Thoreau on spring: “This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions. It convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side.”
Having purged my own winter-related fumes and indigestions, I feel it appropriate to return to work with a post on booties. What could be more spring-like than a celebration of new life? My inspiration is my friend Andy, who has begun a project of knitting booties for babies in the hospital. She asked me for advice on how to knit them; accordingly, I am writing up and sharing the blueprint I use for booties. This is a blueprint that has evolved over the years, becoming more and more efficient as my knitting knowledge grew. They are knit entirely in one piece, leaving you with only the first and last yarn ends to weave in.
The blueprint requires no math (other than an ability to divide by 3) and no particular yarn or needle size. Use whatever you have at hand (assuming, of course, that what you have at hand is suitable for soft tender baby toes, and that the needles you have make sense given the weight of your yarn). The booties are knit in one piece from the top down, and require only one teeny little seam up the back of the leg. They are worked back and forth, and can be knit on straight needles or circular.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED: non-itchy, soft yarn; needles (straights or circular) of a size appropriate to your non-itchy, soft yarn; one extra needle in the same size or smaller (in a pinch you can use a chopstick or any slender tapering object…); one tapestry needle.
- Cast on enough stitches to fit around the leg in question. In my example, I used worsted yarn and a size 5 US needle to cast on 18 stitches for a bootie that would fit a baby aged 3 – 6 months. The number will vary with your yarn, tension, needle size, and baby leg size. If there is a particular pattern stitch you wish to use for the leg, take that into account when you cast on. Make sure your cast on is reasonably stretchy. Ideally, the number of stitches cast on would be divisible by three. Even this is not a hard and fast rule, however, as will be discussed later.
- Work back and forth over these stitches until the length is what you want for the leg before the foot begins – later on, you will be seaming the sides together into a tube, but don’t worry about that right now. I worked my demo bootie in garter stitch (knit every row), but of course you can use whatever pattern stitch you want: lace, ribbing, cables, colour chart, whatever. For those new to knitting, if you use stockinette (knit the right side rows, purl the wrong side rows) it will curl. The resulting rolled over brim could be a cute effect, but just be sure this is what you want.
- OPTIONAL: when the leg is long enough, you can add an eyelet row before you start shaping the foot. The eyelets are little holes through which you can insert a ribbon or an i-cord. For those who can read knitting abbreviations, an eyelet row would be written as k1 *yo, k2tog* rep to end. For those who do not read or speak knittingese, this means knit one stitch at the beginning of the row, then do something called a yarnover (abbreviated as YO). To do this, you just bring the yarn between your needles to the front, then lay it OVER the top of the needle in your right hand. Once it is on top of that needle, insert your right hand needle knitwise into the next TWO stitches, and knit them together. A yarnover makes a hole, as well as an extra stitch – that is why each one is balanced out with a decrease. When you get to the end of the row, if you have one stitch left over rather than two, just knit it and don’t worry about putting a yarnover in. It is probably a good idea to count your stitches again at this point – you should have the same number as when you started.
- Okay, remember how I said cast on a number divisible by three? It is time to start making the foot, and it is pleasingly symmetrical to divide the stitches into 3 equal groups – a group for each side of the foot, and one group for the top of the foot You can totally fudge this however – just make sure the side groups are equal and then the top of the foot group can be more or less by one or two stitches. So here is what you do now:
- With whatever side you have facing at this point, knit across the first 2/3 of your stitches. Stop. Turn your work. Working in either garter stitch (again, knitting every row) or stockinette (knitting the right side, purling the wrong side), or your own choice of pattern stitch – the sample uses stockinette for the top of the foot but you don’t have to – work across the centre 1/3 only. Stop and turn again. In the example, I cast on 18 stitches – so that means that for this step I knit across 12 stitches, then turned and knit 6 stitches, and then kept working these 6 centre stitches over and over. Keep going, working only this group of stitches in the middle until you have created a centre strip that strikes you as being long enough to cover the top of the foot in question. Oh – for the next step you will want to pick up stitches with the right side facing you, so be sure to finish your centre strip with a wrong side row.
