I shall begin by saying that finding legitimate, antique knitting patterns for baby blankets is next to impossible. There are patterns out there, but all the ones I’ve found have been so basic, I was not inclined to take on any of those projects. One I found, from the 1907 Home Needlework Magazine, was literally knit for 10 or so rows, switch colors, purl for 10 rows, then knit again for the foreseeable future. Another pattern used knit and purl stitches to create a check pattern (the Antique Pattern Library is a treasure trove). 1920’s era knitted blankets are rare and I have a working theory as to why that is.
Many of the patterns assume the reader has a general knowledge of crochet and knit stitches. In fact, it is common to see crochet and knitting patterns mixed together as though they were interchangable parts of the same needlework whole. The domestic arts of sewing and needlework were standard in the education of young women. Assuming most women knew the basics of knitting and crochet, I can’t imagine they were in need of patterns for square blankets. Bonnets, rompers, and sweaters are much more common in the pattern libraries while crib blankets are rare and typically very basic. Even the more complex pieces are simple in terms of stitches. Most of the patterns I observed in the pattern library from pre-1940 or so didn’t have many more stitches beyond knit, purl, increase, and decrease. Lace stitches, cabling, or even ribbing were not incorporated for the most part. Perhaps a stitch would be purposefully dropped to create a buttonhole.
Further, the instructions of some of these patterns are vague to the point of feeling impossible by modern standards. The mode of communicating what should be done assumes a great deal of vocabulary and knowledge that modern patterns as a rule tend to avoid. For example, rather than say, “Row 1 (RS): knit to end; Row 2 (WS): purl to end; repeat for 15 rows” an antique pattern would say something like “Stockinette stitch for 3 inches.”
So my theory is that antique patterns assume a certain working base of knowledge that would in turn negate the need for most women to have interest in a pattern for a crib blanket. It’s a square – most women in 1920 could manage a crib blanket just fine without a pattern.
When searching for patterns for this project, much of what I encountered in published books was designated not as antique but as “vintage”. This is of course because published authors must ensure that their knitting patterns are unique, lest copyright be infringed. But regardless if the patterns are inspired by antique patterns or literally patterns handed down generations, these knitting books are much to consumed by full page spreads of perfectly lit close-ups of adorable babies in finished knitted garments that there is no historical background shared by the author. Patterns are not dated nor trends and designs explained in historical context. All you get as a reader is that these patterns are vintage (inspired). Promise you’re knitting just like great grandma. No really. Just trust me.
I picked up a couple of these vintage knitting books in my initial raid of the library. The patterns are ADORABLE. Additional perks include lovely pictures where everything is clean and perfect, which is somehow soothing, comprehensive step by step directions that require little to no background stitch or construction knowledge, and pictures of the garment on an adorable baby, so you can see what it is supposed to look like once finished. The siren song of these patterns is strong. But the history!
I eventually ended up choosing a crib blanket pattern from Vintage Knits for Modern Babies by Hadley Fierlinger. The pattern is simple but incorporates a lace pattern that is interesting enough to keep my attention (or so I thought).
I’ve been working on this blanket for several months now, in earnest ever since I finished my sweater set. I found that it is going to take A LOT more time than I thought with such small needles. After cramping my hands at the Lyceum for the Living History Society last month and still completing only enough to suffice for a partial crib skirt, I have been feeling annoyed with the project. It went on time-out for a week or two after that.
My most pressing question is to figure out what kind of “vintage” this pattern is. I searched across the Antique Pattern Library, trying to find similar patterns employing basic lace stitches but nothing was really to be found in early 20th century publications.
After allowing myself to branch out somewhat (and rejecting the urge to search only in the time period bound by this project), I found a similar pattern in a booklet of baby patterns published by Wool Novelty Co. Inc. in 1949.
This pattern is crocheted but it incorporates a basic lace pattern in the body of the blanket, with a sewn on ruffle. You can make a matching bonnet too! The style of it is close to what you might have found on the needles of expectant moms in the post-war era.
By 1949, the communication style of the patterns also has modernized, looking so much more like what I am used to in the modern pattern books. I can actually follow the instructions blindly without needing to translate much. Finally, the style of the bonnets and sweaters are much more my taste than the items in the early 1910’s and 1920’s publications.
Is this project living like great grandma? Not really. If I were living like great grandma, I’d venture my own simple crib blanket composed of knits and purls, probably in white and pink (regardless of the gender of the baby and the color scheme of the nursery). This project is more living like grandma. And given that my grandma was the one who taught me to knit and crochet, I suppose it’s appropriate tribute.
I swear I’m going to get more serious about accuracy in the project. Someday. >__>