There’s a little plastic bag squished into the corner of my big knitting bag. A little plastic bag with a squish together top whose creases and worn softness tell the story of a project that’s long been carted around, knit a bit and stuffed away, knit a bit and put out of sight. And now that bag is empty.
I didn’t start knitting after the phone call came, nor after the news came of my tiny nephew’s appearance in the world, or even after I’d been to see him. He was still in an incubator, only just starting to wear a vest, and the world of a full set of clothing, including knitwear, seemed a very long way off. But this boy likes to keep us all on our toes, and at a week and a half old he’d jumped through every milestone with flying colours and was on his way home.
Which is where I came in. It’s a long running joke among knitters that it’s a good job our families don’t need us to knit their socks and hats and jumpers and the rest because we like making complicated things that can occasionally be abandonned in a fit of pique, rather than churning out workhorse woolies because winter is coming. But when you’re trying to keep a teeny tiny wee boy snuggly warm, the problem is that you can’t get that many teeny tiny little knits. It’s probably a lack of demand because there aren’t that many 3lb 11oz babies out and about needing to be kept warm.
In fact, Rosie thought she’d found exactly one cardigan, and even then it was a bit big. It was never a matter of life or death or anything approaching ye olden days levels of discomfort; they have an excellent central heating system and lots of blankets. But it is true that it’s easier to keep a baby warm if they’re tucked up in something that fits, and it has to be true that when you’re parenting a preemie baby that you’ve only just got to bring home from the hospital, and everyone’s first comment is how incredibly tiny he is, having him in a nice cosy cardigan that looks the right size must normalise the situation. If his clothes fit, then it’s not too scary that he arrived at 34 weeks.
We found a pattern that she thought looked good that Wednesday night, I bought the ball of yarn on Thursday, knit all through Thursday evening and into a teeny bit of Friday until the yarn ran out, bought more yarn on Friday, knit on Friday evening, sewed seams, crocheted ties and sewed on buttons.
On Saturday morning I gave it as good a block as I could manage, hovering the iron just above it and pumping steam through until it looked nice and neat. It isn’t as perfect as a wet block, but there was no time, and by midmorning Saturday it was in the post.
The yarn is Rowan Baby Merino Silk. It’s a great yarn for baby knits because it’s machine washable, it’s as soft as butter, and natural fibres will help its tiny wearer regulate his body temperature.
The pattern is called Baby Kimono, it’s a free pattern and has plenty of small baby sizes starting with preemie, for a baby with a 12″ chest. Aside from the yarn amounts being out by a shoulder and a sleeve, it’s a clever pattern, knit sleeve to sleeve, with a cross over front for extra warmth.
Knitting it took every ounce of willpower to overide my default settings of “just add a couple of inches”, in this case the sleeves are only two inches long, the fronts and back aren’t much bigger and I alternated between fear that it would be too small and fear that it would be too big.
For a sense of scale, I have medium sized hands.
In the end the only thing I could do was to wait; and on Monday I got this picture.
A perfect fit, anda picture that more than anything gives you a sense of just how small he is. The model has now commissioned a second in a pale glacier blue which I’m aiming to put in the post on Tuesday so it’s time to get knitting again.
I’ve said before that to wear handknits is to be wrapped up in the love of the maker and it’s truer than ever in this case. I’ve met the wee nephew but I couldn’t touch him (hospital rules about infection prevention), and I’m too far away now, and surrounded by too many miniature harbingers of germs of my own for us all to go and visit until he’s a bit bigger, both to see him, and to be a support for my sister, but this, this I can do. Even a tiny jumper has hundreds of stitches, each a testament that he, and she, are so very loved.
As I darned in the ends on my first baby surprise jacket of this year (and my 16th overall) there was a little bit of me that wondered whether or not I should be branching out with my baby knitting; whether it’s a sign of creative malaise that I hear baby and start reaching for Elizabeth Zimmerman and some nice soft squishy wool. The rest of me however, knew that this is not just any baby cardigan, this is an iconic knit.
So far there are 25,707 baby surprise jackets shared on Ravelry, and as Ravelry is a relatively new creation and the baby surprise jacket is not, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg. Centuries from now, archaeologists will unearth hundreds of baby boxes across the world and find the same little jacket in every colour and fibre under the rainbow, and wonder whether we considered it a good luck charm.
The mama of this baby is a very dear friend of mine, and while the baby is so completely adored that there isn’t enough knitwear in the world to represent the love that greeted his arrival, I was never not going to knit him a little something. The challenge for me is that his mama is also very stylish; we work together and she is always beautifully dressed and put together, in contrast to my slightly more ‘this is clothes, I’ll wear it’ attitude to fashion, and her creativity has full reign when it comes to interior design.
A baby surprise jacket was the only thing that could possibly keep up.
For the colours, I’ll admit I used cushions and crowdsourcing. Over the years we’ve discussed dream houses, scoured RightMove for the fixer uppers we’d buy when we won the lottery and had lengthy discussions about wallpaper and curtains and all the colours we would use in our houses, and grey and mustard was a popular combination. The crowdsourcing was the rest of the team who relayed back to me all insider information on colour, mostly, no all-out baby blue.
The yarn is a combination of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino (the pale blue and grey) and Rowan Wool Cotton for the mustard. They all knit together beautifully, and more importantly, they machine wash.
The stripe pattern is entirely random; it’s the joy of knitting something you don’t have to duplicate and I just changed colours to whatever felt right. And the joy of the baby surprise is that I don’t think there’s a way to make one of these look bad. I love the finished jacket, at least enough to entertain me through darning in all those ends, and I think it was a hit with its small owner.
