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I love knitting for babies. It is a way of honoring how beautiful and precious they are.  Because projects for babies tend to be small, it is also an opportunity to try out a new yarn or stitch without making a significant commitment in time or money.

However, if you are a knitter who does not have children or has not had a lot of experience with babies, you might not know how to get started with a project.  Here are some suggestions, based on my experience.


Babies need to be changed a lot. They spit up, have diaper blow outs, and can be messy eaters. If you want to make something that will be worn often, make a sweater from machine washable yarn. There are many wonderful machine washable yarns to choose from. Some are blends are wool and acrylic or cotton and acrylic. But there is also a wide selection of machine washable wools. My favorites have been Plymouth's Encore (wool and acrylic) and Dale of Norway's Baby Ull (100% merino wool). Debbie Bliss yarns come in different blends and weights, in a wide range of colors.

Many of the new styles of washing machines do have a hand wash cycle that works well for hand washable woolens. If you know that the parents of your recipient have a machine like this and feel comfortable using this feature, you will have more options for yarn to choose from.

Jot a few simple washing instructions inside the gift card -- just to let them know if they should use hot or cold, regular or gentle cycle.


Safety is a very important consideration. Babies have little fingers that can easily get caught on the inside of a sweater. And remember, they have to be changed frequently. For this reason, especially for a young infant, you may want to avoid using an open lace pattern, especially in the sleeves. If you are making a multi-color project and usually float your colors, consider weaving in the colors at 3- or 4-stitch intervals.

A baby's skin can be sensitive. Machine washable wools and blends are usually quite soft. If you are using untreated wool, choose one with a soft hand. A good way to check is to lightly rub the wool against your face or neck and see how it feels to you.

Buttons make sweaters easier to put on and off. Once babies are about 4 months or older, they grab everything in sight and try to put it in their mouth. Take extra care to sew on buttons securely. If the button does not have a shank, you can make your own. 

Shanks for the Shankless

There are two basic types of buttons: flat and shank. Shank buttons work particularly well with knits because the height of the button accommodates the thickness of knitted fabric. Does this mean you should only use shank style buttons? Of course not! Here's a way to create some height for a flat button that is secure and causes less wear and tear on sweaters.

First step: place a toothpick on the spot that will be the midpoint of the button location. For a larger button and a bulkier fabric, use something larger than a toothpick such as a cable needle.

Second step: sew the button in place without removing the toothpick. I recommend using cotton thread (rather than wool) because it is more durable. Make approximately 8 to 10 rounds from the wrong side of the garment, through the holes and back to the wrong side.

Third step: remove the toothpick and bring the thread through to the right side of the fabric but without going through the button holes. Wrap the thread around five or six times to create the shank. Then bring the thread back to the wrong side of the fabric (without going through the button holes) and tie off the ends of the thread. The result is a secure and neat looking flat button with the height of a shank.


Babies grow very fast. In fact, their mission in life for the first four to six months is to double their weight. If you want to make a sweater that will be worn for more than a few weeks, knit the 6 to 12 month size. Babies can wear the sweater when they are smaller with the sleeves rolled up.

In determining what size sweater to make, take into account when the baby will be born. Knitting a sweater in a 6 to 12 month size for a baby born in spring or summer works well. If the baby is born in late fall or winter, consider making a larger size (12 to 18 months) so that she/he has something beautiful to wear the following year. Usually parents get bombarded with newborn clothes at baby showers and immediately after the birth. It is nice to have something to look forward to after those first garments are outgrown.

A baby's proportions are very different from that of an adult and an older child. They have large heads. Also, they often do not like being changed. So use a design that allows for easy on and off. Cardigans are an obvious choice. Or look for pullover designs that have a button closure along one or both of the shoulder seams. An example of this type of sweater can be seen above.

Another option is to create a button closure along a raglan seam so that there's large opening for baby's head. On the right, see an example of this style.

Color of yarn

Many parents/parents-to-be know the sex of their baby before the birth. This makes color selection easier. But it doesn't mean that your colors should be limited to pastel blue or pink. There are many wonderful colors available. Babies look especially beautiful in deep jewel tones. If the parents don't know the sex of their baby, consider using a deep red or teal green colored yarn. There are shades of blue that work just as well for both sexes.

Alternatives to sweaters

There are many items other than sweaters to knit for babies. If you want a larger scale project, consider making a blanket. It is helpful to have multiple blankets: one for the car, another for a stroller, or a back-up when one is in the wash.

Another item I enjoy making is booties. It's a great way to use up leftover sock yarn. Babies can have very wiggly feet, so look for designs with a ribbed cuff or an i-cord (or similar) closure so they stay put. Keep in mind that booties and socks for babies are best made for pre-walkers. An infant in booties who is pulling up to a stand, cruising (moving while holding on to hands or furniture) and walking could slip. 

Hats are another fun item to make. Many knitters have made the fruit caps but there are many others to try. Make sure the yarn is soft. Baby foreheads can be especially sensitive to wool. Newborns tend not to have much in the way of necks, so I usually avoid designs with a below-the-chin closure. On the other hand, with older infants (9-12 months), having a below-the-chin strap will ensure that the hat stays on.

Knitting for a baby who has a parent who knits

Some knitters, especially new ones, fret about knitting for a baby of a parent who knits. Don't let this hold you back. A parent who knits will understand and appreciate the work that you put into making a gift. Don't worry about making something to wow the parents. There are many beautiful, simple, and practical designs available today. You will be giving a gift that will be used again and again and treasured.



Melissa Walters lives in Maine with her husband and two children. When she is not with her family and knitting, she works as a PA in a busy health center.

She has been knitting for more than 20 years.