A circle of sources, a baby's surprise

Inspired to make a jacket for a newborn, an uninitiated knitter realizes it takes a village.

Dear Lily,

I'm sending you this Baby Surprise Jacket that I knitted. I don't think it will fit you till you're 2. I hope by then you aren't old enough to wonder if something like this is cool enough, because it probably isn't.

Speaking of becoming older and cooler, when you're riding around in your stroller, do you ever hear people say, "It takes a village to raise a child"? I never agreed with that. For example, is the mayor going to help decide when you will have solid food? Will the school bus driver want to know when you first sat up? Would the mail carrier warm up a bottle? I don't think so. Aside from a lot of remarks from strangers about whether or not you should have a hat on, on any particular day, I think raising you is going to be up to your parents.

However, I can tell you right now, it took a village to make this Baby Surprise Jacket.

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It's called that because you knit a really odd, wobbly-edged rectangle, then you fold it up and, surprisingly, it's a little jacket.

This one comes to you from me, who did the knitting, but also from Irene and Laura, my knitting friends, who encouraged me to keep going. Because even though I knew it was supposed to fold up like a sweater, it looked like a big mistake right until the end.

Also, Margaret, whose gloves were made of that pink wool, would be delighted to know the leftovers went to you. Dorette gave me the blue fuzzy wool. She will be happy you are wearing a little stripe of it. Those raspberry stripes that match the eyes of the bunnies on the buttons are from my old mittens, with my best wishes. The scratchy purple stripes are left over from your second-cousin-twice-removed Owen's mittens, and he sends his love along with them.

The greenish blue color is yours alone, courtesy of the knitting store clerk who said this is just the color babies are wearing now.

Elizabeth Zimmermann, who revolutionized modern knitting, explained how to make this jacket in one of her instruction books. Sort of. Her instructions are not what you'd expect – sleeves, front, back, sew them up. She tells you what to do in the first seven rows. "See what you are doing?" No, I mentally reply. "Work will start to look very odd, indeed, but trust me, and PRESS ON," she commands.

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The Internet helped me press on. On a knitting website (ravelry.com) 16,000 knitters have already made Baby Surprise Jackets and posted pictures of them, in all different colors. Jaunty and unafraid, they call it a BSJ. They chimed in with all sorts of help. Many said to get different instructions that tell you what to do for each row. Those instructions came in the mail. There's a picture of the first little BSJ ever, which Ms. Zimmermann made for her grandson. Very cute. Guess who is explaining what to do, row by row? That same grandson, grown up.

I still needed help. One woman on the website said a little boy living in her house tried on the BSJ and cried when she tried to take it off him, so she knew it was meant for him. This woman grew up without a lot of spare wool to knit with. She told how she and her sister would knit a square, unravel it, and knit it again, just for practice. I thought that was more helpful than advice. That made me remember that knitting's for everyone and is a very cheerful thing to do, even with one little piece of wool.

A lot of knitters said it was really easy.


Irene and Laura looked at it every week when we knitted together. They couldn't see how it would become a sweater. I couldn't either.

But they would add, "You're so brave to do this!"

Then Irene took me to Gloucester, Mass., where I found the bunny buttons. They made me feel better.

Then I finished the knitting and cast it off the needles. It was a potholder gone berserk. Before I sewed it up, I had some fun.

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"What is this?" I challenged my boss.

"Well," he said, pushing it around on the counter of the store where we work. "It's ..." Then he folded it right up. "A sweater, of course." He even had an idea for how to put buttons on. He's a farmer who can fix a broken tractor, so, really, he is probably just about as smart as Ms. Zimmermann. He told me stories about the special mittens his grandmother had made him. They were fuzzier on the palms of your hands. So I'm sure he's sending along that fuzzy good will to you.

Then your grandmother came over. She liked it. She is going to make one, too. For you, maybe.

If she does, act surprised, OK?

Best of all, she gave me your address. Now all that's left is for the mail carrier to bring it to your apartment.

So that is how it took a village to make Lily a sweater.

But, really, your mom and dad get to raise you. So talk to them if you don't think it's cool enough.

Lots of love,

Second-cousin-twice-removed Maggie

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