Friday, August 17, 2012

Hand-Tied Baby Blankets

This is our first guest post on Swenson Style!! Hooray! From none other than: MY MOM. My mom blogs {mostly about their travel adventures or time with the grandbabies} over at Dave and Edie. She's here today to show you how to make one of her go-to gifts for expect mothers and their sweet babes! Here's a little of how she stumbled upon these great handmade gifts...
{my fabulous mom and me!}

Take it away, Mom!

I am invited to a gazillion Baby Showers...really....that many...sometimes all in one weekend.  I just hang with very fertile people..which is really funny since I have only one child.  I was spending so much money for gifts and not feeling like it was special.  I was talking about this, well perhaps my husband may have mentioned the money part, when the husband of my long-time friend said "hey, why don't you have my wife tell you how to make a blanket".  He also added that each blanket was special, one of a kind, tailored to the recipient...I especially liked that part. And one time, in a land far, far away, I sewed all my own clothes, so I figured I could do this. Easy peasy.

I wasn't quite sure what I was doing at first.  I shudder to think about those first few blankets I made, apologies to all the early recipients. And I wasn't having much fun.  Did that stop me?  NO!  I had my sister and friend help me out. This friend is a crafter extraordinaire.  She does it, dolls, cards, scrapbooking, quilting, smocking and I've probably left something out.  As soon as she pulled out one of her many sewing machines and said "let me put on the walking foot", I knew I was in good hands.  Well I knew after I asked what a walking foot don't need one when sewing garments because the fabrics are not as thick and only two layers. However, when you have many layers they don't move through the machine well.  This frustrated me to no end while I was sewing on the binding.  My seams were AWFUL, I'd rip them out and do everything over and over, and the corners were total YUCK.  Now I have a walking foot and have made so many blankets that I'm proud to give them as a gift.  And when I show up at a shower, that new mother can hardly wait to open the blanket...even if her mother-in-law has made the same thing (I used hip colors that I knew the young mother would LOVE...because my lovely daughter taught me).

I'm really having fun doing this and I hope that I can encourage you to make a hand-tied blanket.  And with the following instructions I think you'll catch on faster than I did.

Relax, sit back, fix something to drink, and get ready to learn how to make a hand-tied baby blanket.  I'm going to be walking you through this in excruciatingly painful detail in the hopes that you can make one on your own.

If you want the quick read, just read the bold writing.  If you're up for my rambling, and I think it's all very entertaining and informative, you can read the whole thing.  Warning...this is long.....


1 1/2 yards of fabric for the top I generally select a cotton print and sometimes a printed flannel, something you'll find in the fabric section at Jo-Ann's. I also buy from Hawthorne Threads when I want something totally cool, hip, and happening...and I can wait a few days for delivery.  You can make the blanket so special by the fabrics you select.  Even pink John Deere, which I find mind-boggling that they have John Deere everything and everywhere (could be with my geographical location).  You can even find college and team logos, and characters (i.e. Disney Princesses). In the beginning, I bought in bulk when it was on sale, but then the blanket wasn't especially made for that person so I didn't think it was as much fun.  I like to be thinking of the recipient while picking the fabric and making the blanket.  I pray with the tying of each knot because that's just how I roll.

1 1/2 yards of fabric for the bottom I like something soft on the bottom side.  If you don't have much experience, or perhaps for your first try, I recommend you stick with flannel....stay away from anything thick or stretchy.  With flannel there are plenty of great colors to use. It's soft, inexpensive, and the easiest to work with.  I still use flannel because I like the way it feels and there's always a fantastic color selection.  My other go-to fabric is "Soft & Comfy", or as I like to call it, Fake Minky.  Very few people can appreciate the real Minky (although once you feel it, you KNOW) and Fake is so much less and more readily available to me.  I've worked with some of the plush fabrics but they stretch, clog your machine, are difficult to pull the yarn through, and leave fluff all over you and your home.

