As a design historian (my day job), any new project I undertake in my own artwork is informed by objects I have seen and studied. When I decided that my brand-new nephew would need a proper blanket from his brand-new aunt, early design ideas drifted toward piecework and samplers, concepts more commonly seen in embroidery and quilting.
My sense of flat textile design is heavily influenced by the needlework samplers and quilts that I saw my mother make as I grew up. Whenever I play with ideas for knitted or crocheted pieces, I think about subdivided planes like this Spanish sampler at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The idea of arranging different stitch patterns in one whole opens up oodles of design possibilities, possibilities not unlike those imagined by quilters who piece. Album quilts like this Philadelphia example, also at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, offer the same design principle as the sampler but on a larger scale. Diverse design motifs are separated by a line of ribbon that creates unity through its overall latticework pattern.
Last winter, a knitting friend organized a group-made baby blanket project where she employed a similar technique. She pieced out knitting and crochet work to multiple hands and then sewed the parts together, along with a fabric border and back, to make a quilt-like knitted blanket. Each knitted piece was the same as the others in terms of pattern, but constructing a piece of knitted fabric from pieces instead of from one continuous string of fiber added an unexpected dimension that I really enjoyed.
So I borrowed her idea, built on concepts of sampler and patchwork, and played around with my limited palette of crochet and knit stiches. For the knitted strips, I used stockinette and seed stitch; for the crocheted portions, I used a single crochet variant and basic granny squares (both from my favorite crochet book). Most of the yarn used was Encore worsted, because my local yarn shop ladies swore by its washability (one exception: I did indulge in a washable chenille yarn for one portion of one square to add to the sampler-like variety – so soft!). Because my brother and sister-in-law didn’t know the baby’s sex ahead of time, the nursery was painted a wonderfully soft sage green, which I was only too happy to use as the base for my blanket. I started working with only that and ivory, but after my nephew was born and I knew I could add a stronger, slightly more boyish look to the design, I included a few pieces in a clear grass-green.
- Pieces, pre-assembly
To assemble the pieces, i used ivory yarn and a single crochet, using the seams to similar effect as the ribbon binding in the album quilt referenced above. When I connected crocheted pieces to one another, this worked beautifully – I’ve been crocheting for nearly half my life and have enough consistency in my tensioning to produce a reasonably uniform fabric. I’ve been knitting for less than a year, though, and in hindsight, I should have switched to smaller needles to make a sturdier fabric. Because the fabric I knitted had a lot of give, I had trouble making each strip the same length. This meant that when I tried to join them (with the goal of matching ends), pieces were stretched at different rates (which resulted in bunched seams). My brother and sister-in-law very kindly refer to this as “character.” Bless them. To add a finished look, I used the same ivory yarn and did a quick row of single crochet around the outside edges.
When I first imagined my sampler-blanket, I knew I wanted to add some sort of image or lettering to a particularly plain panel of ivory stockinette – either baby’s name or some sort of cheerful animal. When my sister-in-law picked out nursery linens and decorations with a jungle-animal theme, a giraffe floated to the top of the design pile. When serendipity struck and I found this stuffed giraffe to take to my nephew the day after he was born, I found out that the giraffe is actually my sister-in-law’s favorite animal … so really, I could choose nothing else but a lovely leggy fellow for the blanket! Outlined simply in soft yellow, I think he’s my favorite part of the project. Start to finish, this blanket was both a fun excuse to play with the familiar and a learning experience to be sure. But mostly it was a very special chance to make something with my hands for my brother’s firstborn.
Wrinkles and all, it's done!