Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Our Vintage Baby

Last year when our eldest daughter, Evie, told us that she and her husband Zack were expecting a baby we were all thrilled. This would be our first grandchild, the second for Zack's parents. My mind immediately turned to the all important task of baby knitting.

Evie and Zack decided that they did not want to know the sex of their baby before it was born. As Zack said, there are not that many important good surprises in life so he didn't want to give up this one. Evie was adamant that she wanted traditional baby clothes. She loves vintage. She particularly dislikes the modern fashion for dressing babies like mini adults, particularly dressing them in jeans. When you come to think of it, jeans must be so uncomfortable for a little baby. I started rummaging in my massive vintage pattern collection for likely items.

Very old books from the 1920s and earlier have delightful baby patterns. However, I decided to pass up "Baby's second set of stays", knitted binders, pilchers and vests. See my post on Ella Allan's delightful books. In Australia at least, it does not get cold enough to dress a baby in four layers of wool. The SIDS people would tell us we were overdoing it, too. However, there are some delightful patterns in these very old books.

Here is some beautiful antique baby knitting I found on Pinterest.

This set, with detachable sleeves, is from the 1850s and appears to be in remarkably good condition. It has been beaded all over. I have only recently seen instructions for beaded knitting but have not yet tried it. You slip the stitch off the needle and hook it through the centre of the bead with a tiny crochet hook, then slip it back onto the needle and knit it. Ingenious. However, although they seem secure, I do not like the idea of beads for babies. This set was probably knitted in silk.

There was nothing for it, I had to knit two baby ensembles, one for a girl and one for a boy. My partner Geoff couldn't understand why I was doing this, and said he couldn't see why we couldn't put a dress on a baby boy. OK, I know they dressed small boys in dresses until early last century, but it wasn't going to happen for any potential grandson of mine. 

 This little cherub looks very smart. Walter, by the way, was the surname of the photographer, not the name of the boy.

The image above, taken in 1870, is also a boy. Note his military style hat!

I really wanted to make a lacy dress so I chose this pattern from an Eve Lyn book from the 1940s.

I have mentioned Evelyn Bellamy's books in an earlier post. They are delightful. I had bought a pile of 2 ply baby wool on special so I chose this 2 ply pattern:

I made the dress, jacket, bonnet and bootees. Vintage patterns can be tricky to follow. They often assume a lot of knowledge on the part of the knitter. This lacy pattern was certainly tricky and I had to pull it undone a few times, which is really annoying when you have 141 tiny stitches. My mother added her special touch with some "grub roses".

Here it is: 

And some close ups:

That lacy pattern really did my head in, but it turned out beautiful. Now for a boy's outfit. I checked with the expectant mother and she enthusiastically gave her approval to this other Eve Lyn pattern:

I had always wanted to try knitted "smocking" so I gave this a go. Evie's grandmother is a talented embroiderer and particularly loves smocking. I put in an order for smocked rompers. My mother was sceptical, saying "She won't put those on him these days". Evie said she most definitely would but my mother is not convinced. Here is my knitted set for a boy:

My mother contributed her bit with the embroidered bees across the yoke. Here is a close up:

And the jacket - shortened from the coat in the pattern:

Just when I thought I was finished, I was sewing it up and referred to the making up instructions because I hadn't much experience attaching collars. I know, you should always read the recipe right through before you start cooking, but of course I hadn't. The instructions said "Work over the smocking in silk." What the heck does that mean? I decided to skip it. They also said "Work a row of chain stitch above the smocking in wool." I decided I was too lazy and would skip that too. However, "Work a picot edge in crochet around the edge of the collar and cuff ruffles" had to be done, but how? I'd done it years ago but had forgotten. I managed to work out something that looked acceptable.

So, which one gets gifted and which gets archived?

 Henry was born on 27th March. He is the most gorgeous little boy imaginable, with a mass of black hair (and a voracious appetite!). Here he is:

So, the little dress and layette will have to be archived. Wrapped up in tissue paper and some how moth proofed. I'm thinking cedar balls. Can I trust them? It would be a tragedy to find moth holes when a grand daughter arrives one day. The little romper set is a bit big yet. It will probably fit Henry when it's the middle of winter here, so my mother bought him some leggings to go underneath, for the Elizabethan look!

And to finish off, Easter.
I saw this pattern on Craftsy and I couldn't resist it. I put it with the little faun I crocheted him for Easter:

Maybe I'll make something for myself now...but maybe not.


  1. We have a photo of my grandpa in a dress with rather curly hair. He used to talk about it as being taken "when I was a little girl". So it seems fashions are strange in any era.

    The gifts you made for your grandson are just gorgeous and I'm sure they'll be well-loved.

  2. Thank you. He just had his first sick on a Nana made jacket today.

  3. Just found your blog while looking for info on an old Patons yarn. Thank you, I found the details here.
    But now I'm off to read more as I too, have a love of old vintage knitting patterns. Mine is with baby ones.
    Love both sets. But I was drawn to the smocked set immediately. Henry (beautiful old name too) is gorgeous. Definitely need an action photo with his special set

  4. At the rate he is growing the smocked suit will be fitting him very soon! I will certainly post a photo when it does.

  5. Congratulations! We have a picture of my dad (born 1948) in a dress as a baby (and it wasn't just his big sister dressing him up!)