Taa daah! The finished mini-blanket:
Evie and Danielle ask about how I worked the corners of my I-cord edging. Rather than mitering them I use a little loop of free I-cord to accomplish the turn. It’s super simple. I’m working the I-cord rounds as K3, SSK, pick up one in main body edge. Then I push all the stitches back to the right of my needle, strand tightly across the back and repeat.
When I get to the corner, instead of picking up one in the main body edge, I work that last attachment round as K3, SSK but I don’t pick up one in the main body edge. I follow that round up by about 8 rounds of plain 4-stitch I-cord (K4, slide stitches to right, strand tightly across back, repeat). Once enough plain I-cord has been worked, I start back up with a joining round of K4, pick up one in the main body edge, followed by perpetual K3, SSK pick up one rounds. This makes a nice, thick corner loop – very handy for potholders, hot pads, mitten edges, or kiddie nap blankets, any of which might need to hang from hooks.
It’s obvious that fewer rounds of plain I-cord will make a smaller corner loop, but too few make an extremely tight and awkward corner. I’ve even knit a whole bunch more than I needed, then tied the resulting free “snake” in a simple overhand knot before going on to the rejoin step. This same principle can be used to make buttonhole loops in between I-cord edging and the main body, by deliberately skipping a bunch of attachment points and working a segment of free I-cord, rejoining after the buttonhole’s desired width is achieved. I’ve also used I-cord as a seaming technique, to unite separately knitted front and back panels into a pillow:
I included zippers in these two pattern sampler pillow covers to enable easy washing.
O.k. Now everyone extend an incriminating finger towards their monitors, and repeat after me… “Ha, ha, ha!” What are you laughing at?
I stand by my yardage estimates and my advice to date. However I did neglect one tiny little thing. Checking to make sure that the quantity of yarn I had on hand was in fact correct. I had forgotten that I had already dipped into mint green for one of my fish hats. Had I not done so, I would have had enough of that yarn to finish out my planned triangle edging. But sadly, that was not to be. With about a quarter of the edging left to go, it was painfully clear that was going to come up short. What’s a knitter to do?
I could have done another narrower dagged or notched edging, but I had calculated out the one shown on my initial graph so that no corner mitering would be needed – it would be an even multiple of the blanket’s long sides, with each edge beginning and ending on the single stitch row, and close enough to an even multiple on the short ends so that a one or two stitch fudge would be of no consequence. The proportions and depth of that edging worked well with the piece as a whole. I could have invented something approximately half as deep, on half as many rows and that would have worked out nicely too. But I was afraid that such a shallow dag would just curl and look ragged and haphazard. Instead I’ve opted for something super simple that gives any edge a tailored look: knit on I-cord:
I’m a big fan of knit on I-cord. I used it on the kid’s poncho, and in lieu of other finishes on lots of projects. It gives the edge heft and substance, and helps avoid that “loving hands at home” look. Two rounds of I-cord can help defeat Dreaded Stockinette Curl. Here you see the same mini-blanket shown in the first shot, but with one round of knit on I-cord in place of the triangle edging:
How to do it? Very simple. I grabbed a pair of DPNS one size LARGER than the needles I used to work the body. In my case that means a US #9. Starting with the final loop left over after binding off the cast-off edge and NOT breaking the yarn, I cast on three new stitches using a half hitch cast-on. I now had four stitches on my needle, including the initial loop. I knit back across these four, to end up at the edge of my work. Then I picked up one stitch in the first selvage chain immediately to the left of that initial bind off loop, for a total of five stitches on my needle. That means I’ll be working counterclockwise around the edge of my blanket.
Following standard I-cord process, without flipping the work over, shoved the stitches back up to business end of my left hand needle, stranded tightly across the back and commenced knitting the same four stitches from the “away” edge again, working from there back towards the point of attachment. On this row I knit 3, then did a SSK and picked up one stitch in the next available selvage chain point.
