Read an Excerpt
Vintage Baby Knits
By Kristen Rengren, Thayer Allyson Gowdy
Harry N. Abrams, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Kristen Rengren
All rights reserved.
Getting Ready to Knit
Here are some pointers to consider before casting on. Follow them and you'll be sure to knit something that will be cherished for many years to come.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PATTERN FOR BABY—AND FOR YOU
There's something in Vintage Baby Knits to meet every knitter's mood and every baby's style and needs. You will find unusual patterns that include cables, lace, colorwork, textured stitches, and more, as well as some wonderfully simple patterns too. When choosing a pattern from this book, you'll notice that there are no levels of difficulty listed—because if you can knit and purl, you can learn to make every pattern here. That's one of the beauties of baby patterns—you can experiment with techniques you've never tried before, and because baby things are so tiny, you don't have to invest a lot of time or money. They're so small that you'll be done before you know it!
BUT WHAT SIZE SHOULD I MAKE?
Before you get started, there are a few factors to consider regarding size. People grow big babies nowadays. Although the 0 to 3 month size is useful for very small babies and for garments that absolutely need to be worn just after birth, like a christening gown, many babies simply never fit into it. If the baby hasn't yet been born, or if you have an inkling that he or she is going to be a big one, consider making a 3 to 6 month or even a 6 to12 month size. Another consideration is the age the baby will be when the garment will be worn. If you are knitting a winter sweater for a June baby, make sure you choose a size large enough to fit the baby when the time comes. Next, think about your own knitting ability and a realistic time frame for finishing the project. Finally, when in doubt, knit big. Babies grow amazingly quickly, and you want to have a garment that will last for a good long while. They can always grow into a garment that is large at first. For a chart of average baby sizes today, see Resources.
Next to sizing, yarn is the most important decision you will make when creating your project. I took great care to choose yarns that look and feel good for the projects in this book. Should you want or need to substitute, consider this sage advice.
First, knit with the best yarn you can afford. The "best" doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive—it means yarn that looks and feels nice and will wear well. Generally, I prefer natural fibers and blends of natural fibers with high-quality synthetics. In my opinion, cheap acrylics—long considered the standard for baby wear—present some real problems. Most importantly, they sometimes don't wear well, losing their shape and pilling. A beautiful pattern in cheap yarn is going to look and feel like a cheap thing. I'm also not usually a big fan of baby projects made out of super expensive luxury yarn. The temptation is understandable—babies are special, and one way we can show how we feel is by sparing no expense and choosing the most luxurious fiber around. That's fine as long as we're comfortable with the idea that what we make will probably need to be hand-washed. On the rare occasion that I do choose a luxury yarn, I stick with yarns with multiple plies (strands that are twisted together), rather than unplied and single-ply yarns, which tend to pill easily.
There are people who believe wool is too coarse for baby, but that's a misconception. Go to any well-stocked yarn shop and start touching the wool, and you will be sure to find some very soft choices. In fact, the softest Merino baby yarn can feel about as soft as most cashmere. Wool is also lightweight (much lighter than cotton, in fact), so it is an excellent choice for layering. The separate fibers of wool cross one another and trap pockets of air, helping to regulate body temperature, so that it feels cool in summer and warm in winter—making it wearable by baby in three or even four seasons. Wool also absorbs and wicks away moisture, and dries quickly. That's why, in the days before disposable diapers, diaper covers—known as soaker pants—were made out of wool and not cotton.
In the past, some people would choose acrylic over wool because only acrylic could be machine-washed, but these days it's easy to find washable wools. In addition, the no-rinse wool washes now on the market make hand-washing much less laborious than it used to be.
My personal favorite yarn for baby knits is wool sock yarn. Made from especially soft and fine wool, sometimes reinforced with nylon for durability, and produced in myriad colors, sock yarn knits up at a gauge similar to that of vintage patterns for many baby items. It usually wears like a dream, and is also usually machine-washable.
Some folks think that letting a baby near wool risks giving baby an allergy to it later in life, but wool allergies among babies are actually pretty rare. Sensitivities to rough wool, however, are much more common. So unless you know that Mom or Dad already has an allergy, or you have some other reason to suspect an allergy might be in the works, don't fear giving baby woolly things—just make them out of the softest wool you can find. To test wool, hold the ball up against your cheek to see if it feels soft enough for a baby.
Cotton and Cotton Blends
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many children's sweaters were knitted out of cotton yarns. Yet by the mid-twentieth century, cotton was only rarely knitted into garments. Cotton was instead reserved for home items such as tablecloths and dish towels, and was only occasionally used to make accessories such as slippers. Part of the reason lies in cotton's relative lack of stretch. Getting an unyielding cotton garment on a wriggling baby could be quite difficult. Cotton also fell out of favor because it feels cold when wet—and babies are often wet! Today's cotton can make an excellent substitute for wool yarn as long as these caveats are considered: When substituting cotton for wool, remember that pure cotton doesn't stretch much. Use it only where you can get baby in and out of it easily, and use patterns that have some natural elasticity, like ribbing. Another alternative is to use a yarn made of cotton blended with wool, or cotton blended with a synthetic fiber like Lycra or spandex that will lend it some stretch. Also remember that pure cotton is much heavier than wool, which may weigh a garment down and distort the shape of bulkier items, such as some cabled sweaters.
