Barb' s comment to my last post, in which I was being picky-picky about Stria cotton, had me thinking about yarns I would recommend for baby blankets. I love baby projects, which come few and far between these days as my friends and I tend to be way past the stage of having babies and not quite ready to reach grandparent stage either. All the more reason to make the most of those precious opportunities when they come up, and to figure out good projects and good yarn matches for them.
Ease of care and warmth are two criteria on top of my list, with range of colors and softness right behind them. I put ease of care first because I remember, from my overwhelmed years as a young mother, that even though I was able and even, sometimes, willing to launder some garments by hand, I was just as likely to keep those garments on the highest shelf and to reach for something that wouldn't require more of my time. I loved the beautiful clothes my babies received as gifts, but I also valued my sleep and limited free time -- a rare commodity the second time around, when I had infant twins to dress and keep in clean clothing.
This is a personal preference of mine, and not intended to criticize the lovely concept of a heirloom blanket or other special items. If I were knitting a lace blanket for a baby, I would worry less about ease of care and more about picking a yarn that would show off the lace motifs to best advantage.
Warmth is connected to the ease-of-care issue, because if warmth is important to the knitter, if the baby lives somewhere else than balmy California, for example, then a superwash wool will be my favorite option.
Superwash wools can withstand the washing machine and, in some cases, the dryer. Three that I have used in the past were Knitpicks "Swish", Lamb's Pride Superwash Worsted, and Mission Falls 1824 wool. I haven't used the fairly new Cascade Superwash wool yet but I plan to give it a try someday.
My version of the "Learn to Knit Afghan" was knitted with Lamb's Pride Superwash; although it is 100% wool, it has a fuzzy quality to it and wouldn't be ideal for projects requiring a neat stitch definition. It feels warm and wooly and works well for children's sweaters and outer wear, but I am not sure I would find it soft enough for a baby's skin. It is not meant to be machine-dried and I wouldn't attempt it.
Mission Falls 1824 wool feels softer to me and I enjoyed using it the one time I did -- for a baby sweater. I didn't attempt to machine-dry it and I don't think the manufacturer recommends it.
I knitted Marisa's red blanket with Knitpicks Swish last year. It was my first time trying out this wool and I found it very pleasant to knit. It stretched quite a bit in the wash, so I ended up giving it a turn in the dryer in order to tighten the stitches, which it did well, although a slight fuzz came up. And here lies the easy-care dilemma: just because you can dry a specially treated wool in the dryer doesn't mean you should. I don't know if there is a way to avoid the fuzz factor in the dryer, but I doubt it. I have come to see that with superwash wools, there is a trade-off , at least for now.
Now, if warmth isn't a big priority for the baby or his family or yourself, the wonderful world of blends opens up all of a sudden. I know, this is akin to heresy for some, but I like to keep an open mind. I have tried only a couple of blends; some felt too plasticky to the touch, some felt soft but became limp, and some have not aged gracefully (see: Celeste's pill-covered blanket in the TV room -- from the days when I liked Woolease).
My favorite so far is Plymouth Encore, which contains 25% wool and washes and dries in the machine like a dream. To my hand, it feels more wooly than other blends, and the stitch definition is good. I think of it as the perfect option for a college blanket since no dorm room is going to give even the most meticulous student the opportunity to let a blanket dry flat. It doesn't feel warm enough for me though, and I know some knitters find it unpleasant to handle.
The Stria baby blanket is the result of an impulsive decision; I got tired of watching those four skeins of Stria age in my stash, so, in yet another valiant effort to use up my stash, I was moved to buy many more skeins in more colors to make a blanket, for a Californian baby due right at the beginning of our Indian summer. Warmth won't be of the essence, and a cotton blanket, also fairly easy to care for, could work well as a floor blanket too.
I like cotton yarns but many cottons feel much heavier than Stria, definitely heavier than wool, and probably not all that comfy on top of a tiny body, which is why I have avoided making cotton baby blankets. My one exception is this intarsia number from Debbie Bliss's "How To Knit", which I knitted in Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece. This yarn contains 80% cotton and 20% wool, a mix which I really love and which works well in California weather. It also comes in lots of colors and washes well. I have noticed that a long spin in the dryer tends to fuzz it slightly and to make the colors a bit greyer, so I avoid the dryer, except for the last five or ten minutes, to soften the blanket or garment up. If you think I am a tad obsessive about laundry matters, you couldn't be more right. I love my Maytag, my Shout Color Catcher sheets, and I also love the pretty cards I add to my knitted gifts with lengthy details on do's and don'ts. It's all I can do not to offer to provide laundry services in perpetuity for each knitted item I have knitted as gifts. In fact, for one of those items I have insisted on it.
I'll end this yarn review here, although I haven't touched upon sportweight or baby wools, since I had blankets on my mind for this post. I'd love to hear suggestions and recommendations for yarns that others prefer for baby blankets -- it turns out there is yet another baby, a girl, expected by a dear young friend of mine. Not to mention two nearly grown-up twins who will need college blankets of their own a short year from now.