And what’s more, I’m pretty sure that the 16th will not be the last. Before the tiny nephew arrived, my sister had asked for one for him, and while he has some growing to do, I’m sure we’ll get there in the end. It’s a testament to the lady who, in her words, ‘unvented’ it, that it’s both so practical that it gets requests, and so incredibly fun that you just can’t stop knitting them.
Every now and then I knit something entirely on a whim.
For the most part, my knitting planning runs far far ahead of my fingers’ ability to keep up, as does my sewing and quilting planning for that matter. Right now I have three projects on the needles, including my big crochet blanket, and the next seven projects lined up ready and waiting. Even if I haven’t bought all the yarn I need for all of them yet, I know what they’ll be and in what order. But of course no one likes being told what to do, even when you’re the one telling yourself, and a little rearranging of the plan is in order.
So it was with these Urchins. The initial whim was about wanting to make sure I’d put as much time into Kitty’s handmade Christmas as I had in knitting Elma a cardigan. When what look to be a relatively simple skort still took me all day to put together, I realised that was silly, and shelved the three rows of hat in favour of getting as much of John’s Christmas socks done before the big day.
But after Christmas, and searching around for a nice portable project to take up to my inlaws as car and chatting knitting, I picked it back up again. Kitty’s hat whizzed off the needles and was finished while we were there, and while Elma had to wait for me to get home to cast on, smaller hats take less time.
Both hats are loved, both hats are worn, and both hats are left at school and so I need to nip back to my Siblings photos for this month for the only evidence of the girls wearing their hats at the same time.
Each hat is knit from one ball of Rowan Big Wool, in I think the colour Champion, at least that looks the nearest on the shade card. This is moderately deep stash yarn, easily from before the children, saved waiting for a perfect project, and it works brilliantly for Urchin.
It’s not a hard pattern to knit; you make petal shapes knitting back and forth and graft the ends to make a hat, but like every other Ysolda pattern I’ve made, it’s very clever, and what at the first petal looks incredibly strange, turns into a beautiful beret shaped hat before you know it.
And with that little detour out of the way, I’m back to my plans as before. Well almost. Because if I’m being honest here, the person who has worn both of these hats the most is a certain tiny wee boy named Pip. He tried on Kitty’s and it was too big, he tried on Elma’s but it was too beloved by Elma, and then he looked up at me, in firm belief in the power of his Mama’s needles, and said the immortal words: “where mine hat Mama?!”
I’m going to have to do some stash diving for something suitable I suspect – any pattern recommendations?
Also coming under the finish line this week is the first of my Christmas tree decorations for 2017. Yes really. Every Christmas I end up collecting a handful of cross stitch and papercraft magazines with gorgeous little cover kits and I swear that I’m going to make them over Christmas and then get far too caught up in the actual getting ready for Christmas and usually some high speed finishing of the Christmas presents to sit down to do a little truly indulgent making.
Starting in the autumn never works because of a proliferation of birthdays and even Christmas in July passed me by so I’m sewing for Christmas in January. This is the first that I’ve finished, the cover kit from November’s Cross Stitcher, and even if my sewing up isn’t quite perfect, I love how it turned out. Now all I have to do is not loose it before next December!
If you are feeling in any way headachy or a little bleary eyed, this is not the post for you.
A couple of years ago I made John his brightest yet pair of socks in bright yellow, green and red, and I thought they were so loud that the camera would never cope, and so vibrant that passersby would cast shadows from his feet. They were, and are, gorgeous socks, and they remain one of the favourites in the drawer. But I think that perhaps I underestimated my darling husband’s capacity for brightness. It may be that they’ve faded a little through weekly washing, or it may just be that when you bring out the sun, the stars fade away.
Late in August in south east Germany, as I held Pip up to see all the pretty colours in the wool shop, and tried to persuade the girls that they really didn’t need to eat another packet of sweeties, John went off to explore the yarn paradise that is the Wollmeise shop. There was already a not insubstantial pile in front of me; rose pink for a cardigan for Kitty, wonderful stripes and swirls of colour for me, and it seemed only fair that John should get to pick his own seeing as he’s as much of a colour maven as his wife.
His picks surprised me; in the land of multicolours and potential stripes, he picked out three that all played with just the one colour group. They are all absolutely beautiful in a subtle way; well as subtle as you can get with a yarn named after a flaming ball of gas that lights up a galaxy.
Sonne, is deep orange and brilliant yellow and everything in between, and I knew it would be the first thing on the knitting list as soon as I saw his three skeins laid out. It’s so easy to feel that with a straightforward colour way I ought to be doing complicated socks to make the best use of the yarn, but this colour is just so retina-shattering that you’d never see a pattern against it. All this yarn ever asks for it to be allowed to shine.
The ball of yarn started living in my handbag at the end of November. I was so determined that I would make a pair of socks completely without him being aware and John wouldn’t know until they magically appeared on Christmas morning. They were so perfect for grey winter’s days; brilliant orange on cadbury purple sock needles. I knit on the train when I wasn’t working, and at home when he was playing hockey and still they refused to grow. Stitch by stitch in every little sneak of time I could find, I tried to make them longer and more sock like. But with every passing day it became more apparent that they were going to be most of a first sock and a ball of yarn on the day itself. I even gave up on the stealth and pulled them out to let my fingers do the work while we watched a film together on Christmas Eve.
But Christmas is not just one day, and in the cheese-eating, craft-project-making, chocolate banquet of the lull between Christmas and New Year, I finished that first sock, and in the New Year celebrations I finished the second. That it’s taken me this long to get them back together again for a photo, I secretly rather love; and I know he’s not just wearing them because so many of the others in his drawer have holes.
And maybe one day they might fade a little bit and be more sunset than noon, but I think it’s going to be a long long time before I come across anything quite this bright again. In fact, that’s a challenge – has anyone every come across any sock yarn brighter than this?