The Complete Surprise by Cully Swansen

The Complete Surprise by Cully Swansen proves that the classics taught to us years ago are still pertinent to us on the Yarn Thing podcast with Marly Bird.cully-swansen-2

Cully Swansen is very modest about how he learned to knit. He is the grandson of master knitter Elizabeth Zimmermann and son of knitting designer Meg Swansen, so we may assume they sat him down and taught him. He recalls like the rest of us, the stories Elizabeth shared with us of learning to knit a few stitches at a time. He says he learned while attending a Waldorf school when they lived in Los Angeles for a year. The focus is on the arts, and he worked in languages, arts and knitting. He knit an entire doll! Much later, about ten years ago, he came back to it. He had been to college and had a career, but when he broke his leg and realized this was the perfect time to pick it up again and work on it while he was healing. 

If we were to learn from Elizabeth’s and Meg’s example of teaching our kids our favorite crafts: Cully says knitting was just always there. He gives for an example, long road trips with his grandparents in the car to Canada, he was often in the back seat with Elizabeth. They played word games and things as we all do on road trips and she would share her knitting with him, a few stitches of whatever she was working on. He never felt pushed to learn to knit or play music as his father does.

In the 1990’s, Cully’s wife began helping with office stuff at Schoolhouse Press, which was founded 1958. Michelle has been instrumental with bringing the business into the 21st century, he says. Most of the business when they first joined was still by mail and phone. He says Meg was very happy to have their help, but it was never expected. Schoolhouse Press was begun with handwritten newsletters from Elizabeth, where she included newsy bits of her life and patterns. So the business has survived many changes and moved forward, he says, doing what they need to do. Customer service was always important, it keeps them aware of what knitters are wanting. Cully’s background from college was in mathematics, and realizes Elizabeth’s designs were created heavily crafted with math. He says Meg is very inspirational, and the success of their annual Camps has been based on her encouragement and enthusiasm. Schoolhouse Press Patterns (SPP) are patterns of Elizabeth’s mixed with Megs and a few from Cully.

The Original Baby Surprise Jacket: Cully, as the first grandchild of Elizabeth, was the original recipient of the first Surprise Jacket, back in 1968. It’s was easy to knit garment in garter stitch, but the construction is so creative, in that it’s a one piece but until it’s folded, how it works may not be rapidly apparent. It’s a marvel, and that first one for babies was such fun, soon she was asked how to make it for adults, which Elizabeth had to be open to and give thecompletesurprise_2consideration. The Calculator has been a wonderful tool for those that have tried it. A knitter can take any yarn they wish to use, find their comfortable gauge, find the wearer’s size and GO! Cully’s new work an online product that generates custom-sized row-by-row instructions create the Surprise Jacket.

Cully says the legacy of Elizabeth’s approach to knitting and pattern, about life really, her writing was always about self sufficiency, exploration, acceptance of failure, about learning from mistakes, confidence and growing as a person. She did it in such a way, that it was never pounded into a listener’s psyche, subtly, incrementally she had you gain belief in what you’re knitting, with self-empowerment. Cully’s work has been to try to find balance between that and the world where there is so much minute directions, knitters often don’t learn to think it out for themselves. His latest work is the book The Complete Surprise—Knitting Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Surprise Jacket. The book includes creating and customizing the jacket to fit. 

Keep up with Cully and his adventures through Schoolhouse Press at their website: SchoolhousePress.com, make sure you sign up for their newsletter (enter your e-mail address at the bottom of any page on their website). They are also on Facebook so we can follow them there. Cully teaches at Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp and has become a go-to guy to answer technical questions at Schoolhouse Press.

If you missed the live event you can always watch the ‘behind-the-scenes’ video of Marly visiting with Cully, on her Facebook page.



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  1. Lise says:

    I love that his mottos is knit on with confidence and hope. My motto is to love your yarn and knit happy. That makes me happy.

  2. Kellee Napieralski says:

    Knit on with confidence and hope. Beautiful! Enjoyed this podcast so much…I am a newish knitter/crocheter and was thrilled to learn about schoolhousepress.com. I hope to knit a baby surpise jacket with confidence and hope soon

  3. Audrey says:

    I did believe EZ while knitting my first Baby Surprise Jacket. I “knit on with confidence and hope,” and the structure was, at the end of the last row, no longer a mystery at all. She was a genius, and I do look forward to Cully’s book to go further into these geometric delights!

  4. MNLynn says:

    “Knit on with confidence and hope [through all crises”] has been a literal guidepost for tackling challenging knitting AND for when I have taken a knitting project to hospital waiting rooms. If I have some knitting and a book, I am content. I enjoyed your interview of Cully!

  5. Elaine White says:

    Knit on with confidence and hope. I made my first baby surprise jacket when I was in high school back in the 1970’s. It was so cool how it worked out. I have made several more since then. I inherited several of EZ’s books from my mom and I cherish them.

  6. Mary Helen Toal says:

    So enjoyed hearing Cully. His mom and grandma taught me so much about knitting in their articles in Vogue Knitting. I am self taught from books and they have helped me Knit With Confidence and Hope!!

