Last night I finished up the little knitting project I spoke about a few weeks ago. It was a great project, perfect to knit while traveling. And although I don't have a cute, chubby cheeked baby to model it, here's the Stella Pixie Hat that I knitted from the pattern in Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren. I loved knitting this hat!
(my pixie hat - unblocked and needing a button)
(Stella Pixie Hat from the book)
I cannot say enough nice things about this book. It has great projects
- sweaters, blankets, toys, slippers, soakers, hats and more.
Kristen's directions are well written and easy to follow. She explains
the orgins of each pattern and talks about the history of knitting in
different decades. Additionally, it is a complete visual treat - the
photography by Thayer Allyson Gowdy is beautiful and the sweet babes
modeling the projects are absolutely adorable. As part of her blog tour, Kristen and I had a chance to chat about her book the other day. We focused on what to keep in mind when knitting for baby. Here's what Kristen had to say:
Erin: Hand knitted items are great for gifts, especially for the littlest people in our lives. What should you keep in mind when knitting for a baby?
Kristen: The first thing I ask myself is if this garment is appropriate for this particular baby. Where does the baby live? In what season is the baby going to wear this garment, taking into account when I’m likely to finish it? Will they get at least one and hopefully two or three seasons of wear out of it? (I often like to knit projects in relatively fine gauges, because a lighter garment can be used as a layer and will therefore get more wear across the seasons; I also find that babies tend to get lots of use out of light blankets and stretchy hats , which take longer to become undersized.
Once I’ve thought about that, my next concern is whether or not anything about the parents gives me clues as to what to knit. While my first impulse is to knit what I think is cute, if the parents won’t like it, it’ll never get worn. I think about their tastes, their style, and their lifestyles, and try to pick a project that will match those predilections. Would they prefer a special garment to be worn only a few times, or would they feel happier if I gave them something more prosaic that they could use every day? I also try to consider what I know about their ideas about colors and gender – parents can be surprisingly particular one way or another. And I think about the care required for the garment – some parents don’t mind hand-washing and prefer to avoid the chemical treatment required to make super-wash yarns, while other parents would strongly prefer something they could throw in the washing machine.
That said, sometimes it’s not possible to gauge too much about the parent’s preferences. In those cases I try to knit something practical, unisex, washable, and in neutral or bright colors that are likely to please anyone.
Finally, I can’t stress enough that if I’m ever to finish a garment on time, it’s important to think realistically about how much time I have to devote to the knitting. Just because a baby garment is small doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be fast – that depends on how involved the pattern is and upon how many stitches it requires. In general, for safety’s sake, I presume that a knitting project will take me twice as long as I think, because life has a habit of getting in the way of knitting for everybody.
(Dewey Cabled Pullover)
Erin: Babies come in all different shapes and sizes. One of my daughters was 4 lbs., 13 oz. at birth and the other was 8 lbs., 7 oz. How do you choose what size to knit for a baby that hasn't been born yet? Or for that matter, for a baby that will certainly grow before you finish the project?
Kristen: The short answer is, When in doubt, knit big – some babies wouldn’t fit into the smallest size even at birth. Knitting a larger size can also mean more longevity for a garment. Pants or sleeves can be rolled up, and pullovers or cardigans can be worn big until baby grows into them.
Erin: When knitting baby
sweaters, I tend to choose cotton yarns because they are washable. Are
there other yarns to consider when knitting for babies?
Kristen: The first consideration is what material to use. Personally, I prefer wool, which is lightweight; holds many times its weight in water; wicks moisture away from the skin; and helps regulate temperature, keeping baby warm in winter and cool in summer. The idea that all wool is too scratchy for babies is generally a myth, and wool allergies are actually very rare – there are many kinds of wool, both soft and not, so the best way to test it is to hold it up against your face. (If you have reason to suspect that there may be wool allergies, of course, or if the parents just don’t believe in wool for babies, it’s best to avoid wool, no matter how soft.) Other potential animal fibers to use include alpaca, which is many times warmer than wool, and appropriate mainly for a baby in a cold-weather climate; silk, which is inelastic and harder to wash, but has a lovely drape and softness for a special project; and of course cashmere.
Plant fibers have some advantages and disadvantages. Cotton is cool and soft, but very heavy when wet, and babies are often wet! Hemp and linen take many washings to become soft enough for baby, but they make great baby garments – they’re cool in summer, they’re completely washable, and they drape beautifully. Bamboo, while inelastic, also has a nice drape, and tends to be very soft.
