Iris’ Baby Leg Warmers + Beet Dye

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I’ve been trying to knit myself socks since I started knitting again, but more urgent projects (knit this or you’ll freeze to death) keep popping up.  After starting Iris’ cape, I realized that her ankles (or cankles, if we’re being honest) were sometimes chilly from her walk home from daycare.  In righteous indignation (stupid cold!  How dare you chill my baby!!!) I stalked ravelry for leg warmer patterns.  Two hours later, it became clear that I was just wasting time because a leg warmer is little more than a tube, and if there’s anything I can knit by now, it’s that!

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Fast-forward almost two months and I’ve finally finished the darn things.  So much for baby knitting projects only taking a day or two!  Part of it was my fault; being unable to commit to a pattern, I had to cast-on and knit a few rows multiple times before I was convinced I had made the leg warmers big enough (cankles, remember?).  Then I made half of a rather funky leg warmer that didn’t have the right number of stitches for a 2×2 ribbing, but powered through until the asymmetry and general ugliness forced me to rip it all out and start over.  I’m still a bit unhappy with a few features of these leg warmers, but at least they seem to work.  The real magical bonus though, is that I had to learn a new cast-off: Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast-off, which is just about the best thing ever, as far as stretchiness is concerned, highly relevant both for leg warmers and socks!

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I don’t suggest anyone use the following pattern for baby leg warmers (1. I’m not practiced at writing knitting patterns and 2. it’s unclear whether the heel hole does its job; Iris has already succeeded in yanking her leg warmers off by grabbing her feet), but in case I decide to base my next pair on the first, I thought it was worth writing down:

Iris’ Baby Leg Warmers

This leg warmer starts with a 2×2 (knit 2, purl 2, repeat) ribbing to hold it tight to a baby’s leg.  Part way up, there is a hole through which a heel can protrude.  If you want a more traditional leg warmer without a heel hole, simply omit steps 4 and 5.  Whenever you omit a step, just knit that row in normal stockinette stitch, which is all knit stitches when working in the round.  The booties that Iris wears outside are sort of loose on top, so I wanted the leg warmer to keep her upper foot warm too and figured the best way of doing that was to have her heel keep the leg warmer from riding up.  Going further up the leg warmer, we add two sets of two stitches (always adding in multiples of four stitches total for the sake of the final 2×2 ribbing) so that the upper third of the leg warmer is larger than the lower two thirds.  This is to account for Iris’ exceedingly fat calves (oh so squishable, if you must know), but for a less well-endowed baby, I might not worry about it and omit steps 7 and 9.  Finally, we finish up the top of the leg warmer with more 2×2 ribbing and a wonderfully stretchy cast-off.  These leg warmers were sized for a very large and tall 9.5 month old weighing 20.5 lbs with rather chubby little legs.  I had originally wanted them to be a bit roomy so that they would last all winter, but at this point I’m not optimistic and I may have to make another pair before spring.

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Yarn: Classic Alpaca (100% baby alpaca) by The Alpaca Yarn Company, color: 100 (creamy white), 50 g (~110 yards) skein.  Each leg warmer took 20 g.  The yarn label says it will knit up in 5.5 stitches per inch on US #6 needles (4 mm).

Needles: 4 bamboo double-pointed needles, size US #3

Pattern:

  1. Cast-on 44 stitches using a long-tail cast-on.  I used 16 stitches per needle on two needles and 12 on the third.
  2. Repeat [knit 2, purl 2] ribbing for 10 rows.
  3. Knit in stockinette stitch (all knitting) for 9 rows.
  4. Optional (for adding a heel hole): On the next row, knit normally except cast-off 16 consecutive stitches.  Since I had 16 stitches on a single needle, I just cast-off an entire needle.
  5. Optional (for adding a heel hole): On the next row, knit normally except cast-on those 16 consecutive stitches again.  Basically, you are making a large hole (16 stitches wide) through which a baby heel can protrude.
  6. Knit again in stockinette stitch for 13 rows.
  7. Optional (for fatter babies): On the next row, add two additional stitches by the “make one” method.  I chose to add mine above the heel hole, each one placed four stitches in from the sides of the hole (easy because the hole was as wide as the number of stitches on one of my double-pointed needles).
  8. Knit again in stockinette stitch for 3 rows.
  9. Optional (for fatter babies): On the next row, add two additional stitches by the “make one” method.  Again, I chose to add mine above the heel hole, but now each one was placed five stitches in from the sides of the hole so that they would be directly above the first two new stitches.
  10. Knit again in stockinette stitch for 3 rows.
  11. Repeat knit 2, purl 2 ribbing for 10 rows.
  12. Cast-off using Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast-off.  If you use a normal cast-off, the top of the leg warmer may not be stretchy enough to fit over a fat baby calf.  Just sayin’.
  13. Sew in the ends of yarn using a large needle and block if desired.  I haven’t blocked the leg warmers yet, but I should, because the heel openings keep rolling up and it was a pain to force them into submission for photos.

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Finally, because Peter and I are on vacation this week and have nothing better to do, I tried my first natural dyeing project using the tails of yarn from the leg warmers after sewing in the ends.  I’m not very good at judging how much yarn to leave for the long-tail cast-on, so there were probably about four feet of yarn to dye in a total of four pieces.  I’ve been interested in natural dyeing for a while, since you don’t need special pots if you only use dyes made out of whole foods and goodness knows we don’t have any extra room for special dye pots in our new Cambridge micro-apartment.  After recently purchasing the stunningly photographed guide to natural dyeing The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar, I was motivated to save some beet water (from making the beet, avocado and pea salad from Plenty More; so good!) and boil an additional limp beet to make a bright pink dyeing liquid.  You might expect the result of dyeing with beets to be some shade of pink, but at least with protein fibers (alpaca), the result is more of a rusty orange.  And apparently protein fibers pick up more color from beets than cotton, which is the other white material I have lying around for experimentation.  As for instructions for natural dyeing with beets, I read these two, as well as the project using black tea from The Modern Natural Dyer.  And then failed to follow the instructions closely at all, haphazardly alternating between simmering and ignoring the yarn in the cooling dye bath for much of an evening.  The result after a gentle washing in cold water is rather stunning though, and while the color may not stay fast through even another washing, I don’t imagine knitted things need quite the frequent washing as clothes.  Goodness knows it will be weeks months before I wash Iris’ leg warmers, although if she keeps chewing on them, they may not last that long.

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