Batting, for in-between There are many options for batting.  Thin and flat are the in thing now because people fear that a baby won't lift their head and can suffocate. But go with what you're comfortable with.  When I began I used the crib size package of fiberfill.  I now use Warm & Natural by the bolt.  I buy 3 yards of the queen size (90 inches wide) and can get four blankets out of that.  Warm & Natural is available in a crib size package online at Jo-Ann's.

Yarn Select a color that will match the bottom fabric and look good on top.  Some of the yarn shows through the bottom. I buy the least expensive and have a large inventory since you get so many blankets out of each one. Just match it as best you can. I seem to have the most of this brand.
Satin blanket binding, two packages This can be the most expensive part of the blanket, seriously.  There are so many colors available now. Have some fun with your colors. You could make your own binding but I LOVE to run my fingers across the satin and it makes the blanket look so luxurious....splurge.

Sewing machine Anything with a straight and zig zag stitch is good. You don't need to have much experience sewing. This is basic stuff...really....I mean it.
Large needle You're going to use it with the yarn so make sure you can fit the yarn through the eye.
Sharp scissors Yeah, bring out the good ones that you hide from the family.

These items would be REALLY nice to have:
Needle threader There is NO way I can thread the needle without one.  They're cheap, buy it.
Six inch square cardboard or plastic Since I make so many blankets, I LOVE this tool.  I was using cardboard and then the husband of the friend who got me started in this went to TAP Plastics and had squares made for his wife and me.  Isn't that sweet?  I love these people....and not just because of the blanket stuff.
Walking foot You can get by without this if you are only going to use cotton and/or flannel fabric.  If you go for any of the plush (soft & comfy) or stretchy fabrics you will want one of these to remain sane.  They make life so much easier....really.  They can run you, at retail, $25 to $60 dollars.

What you do:
Begin with washing your fabric.  The Soft & Comfy fabric does not need washing, all cottons and flannels do.  I just give it a quick wash and toss it in the dryer (I'm a clothesline gal, but I use the dryer to get the full shrinkage).

Next step is to iron the fabric.  This gets the wrinkles out, allows you to really check for flaws (which you should be doing while the salesperson is cutting the fabric or you'll have to go back to the store and this is always at a horrible time which messes up your whole crafting spirit.  So really, pay attention when the fabric is rolled out for cutting) and just makes your blanket look so much nicer (and since mine are for gifts, I really want them to look beautiful).  I do not iron the Soft & Comfy, but I iron cottons and flannels.  I've skipped this step and then regretted that the blanket looked wrinkled when I gave it as a gift.

Now find a large flat area to lay everything out.  The bottom fabric is laid out on the bottom (now you know why I call it the bottom fabric, clever, huh?) with the "right side" (this is not a political commentary.....the "right side" is the side you want to show to the world.  Most fabrics have a good side and a back side.  On a print the pretty print side is the "right side") facing down.  On this blanket the "Soft & Comfy" which is a solid bright pink with bumps is the bottom fabric, so I have that laid out first with the bump side facing down.
Then I lay out the batting.  Since I purchase the queen size on the bolt, for the first blanket I have a HUGE amount of batting that is awkward.  I lay it out against the smaller size of fabric, usually the top print, and cut it a bit larger all around.  If you buy the polyfiber fill crib size, you are going to pull and stretch it out all over until it gets was fine when it was all I knew, but I really prefer the "Warm & Natural" now.
Lastly I lay out the top fabric with the "right side" showing.  I line up the top fabric with the batting the best I can.  The fabrics will not all line up because, well, they're different widths and not all cut exactly. Just watch the salesperson.  They will be a bit generous on the cuts, to make sure your project isn't shorted.  This not an exact science.  Fret not, it's going to all work out and look lovely.  You OCD people, just chill. Being a bit of a perfectionist myself, I know the anxiety you may be feeling. Does it make you feel any better if I tell you I put pins through out the blanket?  I like to keep things in place after I've gone through all the trouble of lining things up.  Pinning keeps things in their place, I LOVE pins. I especially like the long pins with a big end. Something like these.
One thing to check out before you cut....look to see if there's a name along the border of your print.  If there is, check to see if your binding will cover this.  If you're using a light colored binding, the name may show through....not a good look.  If it will show up, simply cut in far enough so you're cutting the name out.  You won't lose that much on the size.