Two synthetic fibers derived from natural materials make excellent additions to cotton in blends. Lyocell (known commercially as Tencel) and Modal are both made from cellulose. They both make cotton stronger, lighter, and softer, while lending wonderful drape and sheen. They do not add much stretch, however, so if you need stretch, look for a blend that includes a little Lycra or spandex.
Linen and Hemp
In my opinion, linen, which is a plant fiber, is one of the best baby yarns you'll ever encounter. It's machine-washable and -dryable—excellent qualities for any baby garment. Linen is hypoallergenic, so it's a great choice when you think there might be an allergy issue. Unlike cotton, it is lightweight. And, in addition to draping beautifully, it's incredibly soft when washed—and it gets softer with each use. Admittedly, it sometimes feels quite stiff in the skein, but once you wash it, it can be softer than a baby's bottom. Linen doesn't stretch the way wool does, so substitute linen where you would use another nonstretchy fiber like cotton.
Hemp may not have been widely used when the patterns in this book were originally written, but it is another fine choice for babies. Like linen, it feels stiff in the skein but becomes incredibly soft upon repeated washing and drying, and it is nearly indestructible. It's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also keeps its shape no matter what—no shrinking and no stretching. Best of all, almost all hemp for knitting yarn is grown organically. Consider hemp as a substitute in any pattern calling for linen or cotton. Like linen, it won't have the stretch that wool does, and it is much heavier, so it should not be used as a substitute for wool.
Manufactured Fibers from Natural Materials
There are several other natural fibers that make excellent yarns for baby. Three thoroughly modern yarns stand out: Bamboo is wonderfully soft and durable and drapes beautifully. Despite the fact that most manufacturers specify that it needs to be hand-washed on their ball bands, I find that it usually machine-washes and -dries quite nicely. Corn is another fiber that works well for babies. It's unbelievably soft and light, keeps its shape well, and is machine-washable and dryable. Soy silk is a soft, strong, and light yarn with similar durability and drape to wool. And all three are vegan and environmentally sustainable.
A lot of people don't like swatching, but it's crucial to your success when knitting baby items. First, even if you are using the suggested yarn for a pattern, a swatch is critical to discovering whether or not you have the right gauge. Every knitter is different, and what's more, every yarn is different—meaning that even if you got spot-on gauge for your last three projects, unless you're using the exact same yarn, needles, and stitch pattern, you might not get it for this one. And with baby garments, gauge is even more critical than with adult garments because they are so small. Let's say you are shooting for a gauge of 8 stitches to the inch (2.5 cm), but you're really getting 7 stitches to the inch (2.5 cm) instead. If you go ahead and knit a baby sweater that calls for 160 stitches at the chest, you won't get a 20" (51 cm) garment as planned for—you'll get a sweater that's 23" (58.5 cm) around. That's the difference between a size for a six-month-old baby and a two-year-old toddler!
Furthermore, yarn isn't cheap. What if you hate the yarn you're working with? What if you've made a substitution, but the texture or drape or weight is all wrong? There are two ways and two ways only to know these things: You can knit a swatch, and find out if it works for you, or you can knit the whole garment and risk suffering intense disappointment if your hours of knitting turn into a waste of time because the garment turns out all wrong. So avoid unnecessary heartbreak and knit a swatch before you start. You can always buy just one ball of yarn to test it out before you commit to a large purchase and a lot of time.
To make a swatch, cast on enough stitches to make at least a 5-6" (12.5-15 cm) piece of fabric, and knit for a minimum of 5" (12.5 cm) before you bind off again. When you're done—and here is another step you simply cannot skip—wash and dry your swatch as the finished project is meant to be washed and dried. It's important to know what the yarn will look like once you've taken care of it the way you will the garment—otherwise it might look great on the first wear and not so great thereafter.
"Knitting is an art that requires but a few, inexpensive tools," wrote the legendary knitwear designer Alice Carroll in her 1947 book The Complete Guide to Modern Knitting and Crocheting. "It is wise, then, that these few be of the best type and quality." Today as yesterday, the right tools can make or break a knitter. Here are the ones you'll need to complete the projects in this book.
While the aluminum needles of yesteryear are cool to look at and perfectly serviceable for flat knitting, there are many new needle choices available to the knitter. My personal favorites are stainless-steel or nickel-plated circular needles. They are versatile enough to be used either to knit flat or in the round, and they are easier on my hands than straight needles. I love hardwood double-pointed needles for their warmth and flexibility, but because I have a tight grip that can be dangerous for thin wooden needles, I tend to use steel needlesin smaller sizes instead. Ultimately, each knitter needs to choose what suits him or her best. You may prefer the grabbiness of bamboo, the smooth matte surface of hardwood, or the slipperiness of nickel or steel.
When you slip up, a crochet hook can be your best friend. Use it to pick up dropped stitches or untwist a twisted stitch, as well as to cast on stitches for a neat and attractive selvedge edge.
