Thursday, November 16, 2006


I have just learned that my best friend is expecting a baby. (O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!) It did not take long for "baby knits" to join my list of good karma knitting projects.

I pulled out my knitting references, first among them La Zimmermann's Knitting Almanac. For such an auspicious knitting occassion, you have to go to the master. Like just about every other knitter who has ever cracked open one of her tomes, I am in awe of her. If only I could always remember her admonition that I am the boss of my knitting, there would be far fewer fiascos documented herein. Like Nona, I endeavor to embrace her "knitter's choice" philosophy. If I could approach life and knitting with even a fraction of the enthusiasm, fearlessness, and good humor that she did, I could be very proud of myself indeed. I might even posit that everything you ever needed to know can be found in The Opinionated Knitter.

On the subject of baby knits, her advice is naturally sage. In her pithy directions for the Practically Seamless Baby Sweater, she directs that the pattern gauge is "about 5 sts to 1 inch, but babies come in various sizes." As you probably already know, she is rather unyielding on the issue of fiber choice and washability for baby garments.
Pass the synthetic yarn department, then, with your nose in the air. Should a clerk come out with the remark that All Young Mothers In This Day and Age (why can't they save their breath and say "now"?) insist on a yarn which can be machine-washed and machine-dried, come back at her with the reply that one day, you suppose, they will develop a baby that can be machine-washed and -dried.*
I wonder, though. Would EZ say the same thing today? Back in the day, when she wrote this, the knitter's options for machine-washable fibers likely did not extend beyond cheap, plasticky synthetics. But today, there are many lovely superwash natural fibers available which can accommodate both the wool-loving knitter and the harried new mother with no time for handwashing.

With the availability of such yarns in mind, would it be foolish of me to adopt the EZ attitude of "Let Them Use Eucalan?" I have some lovely wools in my stash, which would make charming baby garments, but which would require my friend to wash by hand. I most certainly would not want these sweaters, bonnets, etc. to come out only for holidays and professional photo shoots.

Do you knit for babies in "hand-wash only" fibers? Tell me!

* "Some Babies' Things", Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac (1974).


Thanks, everyone, for the nice compliments on Clapotis and Licorice Whip. I am slowly making it through my email inbox to respond personally. This weekend, the acrylicide will occur. The sweater is great, but I feel a little like "Laura, wrapped in plastic." Just a little too David Lynch for me.


Anonymous marjorie said...

I've knit two baby gifts this year from kits available from Morehouse yarns. The yarn is not machine washable, but it is so beautiful and soft that I can't resist it. I guess these will end up as "special occasion" sweaters. But they were a joy to knit. Since my "baby" is 22, I didn't really have measurements to use and the kits came in handy.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous nona said...

I have a new niece on the way and am planning to knit EZ's Practically Seamless Baby Sweater. I'm still looking for the right yarn and am not going to worry about the washablity.

I just took a Sally Melville workshop and learned her philosophy on washing wool sweaters. She washes ALL of her wool sweaters in the washing machine -- she fills the washer with water and lets it get to room temperature. She then soaks the sweater with Eucalan and then runs the spin cycle. I'm going to try washing one of my wool sweaters this way and will report back...

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the mother. When I knit for my nephew I used washer/dryer friendly wool. I know my SIL would end up throwing the sweater in the machine by mistake just because she's so busy with 3 kids. For a knitter I would use whatever is perfect for the project and handwashing wouldn't be an issue.
EZ is my favorite. I love her books and have enjoyed her videos a few times when I could get them at the library.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Amelia said...

I always check that yarn can be machine washed when looking for a baby knit. But that doesn't mean you have to go down a very acrylicy route. Some people have said that DB's cashmerino yarns pill or don't wash well but I've found that the yarn withholds the wash, certainly as long as baby will fit in it. I've also used machine washable cotton if I wanted a summery knit. Good luck finding something you feel happy with.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Mama Urchin said...

As the mom of a small one and a little one I can say that something that is truly only hand washable would be destined to be worn infrequently in my house. However, I wash almost all our wool sweaters in the washing machine just on the hand wash cycle and with an appropriate soap.

2:01 PM  
Blogger msubulldog said...

Ah, we can all learn so much from EZ! :)
As for the yarn, I try to knit baby stuff that's washable, but sometimes the yarn that I thnk would work best (or that is screaming at me the loudest) just doesn't fall into that category. I suck it up and decide that it really doesn't take that long to handwash one little baby sweater. . . . Heh. *So, washable when you can, but don't compromise the perfect yarn choice! :)

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Paula said...

Hi Laura,

I've never posted on your blog before, but I wanted to say that I do knit for babies in wool, and the gift comes with a lifetime washing service. I will handwash the garment whenever needed as often as desired for the recipient.

