Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Practical Knitting for Babies and Toddlers: Part 2

This post, rather like an inconsiderate baby, is rather overdue. I’ve actually had the notes knocking around for about a year, but never got round to typing them up. But should you want to read the original post on yarn choices for babies and toddlers, you can do so here:
 In fact, in the year since Iggy made her appearance I have learnt quite a lot of useful stuff about what to knit (and not knit) for babies. It turns out that the getting the yarn choice right (see above) doesn’t guarantee success. Once you’re made your completely appropriate and well informed yarn choice you have to decide what to make with it, and how. Trust me, a bad choice of garment can make the nicest baby look like a gremlin although frankly, most babies look like gremlins for the first few days. More than that though, an inappropriate gift puts the parents of said bundle of joy in a very awkward position. So, some points to consider when deciding what to knit:

Gratuitous picture of handknits. Patterns to follow.

·         The tastes of the child’s parents (or, realistically, the mother). It’s probably unwise to delve into your stash of frilly vintage matinee coats and lace bonnets if the parents in question are ultra modern in taste ( Likewise, if the mother likes pretty, girlie things, intarsia skulls and crossbones are perhaps not the best choice (like this, for example
·         Consider the time of year at which the baby is due AND the size of your garment- a summer baby won’t have much need for a first-size snow suit, but if you’ve got your heart set on knitting a particular pattern you can always scale it up to fit later. If in doubt it’s better to err on the side of caution and go slightly bigger. Bear in mind that fairisle and stranded patterns are double thick, and therefore much warmer, while lace, being full of holes, is cooler but it’s easy for tiny fingers to get tangled in both.
·         The age of the intended recipient. Dresses are lovely, but on tiny babies who aren’t able to sit up, they tend to get scrunched up uncomfortably under baby’s back. For small babies, things which fasten under the legs are more practical. My toddler can’t be trusted in anything flimsy, frilly or delicate at the moment, and so needs her knits to be tough and washable. Also, if the child is potty trained, or in the process thereof, they have to be able to get the item off quickly and easily.
·         Fastenings. Beanie hats are cute, but don’t really stay put- while bonnets might not be as modern they do at least stay on heads. When looking at vintage patterns, be aware that many old onesie patterns don’t have a crotch fastening. This is stupendously impractical and well worth fixing, if you can come up with a simple way to do so. Poppers are more practical than buttons and zips always make me slightly nervous around babies.
·         Upkeep. As well as choosing yarn appropriate to the mother’s lifestyle, bear the same factors in mind when choosing patterns. Very few non knitters can be trusted to hand block a precious lace shawl, but most are imminently capable of chucking a pair of hand knit socks into the bath with baby at bedtime for a quick wash.

Once you’ve decided what to make, read the pattern. All the way through. Before you even get your needles out. It will save you from any nasty surprises later on when you realise that you have no idea how to do half of the techniques needed. How is the garment constructed? Most modern patterns aim to be as seamless as possible, while vintage patterns are almost always knitted flat and seamed. I tend to recommend converting a pattern to in-the-round wherever possible. As well as being quicker and less hassle for you, it’s smoother and more comfortable for a baby who will be lying on it and one less thing to come undone under the abuse of a boisterous toddler.

  If it’s for a newborn- are there pockets? Do you really need them? Think about it, what would a two week old baby need a pocket for?

  If you’re making leggings for a child from about 4 months up, it’s worth adding some reinforcement to the knees, either with patches or Swiss darning ( Are you going to add feet to the leggings? I prefer to make leggings footless and make a matching pair of booties to go with them, as it prolongs their life as the baby gets longer.

Are you going to make booties or mittens? It’s always a good idea to make three. While most mothers are careful with their hand knits, accidents do happen and it’s so easy to miss a sock or glove being tossed out of a pram. By sending three, not only do you extend the life of the gift, but it sends a subtle message to the mother saying “it happens, don’t worry about it”. This might seem like a small thing, but my overwhelming memories of the first few months of motherhood are of guilt directed randomly and liberally, anything a gift giver can do to assuage the inevitable newborn remorse is helpful.
Otherwise, always put mittens on a string, not only does it guard against loss, but if you just leave the mittens in the coat, they won’t be forgotten when you go out. A simple crochet chain is the quickest way to do this, but I-cord looks smarter and is stronger.

When sewing on buttons, it’s really important to make sure they’re secure. Use a button thread if you can get it, or normal cotton held double. It might be a faff, but it isn’t worth the risk of a baby choking on a loose button. Another thing I forgot when knitting for Iggy is that it doesn’t matter how superwash your yarn is, if the buttons on your garment are too delicate for the washing machine.

Finally, include the ball band with your gift. It shows the fibre content and care instructions. My mother makes hers into pretty cardboard labels, but I tend to just tuck mine inside when I wrap up. It also shows that the item is handmade- not everyone can tell at a glance.

Finally, the lists below are my suggestions for summer/ winter babies’ gifts, with links to a few of my favourite patterns. I have a few patterns of my own which need to be written up, proofed and test knitted. Anyone willing to undertake a test knit for me, I’d be supremely grateful!

Gifts for Summer Babies:
(Ideal yarns include cotton, linen, tally, soy and silk)
·         Sunhats
·         Cellular blankets
·         Sleeveless/ short- sleeved onesies (Pattern to follow once it’s been tested)
·         “Mary Jane” booties
·         Sunsuits

Gifts for Winter Babies:
(Can’t go wrong with good old superwash wool)
·         Wool blankets
·         Leggings, with or without feet (pattern to follow soon!)
·         Mittens, (pattern to follow)
·         “traditional” booties

Gifts for Any Time of Year:
·         Socks (Pattern on its way)
·         Washcloths (Pattern will follow, but honestly? It’s a cotton square, end of)
·         Knitted or crocheted dummy clips
·         Shawls (they make excellent breastfeeding cover-ups, and will be treasured for years)
·         Stuffed toys- especially if you can make a favourite TV character.

I think the most important thing to remember when knitting for children is not to be precious. Yes, you have spent time and money creating something, and yes, that gift should be cherished, but it should also be used. I would hate to think of something I’d made for a baby never being worn because the mother was too scared that it would get dirty, or was too intimidated to stick it in the washing machine. Raising children is a messy, sticky, smelly business, If the prospect of seeing your hard work pooed on and then chucked in on a normal wash cycle gives you the shivers, baby knitting probably isn’t for you!

Nothing says love like a baby covered in knitting.

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