I’m often asked for recommendations for the best baby knitting patterns – it seems like knitting gifts for babies and little ones is as popular now as it ever was! It’s a great way to give a present that’s a little bit more special and meaningful… And of course it helps that babies and children are smaller than adults, so a handknitted baby sweater project can feel like a quick and easy win, especially for beginner knitters.
That said, it’s not all plain sailing when you’re knitting for babies. While success stories among the students in my weekly knitting classes are definitely in the majority, I do sometimes hear the dread phrase “I’ve never seen the baby wearing it”. And that can be heartbreaking, especially if it’s been a tricky make. There’s also the question of the looming deadline that comes with every baby project – the new arrival is going to grow quickly, so that newborn-size cardigan needs to be ready by the due date!
So, with that in mind, what projects do I usually recommend? Here are my top 5 knitted baby gift ideas, plus a few pattern suggestions.
Blankets are my go-to baby knit. It’s what I suggest first to students, especially beginners, because they’re simple, practical and they last. A beautiful traditional-style matinée coat may only be worn a couple of times before it’s too small for a growing youngster, but a beloved blankie? That can be a cherished companion for years! Also, since there’s no shaping involved, blanket patterns can be scaled up or down easily – one of my students loves to make smaller-size blankets that tuck around a baby when they’re in their car seat, for example.
My all-time favourite baby blanket pattern is the Big Bad Baby Blanket from Debbie Stoller’s book Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook. I made this for a friend’s new arrival years ago, and liked the pattern so much that I made an adult-sized version for myself to carry with me on long-haul flights! It’s easy to customise this pattern too – more, smaller panels in the centre, add an intarsia or textured motif, or use different colours for the central panels, rather than texture. Check out this throw-sized version in Katia Big Merino, made by one of my students earlier this year!
Another favourite baby blanket pattern of mine is this Colorful Wedges blanket, which is available free from Purl Soho’s website. This pattern uses short rows to create those dramatic triangular blocks of colour, and it’s a great way to get to grips with this technique. The original pattern uses a sport weight yarn, but it’s easy to convert the pattern to use a chunkier yarn if you’d like your project to knit up more quickly… As long as you cast on any multiple of 5 stitches, the pattern will work. This super version was made by one of my students recently – she used Katia Merino Aran (3 balls of the cream colour, plus one each of the contrast colours) and cast on 125 stitches.
Hats are always a quick, easy knit – and for babies, they’re small, don’t require too much in the way of shaping and won’t be outgrown as quickly as other garments. They’re also fun to customise with stripes, pompoms or tassels, and will be extra welcome if the new arrival shows up during the winter months! Or, make a version from soft cotton or bamboo yarn to protect delicate skin from the summer sun. Purl Soho have free patterns for three cute baby hats on their website, and one of my students made this gorgeous version as a gift for a friend’s little one.
The only downside to this pattern is the fine weight yarn it uses – the finished result is lovely, but it took a surprisingly long time to complete! If you’re looking for a quicker knit, the hat pattern I usually recommend is the Maker Maker Basic Beanie, which is free on Ravelry, has sizes from preemie baby to adult XL, and includes instructions for both knitting flat on straight needles and working in the round. It works up beautifully in Katia Basic Merino, and one ball is plenty for a baby hat, with a bit left over for a pom-pom if you like!
Bootees are another small, quick project that make a great new baby gift. The only reason I rate them below hats is that I’m yet to find a really good beginner-level pattern! The easiest one I’ve found to date is available to view free on the designer’s blog here, or you can purchase a printable version. One of my students put together this cute pair over her Christmas break!
Like blankets, knitted toys will outlast a growth spurt, and may well become a most beloved friend for life as well as being a thoughtful, personal gift. The trick with making good toys is to find a pattern that walks you through the assembly of the pieces, as well as how to knit them, and the best example of this I’ve come across is the book Knitted Animal Friends by Louise Crowther. It also doesn’t hurt that her animals are adorable, and share roughly the same body size and shape… So any of the animals can wear any of the knitted outfit designs, patterns for which are included in the book. I made this fox and sweater last year for a friend to gift to her new nephew – normally I loathe sewing knits together, but the clear instructions, complete with photos and diagrams, made this a breeze!
I was also able to customise it with the little guy’s initials, so he knows this fox is his!
And finally… Garments
Of course, if you have your heart set on knitting baby clothes, jump right in! Here are some tips and feedback I’ve had from students and new mums to help you on your way.
- Choose designs that are easy to pop onto a wriggling baby. Cardigans get the seal of approval from mums I know who have knitted for their own babies, with an honorable mention for sweaters with wide necks or button tabs on the shoulders. Some student favourites, all available on Ravelry, include the Antler Cardigan by Tin Can Knits ($8.72), Gidday Baby (free), Another Five-Hour Baby Sweater (free) and Wee Knit Vest (free).
- Think about timeframe. Knitting something more often than not takes longer than we expect, especially if you’re a beginner, haven’t picked up your needles in a while, or you’re trying a new pattern or technique. Consider giving yourself a bit of breathing room by choosing a larger size, rather than immediately casting on for a newborn garment.
- Choose your yarn carefully. I love to use 100% wool when I knit, but I understand that not everyone has the same tolerance for lovingly hand-washing garments that I do – especially if there happens to be a new baby in their lives! For me, wool and acrylic blends are a good compromise – most will stand up to a delicate machine wash, and any that have a decent percentage of wool in the mix (50% or more) will still keep baby nice and cosy. Help out busy new parents by including washing instructions in the gift parcel, so they’ll know your knitted treasures can survive spills and a trip through the washing machine.
- Experiment with colour! One of the best things about making over buying is that you’re in control, and not constrained by traditional baby colour palettes. If the new parents aren’t fans of pastel pinks and blues, consider deep jewel colours or vivid brights instead. Some of the most striking baby knits I’ve seen in class have been made from this deep forest green, and they looked amazing! Or pair neutrals with a colourful accent for a versatile garment that stands out from the crowd, like this student’s version of the Five-Hour Baby Sweater mentioned above.
Have you any go-to baby knitting patterns? Be sure to share your favourites in the comments below! Or if you’ve made any of my picks, I’d love to know how they turned out.
Have a great weekend… And until next time, happy knitting!