I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of "Preserving the Legacy of Crochet." There are a lot of ways to capture and preserve the amazing art form of crochet for present and future generations, and I'll be talking a lot about this topic in future posts and in my new book project (now you know one of the things I've been up to during this dry period of posting!).
One way that the needle arts seem to make it from generation to generation is through baby keepsakes. Everyone has a special "binkie" or hat or something that a beloved aunt or grannie crocheted or knitted. These days, with all the registries and gadgets available for gift giving, I still think that the best baby shower gift is a crochet or knit baby blanket. With the right yarn and size choices, it'll be a cherished part of baby's first few years. And it's a great project for the beginner crochet or knit designer.
Oh, a word on that: I will be doing a series of blog posts geared towards the intermediate crocheter (and I think they will be helpful to knit designers as well) who wants to veer away from other designers' patterns and start designing her or his own projects. I'm not talking about becoming a professional crochet designer (though we can explore that topic as well later on); this is about pursuing "Discovery" this year through exploring crochet and expanding your skills. There tend to be two kinds of crocheters: process ones and project ones. Those who enjoy the process don't care if they end up with anything in the end; they just like crocheting and trying new stitches and techniques. Project crocheters are on a mission and want a beautiful finished crochet item at the end. I hope there's a little here for each, but I am gearing these materials for those project crocheters who want to take the design journey from the beginning to a purposeful end.
So, how to get started? In designing a blanket project, I use a three-step process (not necessarily in the order below, but we'll talk about that more next time) to bring it all together:
1) Choose the size of blanket you want to make.
I tend to start here because choice of size tends to set the boundaries of my "canvas" and helps me make decisions in steps 2 and 3. You, of course, do NOT need to start here; many people find a yarn that they just love and want to build a project around it. Alternatively, a crochet designer will see a stitch pattern that's perfect and will start experimenting from there. Choosing your starting step is part of the fun! And we'll talk more in future posts about each step separately so that you can mix and match as you discover what sequence you want to follow (and even that can change from project to project).
I've scoured the internet in search of all the different variations in blanket sizes and have come up with a chart that contains as many different blanket sizes as I could find, based on U.S. "standard" measurements (though I use that term loosely because there were quite a few discrepancies in the measurements for certain types of blankets). Of course, now, I need to figure out a way to make that chart available to you! I'll put the [place marker] here and edit it with a solution shortly and will include it in the separate posting on size.
I've found that the expectant mother usually has receiving, crib, and playpen-type blankets already covered, so I like to make the crochet car seat blanket pictured below. It looks hard but is easy to make and can be made in all sorts of color combinations. It's got a modern crochet look to it, and it makes for an unusual and useful gift in a versatile size (18x21 in/45.5x53 cm). From a design perspective, the smaller blankets, like the car seat, burpie, or cuddle blankets, allow for more choices as I'll be discussing below. Also, frankly, the smaller blankets are less time-consuming to make, especially if the baby shower or arrival is fast approaching.
But, again, only you know what you want to make in light of your unique knowledge about the recipient, just some food for thought as you consider your options.
2) Choose the yarn and hook you want to use.
Softness and durability are going to be critical to success in your yarn choice. It needs to be non-irritating, easily washable (for the mom's sake), and soft (for the baby's sake). With the great strides that have been made with synthetic fibers, I don't mind using acrylic yarns anymore. And good yarn companies, like Berroco and Plymouth, have reasonably priced synthetic options these days. Synthetics tend to be a good choice for babywear because they are washable, don't trigger allergic reactions, and come in wide color selections, especially traditional baby colors.
If you want to stick with natural fibers, I'd recommend alpaca or bamboo. Both will be pricier, but they have natural softness, anti-bacterial properties, and good drape and breath-ability, which make them great choices for a baby blanket, especially if you've chosen a smaller-sized blanket as discussed above. Unfortunately, they need to be hand-washed, so that might be another reason to choose a small project that won't get a lot of wear and tear to make it easier on Mom! In fact, you really might want to save "pure" versions of these yarns for a hat or sweater project. You might want to look for yarn blends that have alpaca or bamboo in them but have other fibers like cotton blended in that give the resulting yarn different properties like wash-ability.
Now, there are a lot of natural and machine washable merino yarns out there as well that are easy to work with and so soft, but be sure that wool allergies are not an issue.
Please also consider the thinness or thickness of the yarn. You might want to think about the season in which the baby is arriving and the climate in which he or she will be living. Frankly, it's also totally fair for you to think about the weight of yarn and the hook size combination that you will enjoy working with; after all, you'll be the one with this project in your lap for a while, and you'll want to use the tools that will unleash your best inner crocheter or knitter!
Which brings me to the hook (or needle) choice. I've always tended to pick the yarn first; then, after reading the label and experimenting with different hooks, I settle on the "right" hook to use for the yarn and pattern I've chosen (see below). But, if there is a certain size hook or needle that you prefer using, you certainly can make that choice first and build your yarn and pattern choices from there.
3) Choose the stitch pattern you want to make.
If you end up choosing a traditionally-known "baby yarn," often the company will include a baby blanket pattern on the label or its website that's especially designed for that yarn. This is just such a great and easy way for you as a beginner crocheter or knitter to gain confidence in your new-found skills and get that baby gift keepsake made in no time!
If you're ready to stretch those skills, then you might want to look on Pinterest or in craft books and magazines for stitches you would like to use in designing your own blanket. If you've chosen a monochromatic yarn without texture, then you can really go for a complex stitch pattern; if you've chosen a textured or multi-colored yarn, you will probably want to keep your stitch choice on the simpler side.
Directions on how to make the stitch will give you the multiples you need in order to make the repeating stitch pattern, so all you need to do is make a swatch, measure it (both before and after washing the swatch according to label directions to really test it), and divide the measurements into the blanket's dimensions to determine how many stitches and rows you need to complete the project. For example, let's say your 4 inch x 4 inch swatch has 20 stitches across and is 10 rows in length. If you are making a 16x20 inch blanket, you'll need a total of 80 stitches across and 50 rows. Also, decide whether or not you are going to make a border around the blanket so that you can factor it into the measurements as well.
So, a word about swatching. I've never been a big fan of it, especially when achieving an exact size of the item isn't critical. Now that I've been knitting more and realizing how different yarns react to soaking and blocking, I'm starting to appreciate the need to make a swatch and put it through its paces before making a knit project. I think we've got more leeway as crocheters, but swatching is still the right thing to do.
Ok, so that's it for now; after taking these three steps, you should be ready to get started on designing a baby blanket. But, I know how overwhelming all of the choices out there in each of these three steps can be, so, in future posts, I'll be breaking down each step even further to help you make decisions that will work for you!