexpected gifts: namely, the children’s school was open and mine was not. Dear Mr. G booked me a massage. There was time to bake and time to knit and drink lots of tea to fight a sore throat. Later in the day there would be a comedy of errors as Ada locked herself and her brother and my phone and my wallet in the car (“Sweetheart, can you reach this button right here? What about with your toes? Stretch, honey!” “I can’t reach it, Mama. You can’t open this door? You just stuck outside?”), Mr. G misunderstood what time my call for the Thanksgiving Eve choral service was, and farcical juggling of cars and dog and children ensued. Nothing was nearly as bad as it could have been; I borrowed a phone and a AAA card from one of Ada’s teachers and in about seven minutes a nice fellow came and rescued my trapped babies. And I was only fifteen minutes late to choir.

But it was the beginning of a downward spiral for our Thanksgiving. My poor husband fell ill and had to stay in bed rather than celebrate his favorite holiday. It wasn’t the same without him, and there’s not even leftover pie because I had to bundle the littles home to bed before everyone else had eaten dessert. I love a convivial gathering of friends and relations and a good meal; I love that Thanksgiving still feels rooted in the spirit of sharing and being grateful for what we have. But if I’m honest, the probability of leftover pie for breakfast the morning after is right up there among the highlights.

This afternoon Ada went to her grandparents’ house and Mr. G felt well enough to mind the baby for a few hours while I escaped for some restorative knitting with my ladies. He went out and bought me two slices of pie for tomorrow’s breakfast. I’m going to cook him something special in a few days when he is quite recovered. Maybe we’ll take an extra donation to the Food Bank the following week — I’ll bet they need it in the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas influxes. We’ll just stretch our festivities out a bit. Goodness knows we have plenty to be thankful for.

I wish you all an abundance of blessings this season.

Cheeks sold separately

Published on Tuesday November 13th, 2012

It’s almost the middle of November. I’m planning Thanksgiving meal contributions around the enormous share of vegetables we hauled home from our CSA this evening. Ada loves to walk down the long tables the farmer sets up — and I mean on the tables — to help put the food into our bags. She got a little distracted and encumbered by a monster carrot she was grappling with, so I had to load up the garlic and the rutabagas and celeriac by myself, but the carrot went back into the bag in a twinkling when I told her we got to choose a pumpkin, too. It is a pumpkin destined for pie and not for an alligator carving (her idea), but these finer points are quite lost on my child. Halloween, such as she understands it, is still looming large in the imagination. And really, it’s going to be Halloween all winter long at our house, so I might as well write about it two weeks after the fact. Here’s why:

Behold, a tiny viking! Jolyon grew into this hat, a gift from a friend who can wield a crochet hook far better than I ever will, just in time for Halloween. Luckily he is also of an age to grab things with decent speed and accuracy, which seems like an important base skill for plundering. On the day, I made him a matching battle axe out of our smallest spatula. He gripped and swung it with enthusiasm, although when he bit it the tinfoil made him cry. There’s no way we’re reserving this hat for one night of his life. It’s far too cute. In fact, that was my whole attitude toward Halloween this year.

Growing up, I had the most elaborate and imaginative costumes of any kid in town. My mother does nothing by halves, and she really poured her heart into Halloween. I can’t tell you how many nights she stayed up bending chicken wire, cardboard, papier mache, fabrics, and other materiel to her creative vision. It must have been Fantasia at her work table in the bedroom, and somehow my father slept through all of it. Colossal sculptures emerged. It was like suiting up for a joust. You needed attendants to hoist half a humpback whale skyward and then lower it onto you, helping you find the straps to the rigging that would support the massive creature on your little shoulders, helping you find the eye holes concealed in the baleen, bending the chicken wire strategically so it wouldn’t bark your ankles too badly as you blundered through town in the school parade among the witches and ghosts and superheroes as a life-like cetacean breaching out of the sidewalk. When I was five and my brother was two, we were jointly the Loch Ness monster. It filled our Volkswagen van. I was the front end, and now that I have a two-year-old of my own I think it’s a miracle my brother was able to toddle along within the tail. As we got older, outrageous requests — a haunted castle! a piano! the Headless Horseman, complete with horse! — only spurred her to greater heights. It would be madness and possibly suicide to attempt to play at her level.