Use this handy little tool (which looks like a giant sewing needle) to weave in ends when you're done knitting, to sew your projects together, and to graft live stitches together.
Measuring tapes are tools you won't want to buy vintage. They stretch out with age—so treat yourself to a fresh one every couple of years.
Because needles come in so many sizes, and because many needles lose their markings over time, it's important to have a needle gauge. Some needle gauges can also be used to measure stitch and row gauge and/or other small areas. Look for a gauge that gives measurements in metric as well as in US needle sizes.
This curved or U-shaped needle is a handy tool for holding stitches while cabling—but in a pinch, you can do what vintage patterns suggest and use an extra double-pointed needle instead.
Get a good pair of embroidery scissors to cut your yarn with, and keep them sharp by never, ever using them to cut anything that isn't yarn.
Back in the day, people used scraps of waste yarn to serve as stitch holders—but you'll likely find the modern stitch holder (which looks like a giant safety pin) easier to handle.
These handy little devices slip onto knitting needles or directly onto the knitted fabric to help you keep track of what you are doing while you're working. Whether you choose fancy handmade markers or plain plastic ones, no knitting bag is complete without them. Although in the past knitters would have simply used a contrasting piece of yarn, today you can choose among plain rings, split-ring, and locking stitch markers. I prefer the locking stitch markers because they can also be used to hold a live stitch or two in a pinch, and because they are handy to mark the right side of a garment or to hold together pieces to be seamed.CHAPTER 2
Projects to Knit for Baby
Stella Pixie Hat
Rufus Textured Cardigan
Liza Sideways Sacque
Jasper Diamond Hoodie
Betty Lou Lace Cardigan
Rupert the Lion & Elmer the Elephant
Horace the Horse
Dewey Cabled Pullover
Cleo Kitty Slippers
Felix Cardigan & Pants Set
Maude Honeycomb Blanket
Otto Short-Sleeved Pullover & Archie Vest
Harry Sailor Sweater
Monty Snowsuit with Cap & Mittens
Frankie Striped Socks
Jackie Cabled Set
Gladys Fair Isle Bonnet
Oscar Argyle Sweater
Avery Christening Gown & Frock
Frances Nursing Shawl
THE CLEVER CONSTRUCTION OF THIS DARLING SHRUG MAKES IT FUN TO KNIT. IT IS STARTED IN AN HOURGLASS SHAPE AT THE CENTER BACK, THEN SLEEVES ARE WORKED IN A CONICAL PATTERN IN THE ROUND. IT ONLY COMES TOGETHER WHEN YOU WORK THE LACY DROP-STITCH BORDER AROUND THE EDGE. THE ORIGINAL 1950S PATTERN ALSO INCLUDED AN IDENTICAL MATCHING SHRUG SIZED FOR MOM, MEANT TO BE WORN AS A BED JACKET IN THE DAYS AND WEEKS OF RECOVERY FROM GIVING BIRTH.
3-6 months (6-12 months)
Shown in size 3-6 months
To fit 18 (19)" [45 (48) cm] chest
Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock (80% superwash wool / 20% nylon; 215 yards [196 meters] / 2 ounces [57 grams]): 2 hanks #53NS Whisper
One pair straight needles size US 2 (2.75 mm)
One 24" (60 cm) long circular (circ) needle size US 2 (2.75 mm) Change needle size if necessary to obtain correct gauge.
One pair straight needles size US 3 (3.25 mm)
One 24" (60 cm) long circular (circ) needle size US 3 (3.25 mm)
Change needle size if necessary to obtain correct gauge.
Crochet hook size C-2 (D-3) [2.75 (3.25) mm); stitch marker
32 sts and 49 rows = 4" (10 cm) in Broken Rib, using smaller needles
9–12 MONTHS: 30 sts and 46 rows = 4" (10 cm) in Broken Rib, using larger needles
Instructions are the same for both sizes; use the smaller needles for the 3-6 month size and the larger needles for the 9-12 month size.
Broken Rib (multiple of 2 sts + 1; 2-row repeat)
Row 1 (RS): K1, *p1, k1; repeat from * to end.
Row 2: Purl.
Repeat Rows 1 and 2 for Broken Rib.
Garter Openwork Pattern (multiple of 2 sts + 1; 4-row repeat)
Row 1 (RS): K1, *yo, wrapping yarn around needle 4 times, k1; repeat from * to end.
Row 2: Knit, dropping all yo's.
Rows 3 and 4: Knit.
Repeat Rows 1-4 for Garter Openwork Pattern.
Using straight needles, CO 65 sts. Begin Broken Rib. Work even for 2 rows.
Shape Back (RS): BO 2 sts at beginning of next 14 rows, then decrease 1 st each side every other row 11 times–15 sts remain. Work even for 14 rows.
Next Row (RS): Increase 1 st each side this row, every other row once, then every 4 rows twice, ending with a WS row–23 sts.
BO 22 sts–1 st remains. Do not break yarn.
Excerpted from Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren, Thayer Allyson Gowdy. Copyright © 2009 Kristen Rengren. Excerpted by permission of Harry N. Abrams, Inc..
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