This series is aimed at people who are just starting to knit, who haven’t tried departing from printed patterns. The goal is to produce a small patterned blanket, of baby-basket/car seat size, with a knit-on edge of some type, and along the way to reduce anxiety about gauge, technique, and project composition.
O.k. let’s start.
The first thing to consider is yarn choice. If this is going to be a blanket for a baby some considerations are:
- Washability. Not every new mom has the time or patience to deal with hand-wash items. I strongly suggest that anything knit for a baby be at the least capable of going through machine wash cool/dry flat care. There are lots of washable wools, acrylics, cottons, and blends out there, in every price range.
- Yarn texture. From personal experience I can say that smooth yarns are a better choice for baby items. Not only do they tend to retain their look after repeated washing, they also tend to shed less than fluffy or fuzzy yarns. Fluffy/fuzzies mat down when soiled and babies ingest every fiber that ends up between their fingers. I also found that yarn with puffballs or other baby-adorable texture additions are a very bad choice. (When one of my kids was an infant in her car seat and not under direct observation/access she plucked and ate every fluffball off her sweater within reach, and then pooped in multicolor for three days.) If you want to use a chenille, velor, or terry type texture yarn, look at it closely and tug at the fibers. If they come off in your hand, look for something else.
- Yarn weight and fiber composition. The thicker the yarn, the quicker the project will be to complete. On the other hand, the thicker the yarn, the heavier the blanket. For quick knit baby blankets, I tend to stick with yarns that have a label gauge of DK, worsted or Aran weight (22, 20, or 18 stitches = 4 inches respectively – go by gauge measurement square on the label, not the often misleading written descriptor).
Also blends with acrylic in them tend to be less massy than all cotton or all wool yarns. Finished wool/acrylic blend blankets will weigh less than 100% wool blankets of the same size, and most blends will have better yardage per ball than 100% wool blankets. The same is even more true for cotton, which weighs more inch for inch than does wool.
- Color. I personally am not a fan of baby pastels, and the whole pink=girl, blue=boy, green or yellow = as yet undetermined thing leaves me cold. But lots of moms-to-be (even the most progressive) favor traditional colors, and like brides can be highly opinionated about color choice. Cultural biases also exist. You may want to ask about the recipient’s color preference before you invest in the yarn for that sweet bellflower blue, arctic white, or strident crimson blanket.
Let’s assume that we’re going to pick a smooth texture washable acrylic Aran weight yarn in a traditional unisex mint green, which is what I happen to have on hand. The next question is “How much to buy?” Since we don’t have a pattern, have only the vaguest sense of final dimensions, and are not going to buy a sample quantity then swatch and do the math, we’re going to go by rough rules of thumb and guesstimate.
- Aran weight (18 st = 4 inches) – 1,000 – 1,200 yards or more
- Worsted weight (20 st = 4 inches) – 1,100 – 1,300 yards or more
- DK weight (22 st = 4 inches) – 1,200 – 1,400 yards or more
I try to buy closer to the top end of those ranges than the bottom, although through judicious size manipulation, being willing to change sizes/edgings on the fly, and watching consumption carefully, I’ve made successful blankets at the lower end of each range. Coincidentally, the lower end of the ranges above are roughly the yardage I’d expect to find in a full bag of 10 50-gram balls of a washable wool/acrylic blend at each of those gauges – the quantity my local yarn shop often puts out at end-of-season discount sales. And I don’t worry about leftovers. Anything left over from this blanket can become a matching newborn hat or two, and/or pair socks or thumbless baby mittens, as appropriate to the season.
Now needle size. Which to use?
A good place to start is the size recommended on the gauge square or gauge notation from the yarn’s label. If you’re a loose knitter or tight knitter you probably know whether you typically have to move up or down a size to get gauge. But we’re not really concerned with accurate gauge on this project, so small deviations won’t matter. I tend to be pretty close to most label gauges for smooth finish yarns in stockinette, but I will usually go up a needle size if I’m going to work a blanket based on a lacy pattern that’s full of eyelet holes. I find the extra needle size relaxes the garter fabric a bit and the eyelets end up being a little larger.
So this project is now kicked off with (in my case) a bargain basement 100% acrylic worsted weight yarn (5 spi by label gauge. recommending a US #7), and US #8 needles. And in my case, I’m using some ancient, mismatched #8s picked up in yard sales that measure a bit bigger than the standard 5.0mm. They’re closer to 5.25mm. I like having some old needles with odd sizing because for projects where gauge is important, sometimes the little bit of difference between standard pairs and the oddball vintage sets makes hitting that magic number easier.
Now that I’ve angered the all-natural fibers crowd, let’s try to smooth ruffled feathers. I do knit with 100% hand wash wool or 100% cotton for my own offspring, and for the few among my family and friends who both appreciate and know how to care for those fibers. I find the natural fibers (and even the improved superwash yarns now available) to offer a more enjoyable knitting experience, and to yield a finished look and feel all their own. But it’s a waste to let ideology stand in the way of usefulness. No one will be converted to fiber truth or sustainable use by receiving a baby blanket they are either afraid of using, or that they destroy in the first wash. So preferring to offer comfort over didactic indoctrination, I use what is at hand that is most suitable for the project and for long term care, rerouting vintage mass market yarns that found their way into flea markets and yard sales into practical baby gifts.
Pix tomorrow, I promise.