  7. Chris Lopez says:

    What an amazing episode! I love hearing men talk about their passion for knitting or crochet. His motto of knit in with confidence in hope is so positive and inspiring. Definitely looking into Knitting Camp!

  8. Eric Kroth says:

    I loved the interview with Cully. I’ve made a couple of BSJs, even following EZ’s original instructions from “An Opinionated Knitter” – okay, maybe I’m a little weird. I, too knit on with confidence and hope, except when my Soccer team is losing on Saturday mornings.

  9. Trisha says:

    Love the interview with Cully. I do knit on with confidence and hope, and hope to continue doing so. Maybe some day I will make it to their knit camp.

  10. Alicia Anderson says:

    Loved hearing about the book. To have the third generation carrying on the same work as Elizabeth. It’s the knitting world version of a fairy tale dream to have a career in a family biz that also sparky your passion. The phrase knit on with confidence and hope is the part of the fairy tale everyone can take with them.

  11. Heather says:

    I’ve done the baby surprise jacket twice. My pattern is all torn and wrinkly from just those two uses, but I loved it! It really is a great surprise to see it come together and encourages all to knit on with confidence and hope! I’d love to try the adult size. Will need to put that on my wishlist!

  12. Robin says:

    I’ve heard interviews with Meg in the past and now hearing Cully, what a wonderful legacy Elizabeth Zimmerman has left, and I don’t mean her patterns or teachings. Cully is a delight… knit on with confidence and hope should be every fiber artists motto or mantra. I would tweak it to “create on with confidence and hope” to embrace multi-craftual listeners. Thanks Cully and Marly for a lovely show.

  13. Staci Lockman says:

    What a joy it was to listen to Cully and hear a bit of the history of knitting royalty! In these times, what better motto is there than to “knit on with confidence and hope”? Thank you for this podcast!

  14. Jean Parady says:

    I am so inspired to knit on with confidence and hope after listening to Cully and hearing the story of Baby Surprise! I’m a brand new knitter with one shawl under my belt but this looks like a great next project!

    Thank you for the podcast and keeping me company in the car!

  15. Dawna Rego says:

    The baby surprise jacket is such a fun knit. I liked hearing Cully talk about it and how he is caring on in the family business. Knit on with confidence and hope are great words to live by. I think I might just do that.

  16. Anita says:

    As a knitting teacher “Knit on with confidence and hope” is the perfect sentiment that I try to pass on to my students. Cully’s interview was fascinating.

  17. Susan B. says:

    I was lucky to discover EZ very early in my knitting career. Her motto “knit on with confidence and hope ” has seen me through many travails not only in knitting but also life! Thank you Cully for continuing the tradition of excellence and innovation in knitting.

  18. Savannagal says:

    I wish I could knit with confidence and hope. I do knit with hope, but I’m not quite to the confidence level yet.

  19. Michelle says:

    I am a crocheter, first and a knitter second. I need to remember to knit on with confidence and hope. Thanks for another great podcast.

  20. Ramona says:

    So great to hear more family history of the great EZ and Meg Swanson and now Cully as well. And a fitting motto as I attribute much of my own ability to knit on with confidence and hope to some of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s teachings.

  21. Amberly says:

    With this lovely surprise jacket pattern and calculator it will be easy to knit on with confidence and hope, knowing you will have the perfect garment at the end

  22. Missy Schmidt says:

    I love the saying “knit on with more confidence and hope”. Doesn’t it just give you an amazing feeling inside???? Great show! Thanks!

  23. Debbie Austin says:

    Yes I will knit on with confidence and hope! I have just started knitting a baby surprise jacket. I hope to make many more and adult size too. I really enjoyed the podcast!!!!

  24. Lauren says:

    What a great motto for every knitter- ” knit on with confidence and hope”.
    Loved learning more about Elizabeth’s grandson- great interview!

  25. Amy L. says:

    Cully is keeping the family business strong with his own unique fiber intelligence and creativity. I love that he has so much respect for Elizabeth and his mother. It’s fitting that his motto is ‘knit on with confidence and hope’.

  26. Laura says:

    Loved the show and I’m headed to check out what all the excitement is for the surprise jacket! I’m new to knitting; just on my first “real” project now but I will knit on with confidence and hope, =)

  27. Lori Biamonte says:

    Knit on with confidence and hope. My new mantra! How exciting to hear the grandson of the great Elizabeth Zimmerman. I would love to win his book.

  28. Steph says:

    I’m going to start telling all my knit and crochet students “knit/stitch on with confidence and hope!” I think it’s a great motto :o)

  29. marimariknit says:

    knit on with confidence and hope, wonderful words to live by. was a great podcast. enjoyed hearing about your family life. have only knit one baby surprise jacket, but everyone should try it.

Marly Bird

The One and Only, Marly

Marly is a knitwear and crochet designer (and yarn addict) that is here to help you learn how to knit and crochet in a way that's fun and approachable.

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