Knitting for babies is so tempting. So many super cute patterns, combined with the satisfaction of quick knits. What's not to love?!
However, when you haven't had babies yourself and want to knit for gifts (or your baby-to-be), it can be hard to decide which pattern to choose so that the item is both pretty and functional.
What Not to Do, a few examples
Thinking back on my own experience, I made lots of mistakes before I had my girls and knit several quite-unwearable garments. Like this pretty sweater I knit for my niece with a shiny and slightly hairy yarn. I can only imagine how unpractical it was with such a tight opening for the head or how my niece would be eating bits of novelty yarn whenever she'd suck her thumb with the long sleeves so close by.
Later, pregnant with my first daughter I chose a pretty ballerina crossover. Handy to put on a baby, except for the mohair yarn. A long-sleeved turtleneck became mandatory underneath so she wouldn't feel the slight scratchiness of the yarn and «eat» too much of the hairy halo that comes with that pretty fiber.
Finally, another try was a pretty garter stitch cardigan: very cute and functional with ¾ sleeves... until I decided to add vintage satin-covered buttons. Oh the mistake! The first time I put it on my daughter, she kept on putting the buttons in her mouth and by the time I looked again all the fabric covering the buttons was gone. At least I had sewed the buttons securely and she didn't swallow any! The cardigan has since been worn sans-buttons and has gotten a lot of use this way.
I'm probably not the only one making these kind of mistakes. I thought a few tips might come handy if you'd like to hit right on target for your next baby shower gift.
Handknits in newborn sizes are oh-so-cute and tiny, that's for sure. However in real life, tiny babies sleep during most of the day and wear mostly pajamas,which are easier to deal with to change nappies and keep the baby warm in her cot. If you can deal with the frustration of not seeing the baby wear your handmade item right away, it can be a great idea to knit/crochet something in a larger size (at least 6 or 12 months). It will get a lot more use and the mother will be very grateful to you to have pretty clothes in a larger size, once she's used up the huge pile of newborn and 3-month sized garments one usually receives at a baby shower.
Baby clothes are washed a lot. As in everyday mostly, once the baby has burped or drooled over her clothes.
I would suggest you reserve the beautiful handwash-only yarns for very special outfits. There are a lot of options of machine-washable yarns (even at low-temperatures) for everyday use garments. Handwashing a sweater is probably the last thing a new mum wants to do.
For a pretty result, I'd personally suggest to stay away from cheap acrylic yarns in so-called baby colors: A nice superwash wool is usually much prettier, along with the benefit of keeping baby warm even when wet (from drool for example)
Also, stay away from all hairy or novelty yarns Babies have a high tendency to put everything they can in their mouth, which includes their sweater's sleeves or corner of their cardigan. Can you imagine what it would feel like to suck on a mohair jumper and end up with bits of wool on your tongue? I'm sure I'd hate it and don't want that for my baby.
And finally, but I guess that goes without saying, baby skin is more sensitive than adults. So staying away from any scratchy yarn would be a good idea.
Buttons and ties
Buttons are always THE big issue with handknit items for babies, as you really want to avoid any choking hazard. There are lots of other options for closures, such as short ties made of i-cord or simply crocheted, which can be very pretty. One of the cardigans my daughters wore mostly had no buttons at all, which, to me is a plus for cardigan designs.
If you do choose to add buttons to your handknit/crocheted item, make sure to sew them on extra securely, or use oversized buttons in the back of the sweater as I did on my Roselette tops! :-)
Babies move their feet around a lot. A whole lot. Until they manage to walk or crawl, the only thing they can do is move their limbs around in a disorganized fashion. Therefore, it's a bit of a challenge to find baby booties that pass the test of staying on for more than 5 minutes.
It's hard to resist the amazing cuteness of a pair of baby booties though. Just ask yourself a question: are you looking for cuteness and a keepsake for the mother OR a functional pair of booties that will stay on no matter how much the baby moves? I personally did a lot of the first option, but if you'd like functional booties, look for higher booties or socks. Also, look for feedback on the pattern you plan to use (for example on Ravelry) to see if they are actual «stay-on booties».
Finally, if you plan to knit or crochet booties in any size larger than 6-9 months, add an anti-slippery sole as babies start to stand up and walk around at that age.
A dress for a baby girl is usually not a good idea until 18 months: Until 9 months, babies spend most of their days in a horizontal position, so a dress would end up all crumpled under the babies arms. And between 12 and 18 months a dress would get in the way of the little one learning to stand up and walk. Altogether, it's probably a good idea to wait until the baby grows into a toddler to knit or crochet her a dress.
So, you've decided to make a garment and you're trying to decide on a pattern. What to knit or crochet: sweater, vest, cardigan, kimono, crossover?
For smaller sizes, it's usually a good idea to choose a garment that will be easy to put on the baby, with large head opening and handy closures that will make dressing and undressing the baby easier. I personally love cardigans and crossovers.
Also, babies have a hard time regulating their body temperature. The only time I could make my girls wear long-sleeved wool sweaters was during outdoors hikes in cold weather (autumn family walks, or sunny ski days) as they'd be way too hot wearing them indoors. That didn't amount to very much wearing in the end, and I've always been a bit frustrated that one of the lovely hand-knit woolen sweaters a friend knit for my daughter got so little use.
On the other hand, cardigans and short sleeved sweaters were used everyday in our house, as they make it easy for the babies to regulate their body temperature indoors (where babies spend most of their days) via the simple use of multi-layering.
I'm definitely fan of short sleeved woolens for babies to wear with long-sleeved t-shirts, or ¾ sleeved cardigans. They are so easy to wear open if the baby is too hot.
Finally, shorter sleeves mean that the babies don't outgrow the garments as fast, which comes as a great bonus when you've spent weeks knitting or crocheting something for a very special baby!
As a final note, don't forget baby blankets, which are always a great present for a new mum - sure to be used a lot And you won't have to worry about sizing!