Crochet Form and Function: The Lost Art Of Handmade Baby Blankets

When I was a very young girl, my grandmother was always sitting at the kitchen table crocheting. Often, she would use a fine cotton thread with a hook that had a head so small you couldn’t really see it. Handmade baby blankets– a lost art.

I would marvel at how her hands moved effortlessly back and forth and, as if by magic, beneath her hands delicate lace would appear. It was only as an adult that I realized it was the incredible strength of her agrarian raised hands that made it appear so subtle.

She would make me the most stunning outfits, dresses, suits and jumpers. As wonderful as they looked they were often itchy. I mean they were look for the closest mud puddle and fling yourself into it, itchy. The yarns of the past were frequently rough to the touch. There is a definite elegance to crochet work. The way the yarn twists and turns together lets you watch it evolve into something else. The transition from the simple strand to the complex weave is sublime. The transition is more than visual.

A simple strand of cotton thread has very little elasticity and somehow the finished cloth has stretch. This kind of give allows the garment to be form fitting and still comfortable. Crochet is the visual art of lines and spaces. It balances the open spaces with tendrils twisted and pulled into shapes. It is this balance of lines and spaces that allows it to be a suitable art for all seasons.

This is true because body heat is both trapped and released based on the density of the stitches and the type of yarn. The characteristics of crochet itself lend themselves well to afghan construction. How many times have you been cold and snuggled up in the warmest blanket you could find only to find yourself uncomfortably sweaty 20 minutes later? You are in a cycle of getting cold bundling up and flinging the blanket off again in frustration. Or worse, you are really really cold and no matter what you do you just can’t get warm and your feet feel like 30 pound blocks of ice.

Crochet afghans are the answer to that problem. When the appropriate yarns are used you can sustain body heat without becoming overheated. This low-tech art form is the perfect defense to one of our most heart breaking afflictions, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have recommended that mothers put their infants to bed in a sleeping sack without additional bedding. Their reasoning for this recommendation is clear. As many as 25% of the deaths annually attributed to SIDS are associated with over-heating and/or asphyxiation caused by bedding materials. Infants poorly regulate their own body temperatures and are unable to adjust their heads once they have worked their bodies underneath bedding. Well-intentioned parents responding to the instinct to bundle their babies and keep them warm often use blankets made from tightly woven materials.

Tightly woven materials have restricted airflow. Restricted airflow creates a build up of lost body heat from the infant and can cause the infant to overheat. The infant does not have the strength or coordination to deliberately extricate its body from beneath the blanket. In the extreme, this circumstance maintains a dangerously elevated brain temperature and results in death. Restricted airflow is also the culprit for the second facet of this issue with bedding.

Infants frequently manage to squirm underneath bedding and their faces become covered by the blanket. Again, because infants lack the ability to extricate themselves when this occurs they are essentially trapped. As they exhale carbon dioxide, it builds up beneath the blanket near their nose and mouth and their oxygen levels plummet. The tragic result can be death by asphyxiation. No parent reasonable parent wants to put his or her baby at risk but fighting the instinct and cultural tradition to bundle up a baby can be an enormous undertaking. It is an unnecessary battle.

The wonder of crochet is that with all its spaces, when the proper yarns are used, it can maintain warmth and allow positive airflow. With the appropriate stitches, there is no danger to the infant of strangulation because the openings are too small. (Premature babies require blankets with smaller stitching for safety.) In economic terms, crochet afghans are the point at which parental instinct and infant safety meet, equilibrium (Shameless plug imminent)

At Fresh From the Farm, our Grandma’s Love Afghans line provides a wide variety of baby afghans generously sized 46 inches by 46 inches. Wrap your baby in Grandma’s love. In short, (I know it’s a little late for that) the new yarns now available have completely elevated the potential of crochet from the visually spectacular to the total package.