- Now that you have finished the top of the foot, it is time to pick up stitches along the side of the panel you have just created and re-connect to the sides. For the picking up stitches process, I have chosen a method that is relatively easy for non-bendy straight needles as well as circulars. OK – with the right side facing, knit across your centre panel. When you get to the end of your centre panel, gaze at the leftmost column of stiches running along the side of it. Give this left side a gentle tug, and observe the strands that connect this column to the rest of the panel. Take your LEFT needle, and insert it under one of the strands close to it. Continue to insert it under these strands, skipping one every now and again so that your left needle is basically woven through these strands. Pay attention to how many you pick up this way – you will want to duplicate this number on the other side.
- Alright – you are ready to knit down your freshly picked up stitches, so do that and then keep knitting through your neglected side stitches to the end of the row. From here on, work everything in garter stitch – no more purling. OK – now that you have finished that right side row, you need to work back on the wrong side. For those of you who say “Hey – I know I need to pick up stitches on the other side of the foot, and I know I can’t pick up stitches on the wrong side!” I say “Relax. All will be revealed, and by all I mean a method for picking up stitches invisibly on the wrong side.”
- So – on the wrong side knit across all your stitches to where the unpicked up cliff-like edge of the centre panel is. When you get there, turn your work so the right side is facing you. Now take your RIGHT needle, and do exactly what you did on the other side of the centre panel – pick up the strands that join the last column of stitches to the rest of the panel. Ideally you want to pick up the same number that you picked up on the first side of course, but judicious fudging by increasing or decreasing later can take care of any inequalities. Once those stitches are picked up, turn your work again so you have the wrong side facing you again. Knit across your newly picked up stitches – observe how the less-than-lovely seam from picking up stitches remains hidden on the wrong side where it belongs.
- This part is easy – just knit a few rows in garter stitch over all the stitches, back and forth, until you think you have a good height for the foot. This could be anywhere from, say, 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch or more.
- Okay, with whatever side is facing you, knit across the original side group of stitches, the picked up stitches, and ONE STITCH LESS than the centre group of stitches. Knit this last stitch together with the next stitch (through the back loop if you are facing the wrong side, and through the front loop if you are facing the right side). Stop and turn your work. Knit across your centre panel, again knitting the last stitch of this centre panel together with the next stitch, either through the back loop for a wrong side row or the front loop for a right side row. Keep doing this as you work down through the foot.
About half way down the foot, depending on how wide your bootie is and whether you have an odd or even number of stitches in the panel, you could narrow a bit for a heel by just knitting some stitches together on the centre panel. You will need to have an EVEN number of stitches on this panel for the bind off, so be sure you decrease as necessary to have an even number on the centre panel before you get to the end. You probably don’t want to have more than, say, 6 or 4 stitches left on the centre, in order to have a nice small heel. Keep going until the number of stitches left on the sides add up to equal the number of stitches on the bottom. For example, 3 on each side and 6 in the middle, or 2 on each side and 4 in the middle.
12. To do a 3 needle bind off of these stitches, you will need to slip the centre panel stitches to their own needle (with the yarn in position to begin knitting). Liberate the side stitches and observe how they must be joined together in order to start the seam that goes up the back of the leg. Join them on their own needle, again orienting them so that this needle is positioned to use the same yarn as the centre panel. This is easiest to do with double pointed needles, but can also be accomplished easily enough with regular needles.
13. OK – hold both needles parallel with each other. Insert a 3rd needle through the first stitch on the front needle AND through the first stitch on the rear needle. Pull a loop through both stitches – just like regular knitting – and pull both stitches off their respective needles. You now have one regular stitch on your right needle. Repeat with the next stitch on both needles. You now have two regular stitches on your right needle. Slip that first stitch over your second stitch, just like a regular bind off. Keep going across the remaining stitches, knitting stitches from both needles at once then binding them off. Work until your last stitch, then cut the yarn, leaving a thread long enough for seaming up the back of your bootie. Alternately, of course, you could also use a kitchener stitch to graft these stitches together instead of the bind off. Kitchener is more elegant, but I think there is something kind of fun about the chunky bind off on the booties.
The end: thread that yarn you just snipped through your tapestry needle, and begin seaming them together. Essentially, seaming is just inserting your tapestry needle up through a stitch on one side, then up through the parallel corresponding stitch on the other side. Then insert your needle up through the next stitch up on the first side, and across to the parallel corresponding stitch on the other. Remember that only one side gets the next up stitch, and the other side always gets the parallel stitch and you should be fine.
And voila – one little bootie made! I hope this post inspires you to play around with different knitting techniques, adding colour or lace or cables… or that it inspires you to join Andy in ensuring that babies in hospitals have booties!