Break out the good scissors and cut.  When I first started making blankets, I laid them out on the floor.  My friend who first taught me blanket making still does this.  She's younger than me...and she reminds me of this ALL the time.....only 9 months younger.  I prefer to stand up so I use my beautiful, big island....which makes my husband crazy because he doesn't like stuff out, but he loves me so he's adjusted....and I clean everything up right away...most of the time.  When you're finished all the edge will match up, honestly.  And to all you OCD perfectionist, really, stop trying to make it perfect...remember when you tried to trim your bangs and just ruined everything?  Yeah, don't do it again.  It will all be wonderful when you add the binding.

Doesn't that look neat and tidy?  I will say that since this print has a definite pattern it is much easier to line things don't restrict your selections to patterns easy to line up just because I said that.  Let's get on with the next step......

Thread the needle with yarn. I yank out three arm lengths of yarn to thread.  If you've never used yarn before, getting the starting thread is a little tricky.  There's always an end sticking up that looks like it's the one to pull, but that's wrong.  Look on either end, in the center, for an end to pull.  This is the way to do it.  The yarn will pull out easy and not require untangling or unwrapping.  I always use a threader for help threading the needle, it keeps me sane and those around me happy.  Pull the yarn through until the ends meet, you want the yarn to be NOT tie a knot at the end.  This makes for a very long strand when you begin.  You're going to do this about three times before you're finished. 

Hand-tying with yarn. Take that cute little 6" square template and lay it down in the bottom corner of the blanket.  I always begin in the bottom left, there's no magic to could select any of the other three corners to begin.  I'm showing you this with the cardboard template because it shows up better in the photo.
This part will make your fingers sore.  Push the needle through near the upper right hand corner of the template.  I can push this through, but it can be really tough so I use a tool....I snagged my husband's pliers!  Make sure they're clean and never return them....they might get dirty and you really do not want to make marks on your project.  Look real close in the photo and you'll see that the batting may actually begin to come up with the yarn.  Fret not, it all works out.
Pull the thread through until you have about 1 1/2 inch of yarn that has not been pulled through.  The yarn never goes through equally so as you're pulling the thread and are getting to the end, you may need to pull one side to even it up.  Then bring the four strands tight while you even it up and cut with your scissors.  Tie it once and then tie it again.  If you're so inclined you can think of a prayer for the baby.  I feel this makes the gift extra special.  
This is what it looks like on the back side.  You can see just a little bit of pucker.  Sometimes the yarn will show, especially if the yarn is in contrast to the bottom fabric.  Again, this is why I select a yarn color that matches the bottom fabric.  It just looks so much better.

Now move the square along to mark the next spot to properly position the next knot.  When you get to the far right (remember I start on the bottom left) you most likely will have a little extra.  Fret not.  You're going to move up to the next row.  Depending on how much I have left over, which is different every time, I may begin the next row lined up to the far right of the fabric.  This will alternate the knots on each row.  It's a judgment call.  Sometimes it looks good and other times not so good.  With this blanket, since I only have a couple of inches left at the end, I think it'll look odd to alternate....just not enough difference.  So I'm going to stick with lining everything up the same on each row.  Again, not a huge decision, just up to you.  It makes no difference on the structure of the blanket, it's just a design thing.  See how everything lines up so pretty when you're finished tying all the knots? Don't mind the lighting in the photo, this is still the bright pink pattern and not orange as it looks here.

