knitting wool for baby

Today we're lucky to have blog guest Paula Emons-Fuessle of The Knitting Pipeline podcast, and designer of the Piper's Journey shawl for Quince. In this post, she shares with us the joys of knitting for the little ones. Take it away, Paula...

Knitting with Wool for Babies

My husband and I are thrilled to be new grandparents. Our grandchild lives in North Carolina and we live in Illinois. One of the ways I can express my love for this sweet and adorable girl is to knit for her. Her parents were forewarned that the hand knits would come fast and furious. If Helene only wears a sweater once, then I’m ok with that. Fortunately they enjoy dressing her in hand knits and she responds by being a perfect model. It just feels right to dress a baby in wool that is as pure as possible.


As a young mother over 30 years ago, I took to heart these words by Elizabeth Zimmermann:

Nothing keeps a baby as warm and comfortable as wool; even when damp, let alone wringing wet, wool doesn’t become chilly, and to many of us it is well worth the trouble of washing carefully. –Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter’s Almanac (February)

Those were the days before the advent of machine washable wool. Our boys wore their wool sweaters outside to play. I have photos of the two younger ones playing in the sandbox on an early spring day wearing their Wonderful Wallabies, a classic sweatshirt style sweater in the Elizabeth Zimmermann tradition and designed by Carol Anderson. You can still purchase this pattern today. Every few weeks I submerged the sweaters in our top loading washer, along with a little wool soap, and manually spun the water out. No agitation occurred. Then I laid them flat or hung to dry. Hanging to dry isn’t optimal but it isn’t the worst thing to do either. I still have these sweaters today and you would never guess they are more than 30 years old.


Today we have more yarn choices in knitting than ever before. I have knit my share of machine washable baby sweaters believing that the parents would not be receptive to hand washing a baby sweater or bonnet. Lately I’ve been knitting more baby items in Quince wool even when I don’t know the parents well enough to judge whether they will hand wash the garment. The knitting is more pleasurable for me and I’ve decided that if the sweater is felted in the first wash, then I’ll probably never know. The knitting of it was a joy in itself.

To encourage proper washing of woolens, I ordered hand-wash labels to sew inside the garment. We decided on the inside side seam--or where there would be a seam if the garment is seamless, since a label inside the neck can be irritating. Included in the gift is wool soap and simple directions for washing. Washing a woolen garment is akin to bathing a baby: temperate water, no agitation, gently pat the excess moisture off, and then air dry. Is it really that difficult? A small baby sweater could actually be washed in the baby’s bath water if in a pinch.

My favorite for washing is Twig & Horn Wool Soap, especially the White Grapefruit scent. Twig & Horn Wool Soap does not get sudsy and it smells delicious. The frosted glass bottle is decorative so I leave it at the utility room sink. For a baby shower gift, why not include a beautiful bottle of Twig & Horn Wool Soap along with brief instructions for proper washing? I made these tags that you can download for free. Print out a page of these on cardstock or regular paper.

Knits for baby

A few of my favorite baby sweaters and accessories:

Cradle Cardigan by Hannah Fettig (Mabel’s Closet) is a classic top-down cardigan that I have knit many times. It is suitable for a new knitter and for an experienced knitter who wants a simple project. A simple project, made with gentle wool, and carefully finished will outshine any gift at a baby shower. Cradle Cardigan is also gender friendly. Quince’s Chickadee is the designer’s choice and it is mine too. With so many colors to choose from you can go traditional with pastels like Petal (shown below, left), Dogwood, Glacier, and Goldfinch or go bold and modern with rich colors such as Winesap, Parsely, or Nasturtium. You can never go astray with neutrals like Egret, Iceland, and Chanterelle.

A recent favorite design is Mae Cardigan (above, right) by Melissa LaBarre from the Wool Baby collection. I’ve made 3 of these little sweaters, all in Chickadee. Two were baby shower gifts and one was for my granddaughter. This was perhaps my turning point in committing to pure wool for baby shower gifts. Two babies were due around St. Patrick’s Day and the color Split Pea was perfect. Mae is so sweet with its simple lace border and rounded corners. You would not believe how quickly it knits up. The Aziza Bonnet (above, center) is perfect with the Mae Cardigan since it has the same lace motif. It calls for Lark, a worsted weight. To compensate for the difference in yarn weight I went up two sizes and used Chickadee. For my granddaughter I chose Peacock since my daughter-in-law enjoys dressing her in dark colors. I knitted the matching Aziza Bonnet in Pomegranate so it complements but doesn’t match. I used 2 skeins of Chickadee for each sweater.

My friend, Missy, (marynvoigt on Ravelry), is also a devotee of Quince. She chose to knit Little Willet (below, left), a garter stitch cardigan by Dawn Catanzaro, in Chickadee Goldfinch for Helene. Little Willet is designed for Willet, California-grown Cleaner Cotton™, but it works great in Chickadee too. Little Willet is gender friendly and all in squishy garter stitch which is so cute on babies. I’ve always been drawn more to Carrie’s Yellow but now I absolutely embrace Goldfinch as equally gorgeous.

Leila Babe Cap (above, right) by Carrie Bostick Hoge in Tern looks so cute on Helene. Her parents have requested a larger one in the exact same color for fall. The lace scallops frame a face so sweetly.

I am looking forward to knitting many more wool sweaters and hats for Helene as she grows from an adorable baby to toddler and beyond.

Thanks again, Paula, for sharing your knitting for babies on the Quince blog today. Helene is a lucky granddaughter!

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