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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A Baby Capelet

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This is the first wearable item that I have made for Iris.  I bought the yarn especially for her: a yummy and soft undyed organic cotton that is perfect for brushing baby cheeks, inside and out (Sprout in natural from the Verde Collection by Classic Elite Yarns, if you must know).  The original plan was for a baby sweater, but she already has a couple of those and sometimes it’s rather annoying to stuff her plump little arms through the sleeves, so a capelet seemed like a nice alternative.  Ideally, Iris can wear her capelet while she’s wrapped up in a down stroller bunting that I’m making for her out of a down comforter.  That way her shoulders will stay warm without dealing with wriggling arms syndrome first thing in the morning.

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Iris was also recently gifted the most adorable hand-crocheted baby hat from my friend Anna.  While Anna can’t remember exactly what yarn she used, it looks identical to the organic cotton I used for the capelet, making them an entirely accidental matching set.  Yes, those are tiny bear ears and teeny ear flaps!  Basically Iris is a polar bear cub.

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I somewhat followed the free pattern for the Baby Gaga Capelet by Gina Bonomo that I found through a search for baby capes on ravelry.  To ensure that Iris could wear the capelet for a while, I increased the number of cast-on stitches to 72 on size 8 double-pointed needles (18/needle), followed by just over an inch of 2×2 ribbing, before starting the suggested pattern for increasing the number of stitches gradually (add two stitches at four even intervals around the cape every other row).  Since I wanted the capelet to be a bit longer than the Baby Gaga version, I started increasing the number of rows between stitch increases, first to two (after ~2 inches, when I also switched to size 9 circular needles) and then three (after ~3 more inches).  The shape of the capelet was just what I had in mind: it starts off getting much larger and then tapers down to follow the shoulders with enough room for flailing baby arms.  By starting from the neck (unlike many of the baby cape patterns I looked at for inspiration), I could just knit until I used up two 100 g skeins of yarn.

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An Almost-Audrey Hat

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For my second knitting project, I decided to step it up a notch and try something that, before finishing my fingerless gloves, would have made me run screaming in the opposite direction.  But no more!  I declare my fear of knitting patterns good and truly dead.  Which is convenient, because there is a magical world of free knitting patterns online for anything you can imagine.  In this case, the only thing I could imagine was a hat to keep some distance between me and what was quickly becoming a nippy November.  Why does someone who grew up on the East Coast not own a hat?  Good question.

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After using cotton yarn for my fingerless gloves, I thought I would give wool a try.  After all, nothing is so wool like a winter hat.  To reduce scratchiness, I used a wool and bamboo rayon blend by Stitch Nation called Bamboo Ewe in the lovely grey shade Mercury.  I had a 100 g skein and didn’t use all of it.  For the pattern, I followed the Audrey Hat pattern from the Fringe Hatalong No. 1, mostly.  I didn’t have the right circular needle size/length, so I was forced to knit the whole thing on double-pointed needles, and after finishing the ribbing, realized that there was no way I would be able to add the suggested number of stitches without having a good fraction fall off the needles mid-knit.  After casting on 88 stitches (onto three needles) as called for, I added 8 more post-ribbing, one every 11 stitches, to end up with 96 total, which is evenly divisible by 12, the repeat length of the chevron pattern.  Then I repeated the pattern three times for a fitted hat.  Unlike the Hatalong pictures, my almost-Audrey hat clings to the head like a beanie.  I don’t mind, it will stay on better that way.

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By some miracle, my almost-Audrey hat and fingerless gloves both match one of my favorite scarves beautifully.  Almost all of my yarn was gifted from my mom’s extensive collection, providing limited color choices, but in this instance it worked out.  Unfortunately for the future tidiness of our apartment, my yarn stash is growing at a much faster rate than my knitting projects are completed.  In fact, since starting to knit again, I have pulled out as many knitting projects as I’ve finished (the ear-warmer headband was sacrificed in place of a proper hat and the boot toppers were too thick to fit between my calves and boots).  Oh well, it means I’ve practiced following a couple more patterns, learned that I much prefer knitting in the round to knitting on straight needles, and that I don’t know nearly enough about knitting yet to make up my own patterns.

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Ribbed Fingerless Gloves

IMG_3686 I was on vacation for all of August.  Oh glorious vacation!  It was likely the longest stretch of not-working that I will have for quite a few years, so I thought I would take full advantage of it by re-learning how to knit.  You see, I first learned to knit when I was in first grade (the joys of Waldorf school), and by the time I was in third grade I could knit on double-pointed needles in the round to make things like adorable strawberry doll hats with little black seeds (something like this).  Then I went to normal school and promptly forgot my knitting skills.  Thankfully it wasn’t all wasted: I still remembered how to knit and purl, and could sort of eek out how to cast on and off.  But I couldn’t follow a knitting pattern and I had completely forgotten how to knit on anything but two single-pointed needles.  Having learned how to knit without following a pattern herself, my mom insisted I start knitting from a pattern immediately so that I could regain my knitting skills and not be stuck struggling to follow a pattern as a very proficient knitter like she had been for most of her life.

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My first knitting project was a pair of fingerless gloves in a yummy cafe au lait colored cotton yarn.  They are knit using a garter rib pattern that stands out nicely with a solid color.  This is really my practice pair of gloves for fall and spring weather.  The second pair will be knit using a warmer wool blend for winter.  I used the Ribbed Mitts pattern from Knitsimple Gifts to Knit in a Weekend! without any crochet finishing.  I used worsted weight (size 4) 100% cotton yarn and four size 7 double-pointed needles.  The garter rib stitch is knit three, purl 1, repeat for the first row and knit for the second row.  The thumb hole is created by binding off some stitches (5 in this case) at the beginning of the round and casting the same number of stitches on again at the beginning of the next round.  The default sizing of 36 stitches cast on at the beginning (12 stitches per needle, three increments of the pattern knit 3 purl 1) and 6 inches until the thumb hole with a remaining two inches to cover the palm worked perfectly.  If I make some for Peter I would increase the number of cast on stitches (the circumference of the glove), increase the length over the palm, and make the thumb hole wider.

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If this pattern is too complicated for you, consider the following: knit a square, sew up one side to make a tube leaving a hole for the thumb, and you’re done!  It was when I told my mom that I was making another pair of these “square gloves” that she absolutely insisted that I had to use a pattern or I would never learn.  As always, she’s totally right, and I’m now smitten with knitting patterns.

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