Friday, March 12, 2010

buttons and more buttons

It's always about the finishing. You can do the nicest job knitting ever, but if a seam isn't smooth or you pick the wrong size zipper or buttons that don't match, it's just not going to be a good piece. The first thing my grandmother used to do when she looked at another person's knitting was to turn the piece inside out. "Look at those seams," she would say. "Sloppy." The first time she looked at a hem I did by hand she asked me to hand her the scissors and she instantly took out my uneven sewing and rehemmed the pants for me.

Now when it comes to seams, I baste, the more often then not, run the seam through the sewing machine. Okay, I heard that collective gasp. And I've gotten it often from friends and students who abhor the fact that I would finish a hand knit sweater with a machine. But in the end, If the seam looks great, it doesn't bother me that it's not all hand finished. That said, the two little shoulder seams on the Zimmerman Baby Surprise Jacket were a cinch to sew up evenly and smoothly by hand. Which left only the buttons.

Mark and I took a drive into New York yesterday to tape a few video interviews for our upcoming book REAL FOOD HAS CURVES. It's a 7-step plan to get off processed food. And Guideposts magazine is doing an online interview with us. Our publisher, Simon & Schuster did one for their website as well. Anyway, the trip in gave me two incredible side benefits. First, I got to eat Incredible Chinese food for lunch at Szechuan Gourmet on 39th between 5th and 6th avenues. Second, I had a chance to stop in M&J Trimming on 6th avenue and 37st to go button shopping.

Unlike the small, sedate, and classy feel of Tender Buttons on the Upper East Side, M&J (in the garment district) is bright, gaudy, loud, and at times overwhelming. But you will find what you're looking for. I threw the surprise jacket on a counter and started pulling button boxed off the walls—Mark helped.

Kids' garmets are more forgiving. If a button is a little more over the top or just plain silly that can seem kind of cute on a 2 year old.We narrowed it down to glass pears, pewter flatware (the parents are both chefs so it all seemed appropriate), but what finally won out were these Italian glass buttons with lemons - in exactly the same colors as the yarn.

Picking buttons for my henley was a little more challenging—there seemed more at stake. This sweater took 32 skeins of Rowan Wool Cotton at $9 a skein. The buttons had to be perfect. But the nice thing about buttons is that they can be changed, so even if I got them on and didn't like them 2 weeks later, they could always be changed (what's another 5 hours in the car back and forth?).

I tried plenty. Round, oblong, plastic, leather, wood, horn. And in the end went with antler. Thin dark slices off the tips of elk antlers, each drilled with 2 holes. They weren't cheap ($3 each) but compared to the yarn it seemed like a bargain.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

most popular sweater, ever

Big words, I know, but Elizabeth Zimmerman's Surprise Baby Jacket must be one of the most knitted patterns ever. On ravelry alone there's a surprise baby jacket group with over 3500 members with topics on classes, buttons, help, and yes, finished projects complete with photos. And that last group alone has over 2400 postings. Holy cow folks, that's a lot of babies being kept warm with this one design. But the best thing about it is that each one is unique. And almost everyone puts their own touch to it. One of my favorites was posted by BUZZKNITTER who used a cherry red yarn and only one oversized button on the top giving the jacket a 60s couture look.

For the nonknitters reading along or for the new knitter who hasn't discovered this right of passage, the Zimmerman surprise baby jacket is wonderful puzzle to knit. Done in one piece with strategically placed decreases and increases (to form corners), the finished "flat" garmet is folded origami style with only two short seams to sew at the top shoulders. And voila (did I actually read that someone wrote Walla recently in their blog???), a beautiful jacket.

Since you're working in one piece and you've made corners, part of a single row goes down the front around the back, and back up the front. This allows for wonderful color work that baffles the average admirer.

The pattern only comes in one size, and by changing the yarn gauge you can make it fit a new born or a 7-year old. Zimmerman says to put button holes on both sides, assuming you don't know the sex of the child upfront. But if you do, just make them on the appropriate side. Left of boys, right for girls. Ah sexist conventions.

This one is for my friend Denise's baby - due any week now. I used Berocco Comfort so when the kid throws up on it (as kids are wont to do) it can go from washer to dryer and back to baby in no time.