I continued work in this manner on every row with one VERY IMPORTANT EXCEPTION. After every fourth row, I concluded row number 5 by picking up one stitch in the same edge chain as row number 4. Were I not to do this, my blanket would be gathered into an edging that was less elastic and with fewer stitches per inch than are in the body. Think old fashioned dirndl apron, with the full skirt gathered into a tight waist tie. While this would be a very useful effect on another project, it would not be an advantage on our blanket, which we would prefer to lie flat rather than be gathered around the edge like a rectangular mushroom cap. I’ll have more than enough yarn to finish out my last remaining side of I-cord. Problem avoided.
So the dual morals of my story are: 1) Trust but verify. Especially yardage; and 2) Be flexible. If you’re going to knit in the “flying blind” style I describe for this project, always have an fall back plan in reserve, just in case things don’t quite work out perfectly, and always be prepared to laugh at yourself (in my case, with an Internet chorus), rip back and re-knit.
In any case, for those wanting to work the original edging along with an adaptation of the insertion pattern I used, the graph for it is included on the main body graph. Again start with that last loop that remains when the cast off row is completed and don’t break the yarn. Beginning in the corner and working around counter-clockwise work the first row of the edging chart – in this case making a YO then picking up a stitch in the first available selvage chain along the blanket’s side:
Continue with the chart as presented. Each side should begin and end with row 1, if necessary fudge a stitch here or there, either skipping an edge chain or working two rows into the same chain to achieve that result. The best place for fudging is on row 1, so if you are getting close to the end, count out the remaining stitches and make any adjustments between triangles as you close in on the corner rather than waiting to the very end and trying to fix things in the last couple of stitches.
So there you have it. An off-the-cuff simple small basket-sized blanket. Complete with running out of yarn – the worst possible error such a project could entail, and a similarly improvised problem mitigation strategy.
You can stop laughing now. If you’ve got questions on any aspect of this project, please feel free to post them or send them to me. I’ll try to answer all in the next post.
In the last post we considered yarn choice and needle choice. Now on to pattern choice and rough dimensions.
The whole point of this small baby blanket (or lap blanket, or pet blanket) project is to try out some new technique or knitting approach in a low-stress project that produces a useful result, and that doesn’t take a ton of time to finish. Because both sides will be visible and the curling inherent in stockinette isn’t desirable, it’s a great place to try out texture patterns, provided there’s a suitable balance between knits and purls – especially in the edge-most two or so inches all the way around. Working a two or three inch border of garter stitch or moss stitch all the way around is a standard approach to fighting curl that results in a pleasing frame around whatever center patterning is chosen. But I’m in the mood to be a bit more adventurous, and to encourage folk to try some lacy knitting and a knit-on border, even if they’ve never done either before, so I’m going to use a lacy knitting pattern with a garter ground. The whole blanket will be in garter stitch, pierced by eyelets, so curling won’t be a problem and the thing will look (mostly) identical on both sides.
On to pattern selection. If we’re going to work the blanket back and forth as one unit, the easiest thing to incorporate is an insertion strip or pattern panel, rather than a large spot motif that needs to be centered north/south. An insertion strip can be begun and worked until the desired length is accomplished. Sometimes there may be a logical endpoint so that the insertion’s larger motifs display in whole units, but for the most part, strips are easy to place with minimal calculation.
There are tons of lacy strip and panel patterns out there. Some are right here on String and wiseNeedle (hit the Patterns link at the right), but there are lots of excellent choices out there in pattern treasury books and on line, written up as stand alone designs and as part of larger patterns to produce other finished objects. Feel free to pick something you like.
I’ve chosen a 33 stitch wide lace insertion panel – yet another design from Duchrow V. II. Here’s a simplified version of the design in modern notation (the original that I’m following is a 64 row repeat, and features two different treatments for the large center diamond area) plus some bobble-like nupps. I worked the original, so you’ll see some differences between my finished item and results from the chart below (caution – it’s a big file):
Now how to take a repeat and stuff it onto a blanket?