I figure I’ll aim for a steady, year-round simmer in making stuff for my kids instead. I look forward to the day when they can craft their own Halloween and dress-up costumes, and while I’m in charge I think my efforts will go toward making things that can live a useful life beyond a few October nights. For Ada, I knit a tiger bonnet. The child doesn’t like to wear hats, at least not for the function of keeping her head warm when she’s playing outdoors in winter. So I bent my maternal and knitterly wiles to making a really irresistible tiger. I lined it with the coziest fleece. I gave it fuzzy ears thrummed with wool roving. I made it many sizes too large so she can wear it every winter until she’s twelve if she wants to. The rest of the costume was completely slapdash, although I did knit a pretty enchanting tail that’s now pinned to the hem of her purple jacket. There will be better pictures to come, but for now, this shot from the playground is proof that my sly tricks have worked:

(Also, we made it one more year without revealing to her that candy is edible. Yessssss.) All this is not to knock commercial Halloween costumes, however. My friend Robin found a caterpillar at Goodwill and couldn’t resist buying it for Jolly. I’ll let you be the judge, but I think it may equal the viking for cuteness. And all that stuffing will be good in lieu of a snowsuit if we get a sudden cold snap.

Jolly in the hood

Published on Wednesday November 7th, 2012

Most of the things I made for my second babe are already tucked back into the bin of outgrowns, ready to be handed along to a friend or squirreled away for future binges of nostalgia when I have great galumphing teenagers. My son is so large (28″ at four months!), so sunny in temperament, so calmly alert in his bearing, and so accomplished at fitting himself flexibly and cheerfully into the rhythms of our family life that we tend to forget what a new baby he actually is. A mere twenty weeks have passed since his birth. But you’d never guess it from his wardrobe. I’m already retiring pajamas made for nine-month-olds. So it’s a good thing I sewed the Baby in the Hood jacket from Anna Maria Horner’s Handmade Beginnings in the 6-9 month size, and it’s a good thing the weather is finally getting properly cool.

(Please forgive the dim, noisy photographs. It’s November. I hate the flash.)

The fabrics are from Lotta Jansdotter’s first collection; I’m sorry I can’t tell you the source for the teal lining, which is printed with circles of sweet birds. I snatched it up at Bolt on a whim because I liked the color as a contrast to the orange and the echoing of the round shapes inside and out.

The pattern was a bit of a reach for me and I did make some mistakes. Setting in sleeves was not easy, and if I had it to do over again I’d think to sew the lining pieces first for practice. Also, I somehow missed that I was supposed to have half an inch of each front left over after attaching the hood so there would be an allowance to sew the button bands to. I didn’t have it in me to rip off the hood and try again, so I had to improvise: I lapped a sandwich of button band over the front edge and top-stitched it on. It’s less than impeccable at the corners and it doesn’t line up neatly with the hood edge as Anna Maria intended. Oh well. I’m submitting it for drool and gumming by someone who doesn’t even understand that the jacket exists if he can’t see it, not for assessment by a panel of judges. And he seems well pleased.

I’m thinking of sewing a bigger one in blue checked wool for outdoor wear this winter. I even have this idea that I could use a felted strip of an old brown sweater of Mr. G’s for the hood stripe. It might be pretty cute.

Don’t look so skeptical, dude. Or are you just being more realistic than I am about my sewing time? Maybe I’d better acquire Anna Maria’s new All Set pattern collection, which includes a version of this jacket sized from 2T to 8 years, so you’ll have something to wear next year?