Attach the binding. Now you're ready for the most tedious part of the project. This is the part that was the most challenging for me.  There are two things that I finally figured out that make this a breeze. Use lots of pins to put it in place and use a walking foot.  Those are my two secrets.
The binding has one side that's a little longer than the other.   Lately I've noticed some are the same length.  Anyway, you're going to open up both packages and sew the two together at one end.  You'll begin with the top of one package and then take the center out of the other package.  This is the only way they'll line up properly.  I actually pin it before I sew it.  Again, I take the time to pin because things do shift. Then fold the corners in and iron them down.  It just looks nicer when you don't have bits sticking out.  Take the time to do this.

Line up the binding so the folded edge meets the end of the fabric.  I like to begin with the seam at around the half way mark.  It looks nice to have things equaled up and not all helter skelter. You want the binding to be snug against the edge without pulling the binding.  The binding should be laying flat, no puckers, not so tight that the crease disappears.  When it all looks good, pin.  Please note how the position of the pins.  This makes it easier to remove the pins as you're sewing.
Here's another useful tip for matching up the spool of thread with the proper & easy too!
Pay special attention to the corners.  You want them neat and tightly squared. And pinned.  This is the tedious of the tedious.  Fret not, it just takes patience (which I pray for daily) and practice.  See how nice it looks when it's all pinned and ready to sew.  See how many pins I use? It keeps it from bunching and pulling.  I tend to be tightly wound and i find myself clenching and pulling which is not a good thing when sewing the binding to the blanket.....or good in anything for that matter....I'm a work in progress.  When your ends meet you should be directly across from where you started.  My uber crafty friend will actually sew this end like I did when I attached the two packages together.  I just overlap the ends, tuck, iron, and pin.  Now you're ready to sew!

Set the machine to a zig zag stitch.  When you begin sewing you will want the bulk of the blanket on the outside, which means the binding is in your right hand and the bulk of the blanket is on your left.  This is why I pin the way I do.  I can pull pins out as I go along.  I use my hands to guide it along, keeping the binding flat and tight.  You may still get a pucker, just smooth it out as you go without pulling and making it worse.  Often you can fix things at the corner.  If not, you can sew and have a little pucker.  It's not the end of the world and really will look fine. Fret not.  See a theme here?  Just try not to get hysterical if there's one little pucker.  It's part of the handmade experience.  Now if it's full of puckers, then you may want to rip and replace.  If you've pinned properly and fully and not clenched it as you sew, it will all work out okay, really. And you can see that I stitch the corners.  I sometimes hand stitch here.  I don't like the gaps because a small child may pull at it.
Be sure to check the back as you go along.  Just to make sure you've got it all lined up properly and the binding is attached properly.  Sometimes, especially if the binding doesn't have that bottom side a bit wider than the top side, and you're sewing too close to the edge, or didn't properly pin it, you can end up overshooting the bottom side of the binding and have it flapping along, unattached.  Not where you want to be.  I especially check at the beginning when I start sewing.  If you're going to have a problem fully attaching the binding, it will be at the very beginning.  And if you have a problem when you begin, it doesn't get any better as you sew along.

Clip any strings left hanging, admire your work, and wrap that blanket up!
 Oh, and I always place the handmade card (that's an entirely different post, aren't you happy about that?) in the box so it doesn't get lost....and I like the look of the gift without the card on top.

Dimensions of the finished blanket. This depends on the size of your narrowest fabric.  Since I'm mostly using 45" wide fabric, the finished blanket measures around 44" by 52".

Total cost of the finished blanket. This depends on the fabric you select, if things are on sale, or how many coupons you have for JoAnn's (or wherever you shop).  Since I already have the yarn and thread,  and plenty of coupons, this blanket ended up costing $35.  I have made beautiful blankets with flannel and/or cotton for as little as $20.


Cwatters said...

Your blanket to our little Evander was amazing! It is one of his favorites he sleeps with each night.

Bobi Jensen said...

Okay, that's it. I'm your newest follower. I sew and I've never figured out those dang square edges on the baby blankets.

Can't wait to see the rest of your blog as I follow :)


DW said...

Oh my I know where Jess gets her crafty skills!! Love the gorgeous blanket!!