This always prompts the recipient to ask how I handwash garments, which I describe, and so far all of them have gone on to do it themselves. But my offer still stands.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Savida said...

You know your friend best - would a non-machine-washable item get worn only rarely? Or washed by mistake and ruined? If that's the case, go with superwash. There are so many machine-washable yarns available now that look and feel luxurious.

If, on the other hand, your friend would appreciate the difference between superwash and truly fantastic hand-wash-only yarn, I'd go with that.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Terby said...

Gotta be the contrarian here. Babies are pretty gross little creatures - at least mine was. They leak. Yes, wool is nicer, but machine washable items are very kind gifts for sleep-deprived new mommies and daddies. I was always worried about getting something precious irrevokably stained with baby ick. But again, it does depend on your friend, and you know her best...

3:22 PM  
Anonymous jessie said...

Great post title!

The answer of whether to knit hand-wash-only gifts for friends and their offspring depends on the friend.

I have some I know would never bother to take care of what I gave them. I prefer not to knit for them or, if I can't resist, to get some nice superwash. Others have cherished my gifts and I know I can trust them to care of them.

What kind of friend are you talking about?

3:31 PM  
Blogger Sonya said...

I agree that there a wonderful superwash wools available now. I have no children, but handwashing is way down the priority list for me. If I did have kids, I'm pretty sure it would fall off the list completely.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Aah the days of Twin Peaks parties and screaming our heads off at the series finale. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Anyway, most people I knit for are not knitters and thus I am of the opinion that I shouldn't subject them to my craziness when it comes to handwashing things. And you're right, lots of incredibly nice stuff is machine washable and dryable, so I would be proud to give a lucky baby a sweater made out of Lorna's Laces Shepherd sport, Mission Falls Cotton or wool, DB cashmerino, GGH Samoa, kntipicks shine or even TLC Cotton Plus is nice.

I had to do a reality check since I don't have children and thought hmm, babies drool and spit up and generally never look quite as sparkly clean as all the pattern books would have me believe. I probably wouldn't want them to drool all over cashmere or alpaca, so maybe ixnay on those. After all, I'm a yarn lover and want the yarn to be happy too!

3:52 PM  
Blogger Lynda said...

Oh my goshhhh, I just spent an inordinate amount of time racking my brain and Google because it was driving me crazy that I couldn't remember where "O Frabjous day..." came from.

Finally it came to me Jabberwocky - ok, now I can return to my day, mystery resolved. I haven't thought of Jabberwocky in YEARS!

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always use machine-washable yarn. People either will ruin handwash stuff or won't ever use it. My only exception is Koigu baby hats.

I'm so glad that I'll be able to safely mail chocolates to you.

Your Yarn Aboard Pal

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Lori said...

I think EZ would embrace superwash merino. It's the best!

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, superwash wool IS wool, and therefore EZ would be ok with it.

That said, I would take into account my knowledge of the mom. If mom "doesn't get" the knitting thing? Superwash. If mom loves handcrafted art? Real wool.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I'd use superwash myself. I just wouldn't give a handwash only baby garment to a sleep deprived parent.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Liz K. said...

There are so many superwash wools out there, and cottons are also great for babies. If you want the sweater to be worn, then you should probably make it easy to wash.

My go-to superwash is Mission Falls. I love the palette.

10:17 PM  
Blogger gray la gran said...

i am making my first baby sweater. i am in the minority here, because i am using a synthetic, good ole wendy peter pan.
it can be machine washed and dried, so there's no worries that a sleep deprived mom destroys it during cleaning.
i think superwash wools are great, but a lot of them say to lay flat to dry or tumble dry low. i still think they do need some extra care. and though the wools are lovely, so is having a garment that the owner isn't afraid of ruining.
just my two cents.
i guess think about your friend. would she embrace something that needs extra care and make sure nothing bad happens to the sweater? would she prefer to just grab a pile of baby stuff and dump it into the wash on a hot cycle to get all the spit and food stains out? will she be too tired to let the sweater soak with some wool wash, and gently spin, and then lay flat to dry? will she embrace an heirloom and love the extra care it might need because no one else thought to knit her a lovely wooly baby sweater?
i think we all want to be purists some times. i know i didn't want to knit an easy-care synthetic baby-girly pinky sweater, but ... i know that mom will appreciate it, because she likes those colors and wants something she can put through the washer and dryer.
oh, i am tired and sounding cranky!
time to go to bed :)

tired cranky knitter-girl hops off soapbox and goes to brush teeth and climb into bed ...

10:59 PM  
Blogger Rycrafty said...

