At River Colors Studio, we always joke that the #1 event that sends someone into a yarn store is a baby. There's something about anticipating a new life in the world that requires creativity in response. And if you're a knitter or crocheter, well, you express your creativity in yarn.
I recently received an invitation to a baby shower, the first one in a long time. Most of my friends have empty nests now, but there's always another stage ready to begin. Diane is the first of our Preschool PTA/Book Club group of friends to welcome a grandchild. What else could I do but knit?
I have known the mother-to-be since she was a child, and have celebrated other milestones in her life.
She is very involved in our community and passionate about the intersection of food, health and local economies. Instinct told me that the usual go-to easy-care synthetic fibers would not be the right choice for this baby. I also wanted soft, natural colors rather than too-sweet pastels or aggressive brights.
So. I knew I wanted to make a blanket out of natural fibers that would be light but hardy. I wanted it to be the blanket that got put on the floor for tummy time, that gave mom some privacy for nursing, that protected baby from shopping cart seats or windy days. I wanted it to be soft and look almost fuzzy from wear although it would be new. I didn't want it to be too precious to use. With these criteria, cotton was out--too heavy. Alpaca or a merino/cashmere blend would be too fussy. It's got to be wool. But which wool?
I am well-known at River Colors for being the advocate for the "crunchy" yarns. If you like the Swans Island, that one-off Bartlettyarns Maine wool-alpaca blend, the Lopi, and the Kauni, you are my people. I like soft yarns, too, but the rugged rustics call to me. Maybe that's how I got into spinning, too. (A story for another day). So my search was narrowing.
But aren't these yarns too rough for a baby? I didn't think so. In fact, I had a couple of different projects in mind that led me to believe that Kauni was what I wanted. One of our regular customers, Elizabeth, had a beautiful striped shawl made of Kauni that was her little son's favorite snuggle. It was gently felted and had the soft halo I envisioned for my blanket. The other project was a market bag that Gretchen had crocheted and felted. I figured if I felted the blanket, it couldn't be "ruined" by accident, making it easy-care for the new parents.
My next challenge was finding the right pattern. I had some time constraints, so center-out in-the-round seemed like a good idea. Off to Ravelry to search for patterns...and I have to recommend Louise Tilbrook's Fuss-Free Baby Blanket
. The center square saves a lot of time.
Now to choose the right colors. The parents truly do not know the gender of their expected arrival, so nothing too pink or too blue. (There are some great colorways of Kauni
for doing the traditional pink and blue, however.) I chose a 150 gram ball of EN, a soft gradient of neutrals, and a 150 gram ball of the solid NN, an undyed natural. Using size 6 (4 mm) needles, I cast on on a Thursday evening and knit steadily and monogamously for two weeks. I finished a week before the shower, giving me time to felt the blanket.
Everyone at River Colors had an opinion. Erika loved it as it was on the needles-open and drapey, with deep textural differences between the stockinette and garter rounds. I still imagined the fuzzy weathering that I hoped the felting would bring. Here's a picture of the unfelted blanket:
While I loved the colors, unfelted, the blanket seemed too loopy to me. I didn't want any tiny fingers and toes getting caught in it, and, to be honest, it was still pretty crunchy. Into the washing machine it went, mingling with other laundry in a load of whites with a hot wash/cold rinse. I didn't do it by itself because in a front-load washer, there would not have been enough water and friction for it to felt well. I did not interrupt the cycle, just trusted in the process. When it emerged, it was smaller, smoother and deliciously soft. It was also practically dry, from the spin cycle, but I sent it into the dryer for about 10 minutes. Look at the difference:
The baby shower was this past Sunday, and the blanket was exactly right. I was so pleased to know that I understood the parents' wishes for this baby, and that the blanket I wanted to knit was the blanket that they would want for their baby.
No less an authority than Elizabeth Zimmermann says, in the February chapter of Knitter's Almanac, "Nothing keeps a baby as warm and comfortable as wool; even when damp, let alone wringing wet, it doesn't become chilly." I am glad I chose wool; as I told the young mother, "The best compliment you can give me is that this blanket becomes a rag over time. Please use it--wear will only make it better."