Monday, October 8, 2007

Buttonholes, and the Adult Surprise Jacket

On October 29th, I will begin teaching a class on the Adult Surprise Jacket. Anyone familiar with the mind of Elizabeth Zimmermann will recognize the name and convoluted design of this wonderful jacket. EZ (as she is affectionately known on the knitting lists) designed the Baby Surprise Jacket first, and then had so many requests for an adult version that she eventually translated the pattern so that each adult knitter could formulate a pattern that fit them. EZ was famous for wanting knitters to think for themselves, and I would venture that her written patterns are a perfect demonstration of that concept, with the ASJ being no exception. You are given no yarn weight, no yarn amount, and no needle size, but rather are instructed to work a swatch to your liking, measure for gauge, then measure your favorite-fitting jacket and calculate your pattern from there.

I have long admired the look of both the BSJ and the ASJ, and had always wanted to make one of my own (in that long list of things I want to make) and a class gives me the perfect excuse to do so. So first I stepped over to my trusty yarn cabinet and surveyed the contents. I have everything sorted out according to weight, then if there are specific projects that a pile of yarn is earmarked for, those are all bagged together and labeled. Anything else is fair game. Because I intended to this be a jacket rather than an 'indoor' sweater, I wanted to use at least a worsted weight, perhaps heavier if I could. This past January I made a Philosopher's Wool cardi and I had lots of left-over yarns from that project. Sitting right next to them was a yarn from Noro called Transitions. Lynn gave me a skein of this two years ago for Christmas, and it is just so beautiful. I never knew quite what I wanted to use it for, being too lovely to felt, so I bought a few more skeins, and they have been biding their time in the yarn cabinet. And best luck of all, this yarn is in colors that work perfectly with my PW yarns. Finally I needed another yarn to hold it all together, and chose a chocolate brown Eco Wool by Cascade that Lynn has in the shop. After swatching on a Sunday, I was all prepared to start this project two weeks ago today.

Today I am ready to place my buttonholes. I think the majority of knitters are with me when I say that I really, really dislike finishing. And yet, I confess here and now in case you have ever wondered, if I have ever been to your house, yes, I did straighten out the pictures hanging on the walls when you were out of the room. Bad finishing makes me crazy, and there is a certain discount yarn company that also makes me nuts when they send out their quarterly catalogue filled with photos of un-blocked sweaters. So I have come to realize that it isn't the finishing I dislike so much, it is all the fussiness involved in making things right. Consequently I plan out all my finishing before I even begin the project. By the time I have completed a sweater, I typically have one end to weave in from my bind-off, and that is all. Any edges that will not receive some manner of edge treatment afterwards all match, and Lynda is a happy gal.

For me, one of the fussy bits is placing the buttonholes and sewing on the buttons afterwards to match. In a pattern like this one that just tells you vaguely to work 7 buttonholes evenly spaced, I have to whip out my little 'math thinking cap' (which is very little indeed) and figure out where to put the darned things.

I start by placing the top and bottom buttonholes first, and marking those sts with coiless safety pins. I like my top button to be about 1 - 1/2 inches below the neck edge, depending on the weight of the yarn used and the size of the buttons. The bottom button is usually placed about 1.5 - 2 inches (or more, really, depending on how it looks) above the bottom of the button band and marked with a pin. Next I count the number of sts between the two pins, subtract one st for each of the remaining buttons, and divide that number by the number of buttons left to place, plus one. So in this case, it calls for 7 buttonholes total, I have already placed two, and have 5 buttonholes left. There are six spaces (5+1) between seven buttons. So if I have 59 sts between my top and bottom buttons, I subtract five sts = number of remaining buttons, and get a result of 54 sts. Divide 54 by 6, and you get nine sts between each of the buttons. Go back to your sweater, count 9 sts down from the top coiless pin, place another pin in the next st. Repeat til you have all your button holes marked.

Now - and this is the genius part - mark the corresponding sts on the other side, and leave those pins in place until you are ready to sew on your buttons. Now you know exactly where the buttons need to go in order to line up perfectly with the buttonholes. When you are finished, block your sweater first and then sew on the buttons where they are marked by the pins.

Ok, now time to go finish those button bands!


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