I think that as you can get such wonderful yarns now that can go in the wash (even 100% wool!) that even the great EZ might relax her rules.
I don't think I'd ever make anything handwash-only for a baby. They're too gooey.

11:28 PM  
Blogger amy said...

It depends very much on the mother, for me. Since there are so many great superwash wools, and I like knitting at a small gauge for babies, if I don't know the mother's laundry habits I'll often go for sock yarn.

That said, I've knit tons of hand-wash stuff for my close friends who I know hand-wash some of their own clothing, with good results.

12:20 AM  
Blogger peaknits said...

I would knit a hand-wash baby item for someone I knew would hand-wash it:) But it seems more practical to make something that can go right in the wash since babies create a lot of laundry...and a lot of slightly delusional moms running on zero sleep who could trip and drop that little heirloom in the washer by mistake...I like the idea of the "washing service" added by another commenter - I am so tempted to offer any giftee that just to protect and cherish my own my work:)

6:01 AM  
Anonymous Annie said...

I'm on board with everyone else...if you find a washable yarn that you like and works well with the pattern, go for it. I'm "ass"uming that your friend will not mind or you wouldn't even be considering it. The worst is knitting something for a baby that never gets used!

6:43 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

I've made two baby/toddler items this year in Lornas Laces Shepherd Worsted. They have great colors and the yarn is soft and washable. I saw one of the toddler items last week, months after the gifting, and it held up to washing really well. Babies are messy and new moms are tired. Washable is really best.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Kat with a K said...

I think it does depend on the mother and the circumstances, but I would be inclined to use washable wool or cotton.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous JessaLu said...

I think that if she had the choices that we do, she might have bent the rules a little bit ;o)

I tried knitting with Wool Ease last year - I can still feel the squeaking *shudder* I know it's a personal preference and all that - I'm extra sensitive to high-pitched noises so I *really* heard the squeaking...

3:55 PM  
Anonymous linda said...

I just noticed in your "thinking about" section you have the clutch and cabled footies from One Skein. Those are two great, quick projects! Cast on now!! :)

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was just as excited to hear that one of my good friends is pregnant, almost the second she told me i was thinking, 'now what should i knit first???' :0). i think the machine wash thing is dependent on the person. i know that from experience, the people i have gifted with baby knits have appreciated the machine wash wool...but there are some i know who would rather handwash knits anyways...i think it depends on your friend- that's my thought. p.s *love the green sweater! :0) x

5:38 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

I can answer your question from both sides, as obsessive knitter and gifter of baby things, and also as mom of 3 young kids. I know how to wash wool garments and I do it, but I have to admit that those are the garments that go to the bottom of the laundry basket and wait awhile.

With so many great washable options out there, (Lion Brand Cotton Ease, Mission Falls cotton or superwash wool, and Cascade superwash wool being my favorite) I would say go for the easy wash option.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Glaistig said...

I'm ashamed to say that I haven't knit for a baby yet. (Well, I have but I was to shy to actually gift the hat. . . ) So I'll be filing this comment page away for future reference. Veddy good advice!

5:12 PM  
Blogger Theresa said...

Depends on the friend. But for me and mine, I'm all about the natural fibers. I do use a lot of cotton for babies, I guess, and that's both natural and washable.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Mary said...

I think it depends on the parents. I have some friends who don't mind hand-washing an alpaca cardigan, whereas others prefer something they can throw in the machine. It comes down to a combination of what suits the project and what will get used.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a mother-knitter, who knitted some garments to my own babies, I have learned that 1)Sometimes baby doesn't like any wooly items, for it is just itchy for their sensible skin. 2)I have knitted both machine washable and hand wash, and they don't care. Mother cares. 3)the best things I knitted for them are a cotton blanket, baby cashmerino hat, and allseasons cotton vest. They are never itchy for them and they love it.

2:57 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I just finished a baby cardi in LB Microspun, which is nowhere near a natural fiber but is machine wash/dry and very soft without being fuzzy. As you mentioned, I wanted to give something to be worn not just admired on dress up days.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Gotta go with the machine-wash-only crowd. I think we as knitters and fiber lovers lose perspective about the clothing care people are/should be willing to do. I think most parents would have a hard time getting their minds around hand washing baby clothes. And there are so many great machine-washable options! That said, you know your friend best.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Kate A. said...

This is not really helpful, but I often think handwashing is easier than machine-washing. Thats what you get for living in an apartment building with crappy and expensive laundry machines. That, and I had to wash everything - even jeans! - in the bathtub the first year I lived in Russia, and by comparison washing a a few handknits every couple of weeks is practically fun. Especially with a rinse-free detergent like Eucalan. That makes all the difference in the world to me. But, clearly, I am crazy, and without small, messy children. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

3:22 PM  

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