And then of course there are man-made fibers. Whether or not to use them is a matter of
personal choice. From
the perspective of convenience, there is no longer a huge difference between
acrylic fibers and those made of natural materials. Superwash yarns eliminate the need to hand-wash wool, and even hand-wash garments can be easily
and inexpensively laundered using any of the the new no-rinse garment washes
available today. That said, acrylic
is no longer the scratchy Orlon of the 1970s, and there are many nice acrylics
and acrylic blends.
In terms of “natural” vs. “man-made” yarns, it’s important to remember that many yarns made of natural materials, including super-wash wools and yarns made from non-traditional materials such as bamboo or corn, are made in part using chemical processes and/or dyed using non-chemical dyes . Unless yarn is made of locally grown material, its carbon footprint is also made larger by the considerable amount of fuel that it takes to ship it from grower to mill to consumer. With that in mind, because they are so often derived from petroleum products, and because they involve the same long hauls in shipping terms, acrylic yarns tend to have an even larger carbon footprint than natural materials. So the choice is purely personal.
No matter what material you choose, it’s important to check the label for care instructions. While many yarns are machine washable, there are also many yarns that require hand-washing, regardless of their material.
(Maude Honeycomb Blanket)
Erin: What do knitters need
to keep in mind when it comes to keeping babies safe?
Kristen: Buttons and snaps are okay to use with most baby garments, but you’ll need to be sure to sew them on very tightly, using two to three times as much thread as you might use to secure a button on an adult garment and knotting the ends very tightly so your sewing can’t unravel. It’s also a good idea to regularly check such fasteners, and to keep an eye out for any which might become loose. Some parents prefer to use garments with buttons only when the baby is supervised; other parents prefer to make short i-cord or crochet ties instead.
While ribbons and drawstrings at the neck have literally been used for centuries, it’s best to either use them in a garment that can be worn when baby is supervised, or leave them out and let the baby wear the garment open.
Take extra care when putting a garment with buttonholes on a baby, because you don’t want baby’s fingers to get stuck in them. The same goes for lace garments – you just need to be careful that they don’t get tangled up in the lacy holes.
As far as yarns go, most modern yarns are pretty safe. While it’s true that many acrylic yarns are not fire-proof, neither is most children’s clothing, and thankfully situations that warrant this concern are extremely rare. If you are seriously worried about fire hazards, stick with wool, which is naturally fire retardant.
(Frankie Striped Socks)
Erin: Which of the projects
in the book are good for beginning knitters? And which ones should be
tackled by those with more knitting experience?
Kristen: The Milo Soakers are probably the easiest pattern in the book, requiring only a knowledge of how to cast on and off, and how to knit and purl. The Stella Pixie Hat is another easy project that’s very enjoyable, and the Floyd and Dewey sweaters are among the easiest in the book. On the other end of the spectrum is the Avery Christening Gown & Frock – definitely a project that requires a little more focus.
But one cool thing about vintage knitting books is that they never gave skill levels, because they assumed – quite correctly – that anyone who can knit and purl could learn to take on any project. And that is totally true – any pattern in Vintage Baby Knits is completely do-able by any knitter, with enough concentration and maybe a little practice.
Erin: Speaking of soakers, can you tell us a little about them? I know there are many parents out there who are cloth diapering. What should we know?
Kristen: If you cloth diaper, wool soakers are really great, mainly because of wool’s amazing properties. Wool is antimicrobial, it’s absorbent, and it wicks moisture away from the skin. When properly lanolized, they can hold many times their own weight in liquid on the inside, while miraculously neither feeling nor smelling wet on the outside! They stay comfortable for baby for an astonishingly long time after a leak. What’s more, once wet, they can simply be hung out to dry, with no odor at all – meaning that as long as they are not soiled, they can be worn many times without needing to be washed and lanolized. (Lanolization is the simple process of soaking the soakers in a mixture of lanolin and hot water, until the natural lanolin has been restored to the wool.) For any cloth diapering parent, I highly recommend trying it – our grandparents were really onto something! If you don’t cloth diaper, of course, wool soakers just make cute pants, too.
Erin: They sure do! Thanks for your time, Kristen. I'm really looking forward to casting on another project from Vintage Baby Knits!
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