Tag Archives: Retro

Knitting like it’s 1974

Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Sweater on Two Needles in Berocco Vintage

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles in Berocco Vintage

I just finished this shower gift for a friend who’s expecting in April, and I think this one’s about to become a staple.  I’ve previously expressed my love for and fascination with seventies knitting patterns, and our recent Freaks and Geeks  Netflix binge has just reignited my love of seventies knitwear.  This time, I used Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles (Practically Seamless) from the February chapter of Knitter’s Almanac.

Much like Zimmerman’s other patterns this one bares a significant resemblance to stream of consciousness.  She does not lay out a needle size and her thoughts on gauge and measurement in general are pretty vague, since as she points out, babies come in all different sizes. I don’t know if this is indicative of Zimmerman’s individual style or if it simply reflects that the pattern is nearly forty years old. Either way, the instructions are a bit inscrutable and show a clear relationship to the oral tradition of sharing knitting patterns and skills.  When reading Zimmerman’s books, with their long asides and vague directions, you feel as though you are in conversation with the knitting guru herself. On one level, it’s appealing, but it’s nice to have some guidance before you set out:

1. Zimmerman doesn’t mention the button holes until after she describes the yoke.  You need to put button holes in while you are constructing the yoke, so read through the entire pattern carefully before you start. You can choose how many button holes to make.  I looked at the 7500 (!) projects on ravelry and decided to create a swing cardigan with three buttons.

2. There are few instructions about needle size and gauge.  I used size 5 needles and followed the directions regarding length exactly.  The end product is a little larger than a Baby Gap 3-6 months.

Waste yarn (brown) holds the sleeve as I finish the body

Waste yarn (brown) holds the sleeve as I finish the body

3. The sleeve directions are strange.  When I got to the sleeve row, I put the 28 sleeve stitches on waste yarn, cast on 14 across each gap, and then finished the body.  Afterwards, I returned to the sleeve, cast on 14 and knit in the round (no purling!) and then seamed the armpits.

The end result is really lovely. When I make gifts before a baby is born, I am a little anxious about when they will fit the baby.  You can never be sure if the recipient will give birth to a dainty 5 lbs baby or a 10 lbs baby that haunts the dreams of pregnant women everywhere.  A thick sweater that baby grows into and out of over the summer months is pretty useless.  The lace pattern in this sweater added to it’s appeal, since it has an all-season usefulness. I can imagine this baby wearing it on cool summer nights over a little dress or under a jacket in the spring or fall.

This pattern has confirmed my love affair with Zimmerman’s timeless designs.  I’m so pleasantly surprised that her books are still in print and so widely available. Has anyone discovered any other gems from the 70’s? I’d love to try them out….

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Toddler Surprise Jacket

Toddler surprise jacket 2.0, in various scraps of Noro Taiyo

The print on my maxi wrap dress

Walking past all of the midtown stores, on our way home from Argo, last date night, I realized something: the 70’s are having a moment.  I couldn’t be happier; I love the long hair, the cords, the wrap dresses, the maxi wrap dresses, the intentionally ugly colours…

Inspired by the movie and the 70’s inspired fashions in Yorkville, I turned to one of the few 60’s and 70’s pattern designers whose books are still widely available: Elizabeth Zimmerman.  My first experiment with retro patterns was her 1968 Baby Surprise Jacket.  Named “surprise” because it is knit in one bizarre piece, then miraculously folds into a sweater for your baby or toddler.

The differences between contemporary patterns and Elizabeth Zimmerman’s go way beyond the groovy style.  The surprise jacket is not at all technically challenging, it is mostly just knit in garter stitch with a few simple increases and decreases.  It is however, mystifying from a reading comprehension perspective.  Zimmerman’s writing style approaches stream of consciousness.  She writes long paragraphs and asides and switches vocabulary midway through the pattern (switching from “rows” to “ridges” to “decreases”).  If like me, you usually rush headlong into patterns: STOP!  You need to read the whole pattern, and count out the rows before it is too late.  For example, when she writes “At 114 sts,” it’s good to know that means 12 more rows.  I found doing the math before hand, and annotating my pattern to be much less time consuming than counting stitches.

The Surprise Jacket, some assembly required

She is also quite vague about gauge and sizes.  She doesn’t suggest a size of needles or give any specific yardage.  The pattern simply offers that a gauge of 6 sts to the inch will yield a present for a newborn and that 5 sts to the inch will be right for a “1-year-old or older.”  There are, however, thousands of projects on ravelry that can offer some suggestions in that direction. As someone who is trying to find new challenges as a knitter, I really enjoyed her open ended style.  I felt like I was sitting down with someone’s fantastically talented grandma for a little chat about knitting, and that she figured I knew enough to put my own stamp on things.  However, I imagine that her style might be frustrating for a beginner.

Helpful in deciphering this pattern was this wonderful YouTube series:

Experienced knitters won’t need to watch every episode in its entirety, but it helped me make sense of some of the more inscrutable directions (her pattern literally includes the phrase “Hope you’re still with me”).

I originally made this sweater for my two year old niece on size 5.5 mm needles in Noro Taiyo.  I was sooooo pleased with the funky, psychedelic result that I made a second from my stash of

Toddler Surprise Jacket 1.0

Noro. Both sweaters remind me of girl’s sweaters I spotted at Benetton and the Baby Gap this fall. I think the purple colourways (I had lots of tiny scraps, and just used anything purple-ish) turned out even better; it’s not quite the bold statement the original was.

I’m definitely looking forward to my next adventure with retro patterns Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles from the Knitter’s Almanac for my sister-in-law (due in 3 weeks, we can’t wait to meet our new neice!).  I’ll keep you posted as the baby and the sweater arrive…