Easy. Even without doing a gauge swatch, we can make a rough guesstimate of project width. Remember – our blanket only has to hit a window of “usable size.” That gives us lots of wiggle room. I know that in plain garter stitch with lots of eyelets, I’m likely to get about 4 stitches per inch at the absolute most in a worsted yarn using size 8 needles. I know this because I know that using 7s, I usually hit 5 stitches per inch on the dot. Garter on bigger needles is likely to make a slightly looser fabric, so I estimate 4 spi just for the garter. But my chosen design has lots of eyelets. Because of the airy looseness that heavy use of eyelets produces, my end product will in all probability be a tad wider than this estimate. Since precision is optional here, I’m going to wing it but base my calculations on the 4 spi figure.
33 stitches at 4 spi works out to about 8.25 stitches across my panel. I could center one panel on my blanket, but I think that two panels might look nicer. Two repeats will cover 16.5 inches. (Any result over 21 inches before adding an edging would be workable.) Two repeats of my panel would eat 16.5, leaving 4.5 inches to eke out to hit my goal – about 18 stitches at my gauge. If I want to place two panels on a piece that’s roughly 21 inches across (before adding an edging), that means I’ll have to put some of these stitches in a band between the two panels, and some along the left and right sides:
I could put those extra stitches anywhere, on one edge to make an asymmetrical layout, all down the center, or I could distribute them differently, with fewer between the panels and more on the outside edge (or vice versa). I chose to divide them in half, placing half down the center, and splitting the remainder along the right and left edges. When you compose your blanket, you can do whatever you wish. And that includes using more than one texture or lacy pattern to make up your width.
So now we’ve leapt off the pier into the deep water of design and have violated most of knitting’s “must do” rules. We’re starting an original project with only the vaguest notion of yarn quantities, no precise grasp of gauge, and the barest nod to final dimension. But we are serene, none the less.
The next step is casting on and knitting. For this you’ll need yarn, needles, and enough markers to indicate the beginning and end of each section (see diagram above). I find it very useful to mark the first transition point on my right side row with a marker of special color, size or other easily recognizable appearance. It’s very easy to lose track of what side is being worked in garter stitch. Having the quick visual clue of “distinctive marker = beginning right side row” is a big help.
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.
More in the empowering others mode.
Blankets. Think small lap throws and baby blankets.
They’re super easy to do, a great way to try out new techniques, and are much appreciated gifts. Gauge is of little relevance other than being a data point in calculating general yarn consumption. If a blanket turns out an inch over or under target width, no one will notice.
Blankets of every size are useful. The smallest are great for use with baby baskets and carriers, and with car seats. Slightly larger, and they’re play or nap mats. Bigger still and they’re crib blankets (knitted blankets with their large airy, breathe through holes are far safer for babies than quilted or fleece throws). Even bigger and they remain in use through the toddler bed years. Older kids and adults appreciate a small lap blanket to ward off the evening’s chill while watching TV, reading, messing with the computer or doing homework.
I enjoy making small throws and blankets. I’ve done a ton, only a few of which I’ve managed to photograph. Some have been pieced together from smaller motifs:
Some are experiments in entrelac or modular knitting:
Some are worked in one piece, either as a single width, or radially out from the center:
Of the items above the yellow/green swirl Knitty Op Art blanket and the Special Blauband multi-brown Kaleidoscope blanket are kit or on-line patterns, the rest are my own machinations.
The easiest and quickest to do in the bunch, and the type requiring the least finishing is the last type – the blankets knit in one single width. They look quite impressive, but are VERY simple to design and are excellent “first original project” opportunities. All you need is a sufficiency of yarn, one or more strip or panel type patterns, and second-grade level math skills.
I’ll walk through the process on the next new project – a lacy stitch baby blanket in mint green acrylic, with a knit-on edging. Watch this space!