Meet the Guild Members – The BSJ Addict

This is the first in a series of posts introducing the current members of The Handweavers Guild of Cork.

We’re an eclectic bunch of fibre enthusiasts, ready to try our hand at any crafts, especially those involving fibre.  In the main we try to focus on weaving, spinning and dyeing, but as you might expect we all tend to enjoy lots of other pastimes.

Introducing Margaret the BSJ Addict…….

When and why did you join the Handweavers Guild of Cork?

I joined the guild around 2012 when Joan Baxter came over to a nearby Guild’s member studio to give a workshop on Colour in Weaving.

Which fibre craft interests you most?

I’ll try anything, but I my favourites are knitting and felting, particularly needle felting.

When did you learn to knit and who taught you?

I learnt to knit properly when I was 18 and working in London over the summer to save money for University.  I stayed in a hostel in Notting Hill where there were many Spanish students knitting away from patterns in their heads!  Two years later while working at another summer job, this time near Cologne in Germany I stayed with a multitalented family and I was hooked on knitting when I left them.

How did you find out about the BSJ Jacket pattern and can you tell us about it?

I found the BSJ while browsing online soon after I retired.  Elizabeth Zimmerman, revered by many a knitter, designed the Baby Surprise Jacket (BSJ) in 1968.  It’s a classic knit which has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years and this knitter came across it for the first time in 2014.  Since then I have knitted 28 BSJs and am still not sated!

The pattern for the BSJ is available from Schoolhouse Press and is not like a conventional knitting pattern as it is very much numbers driven.  Even after a career in statistics, I found myself floundering initially until I came across the following series of YouTube videos from City Knitting in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Unlike more traditional knitting patterns, the jacket is knitted in one piece using Garter stitch. A series of double decreases and then double increases are used to give it its shape. It is always knit using 160 stitches. A gauge of 24 stitches to 10 cm gives a newborn size. I usually use double knitting yarn on 4mm needles for this size and thicker wool on 4.5 mm needles with a gauge of 20 stitches to 10cm for the six months size. Between 100 and 150 grams of double knitting yarn are required for the newborn size.


The knitted piece looks like the image above but the ‘surprise’ happens when it is folded and the shoulder seams are sewn to produce this:

What yarn did you use to make your first BSJ?

Old Killowen knitting wool that I had had for many years.


What yarn do you prefer to use now?

I tend to use yarns such as pure cotton, pure wool or alpaca. Variegated yarns give an interesting, random pattern effect and illustrate well the way the jacket is knitted as in the pink candy striped BSJ above.  (Elizabeth also designed the vintage baby bonnet in this image.)


Cotton yarn, in my opinion, seems to give the best stitch definition as in the gender-neutral grey BSJ pictured here with the ivory border:

So, whether the parents favour a more traditional look, i.e. blue for a boy and all that or fully embrace colour, the BSJ can be knit to cater for all needs. The newborn size BSJ below was knit using Noro Kirara.


Mums are amazed by the Baby Surprise Jacket through the babies probably are unmoved except for the case of a toddler girl who was rather unwilling to give hers to her new baby brother!

Can you tell us five several reasons why you love making BSJ’s?

I guess the following:

  • The simplicity of the pattern – the same number of stitches but thicker yarn and needles give you larger sizes;
  • Its use of Garter stitch;
  • The different pattern effects you get with variegated yarn, the striped effect of different colour yarns etc.;
  • Ease of assembling compared to your regular jacket/cardi;
  • Recipients rave about them and think you are cool 😎

Meanwhile back to No. 29!


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