One-piece baby sleeper

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I love this outfit! I've knit it for almost every baby in the family. It's from a 1981 Needleworks publication titled To Baby ... With Love by Linda Dec Vikla. The outfit is big so I knit the 6 month size because the feet are not “walking” feet. It's a fun knit and a perfect gift for older babies (6-9+ months). Through the years I'm made minor pattern corrections, mostly about where to end the knitting to begin the eyelet rows. While it's a lot of knitting and a lot of seaming, the quality and durability of the garment has always been worth it.

The beauty on the left is my granddaughter Natalie wearing the newest version. This one was knit with Rowan Pure Wool 4 ply (a superwash wool) in a gorgeous raspberry color. The beauty on the right is my niece Elisa and is the first sleeper I knit (Elisa recently graduated from law school!) Below is one knit for my niece Karla and this one was passed down for two of my daughters to wear.

A true classic and almost heirloom pattern!

Note: The waist and feet are fitted to the baby with the use of ties. To prevent the ties from being pulled they are stitched to the garment at the center backs.

Anne of Green Gables - Cotton Warp Quilts

Saturday, November 13, 2010
A few years ago I was rereading the Anne of Green Gable books when I ran across this passage:
"Yet with all this Mrs. Rachel found abundant time to sit for hours at her kitchen window, knitting "cotton warp" quilts - she had knitted sixteen of them, as Avonlea housekeepers were want to tell in awed voices."
Anne of Green Gables
Chaper I
Later in the series there are references to the quilts as spreads and having patterns:
"Mrs. Rachel has given you one of her beloved knitted quilts of the tobacco stripe pattern and she says when I am married she'll give me one, too."
Anne of the Island
Chapter XXIX

" 'I'm going to give Anne two of my cotton warp spreads,' she
resumed. 'A tobacco-stripe one and an apple-leaf one. She tells me they're getting to be real fashionable again' "
Anne's House of Dreams
Chapter II

So what was she knitting and what was she knitting it with? It took me awhile to do the research and even longer to write a blog post but this question pops up periodically in knitting forums and it is always answered in pieces. So I've collected those pieces, added a little research of my own, and hope to make a one post comprehensive answer. Here goes:

The Annotated Anne of Green Gables By Lucy Maud Montgomery, Margaret Anne Doody, Mary E. Doody Jones and Wendy E. Barry has the following note to "'cotton warp' quilt" :
"A particular type of yarn sold in stores and identified as such on the label. When it first came in, in the 1820s, this very soft yarn was used principally for weaving. What Mrs. Lynde makes is, strictly speaking, not a quilt but a bedspread. The common way of making such spreads with cotton or other thread is to knit squares on the bias and stitch them together, but Mrs. Lynde's quilt knitting involves elaborate lacy patterns. Montgomery herself knitted three such patterned quilts (see Appendix, "Homemade Artifacts")."
And the Appendix passage which is from Montgomery's 1914 journals:
"Today I began to knit a quilt...There have been so many days lately that I could do absolutely nothing,...Now, knitting has always had a good effect on me when I was I began the quilt. It doesn't matter if I never finish it. Quilt knitting in this particular pattern especially always makes me think of Malpeque. I spent a winter there once with Aunt Emily. Every girls and woman in Malpeque had knitted, was knitting, or intended to knit a quilt -- some of them several quilts. They possessed so many patterns and considerable rivalry went on. Lace knitting was very popular also. I caught the fever and began a quilt. I think I was three years knitting it. It was very pretty but wore out long ago. Ten years ago I knitted a second which I still have."
What was Mrs. Rachel knitting?
Mrs. Rachel was knitting a counterpane with cotton warp yarn. This activity became extremely popular from the mid 19th century thru the early 20th century and its popularity is also noted in this story from The Gentleman's Magazine, July to December 1893
"We sit round in a circle in the best parlour, and are very solemn, and tea is handed round. Then we talk--at least the others do; for until the men come the women talk about nothing else but recipes for bacon-pickles and knitted cotton counterpanes. They make the counterpanes in little square or oblong bits, which are afterwards sewn together. They each have a piece which they are knitting, and there are hundreds of patterns in which they may be done; they discuss each pattern, so it takes a good long time."
A Village Fragment
by Mary Hartier
What are Knitted Cotton Counterpanes?
A knitted cotton counterpane (counterpane, bedspread and coverlet are synonyms) is composed of squares, triangles, stripes or other shapes of knitted pieces that are sewn together to make a bed-cover. The word counterpane is also frequently used to refer to the patterned knit pieces themselves.

A knitted counterpane pattern from Godey's Lady's Book, July, 1860 (a modern pattern translation is here)

Additional knitted counterpane patterns:
  • Bedspread (Counterpane with Leaves)
  • Leaf Bedspread
  • Quilt (Square Counterpane with Leaves)
  • Rose Leaf Counterpane

  • Knitting Counterpanes: Traditional Coverlet Patterns for Contemporary Knitters by Mary Walker Phillips is a popular resource book for contemporary counterpane knitters.

    What are the patterns for Mrs. Rachael's counterpanes?
    The specific patterns used for the two counterpanes mentioned (A tobacco-stripe one and an apple-leaf one) are not known. Leaves are very common patterns used for counterpanes and there are many variations of tobacco and apple leaf patterns. Mrs. Rachael worked the tobacco leaf pattern in a stripe (a long narrow band) but the shape of the apple leaf pattern is not mentioned.

    What is cotton warp yarn?
    Cotton warp yarn is cotton spun to be a strong and durable yarn for use in the warp of a woven fabric. Cotton warp yarn was (and still is) an easily available and economical choice for knitting a bedspread, as well as other household items.

    The size of cotton yarn used for a counterpane would depend on whether a light or heavy bedspread was wanted. No yarn size specifics are given in the Anne of Green Gables literature or by L. Maud Montgomery. I provide it here for additional detail and interest.

    Cotton yarn size is given with two numbers and is best explained by Rachel Brown in her book The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book, ed.1987.
    "These are numbers by which yarn size and ply are described.... Cotton, linen, woolen, and worsted yarns can all be described by count. #1 describes the size of the yarn that will be produced when spinning a certain base yardage from 1 pound of fiber.... For cotton, No. 1 is the size thread that results from spinning 840 yards from 1 pound of cotton fiber. #2 would be the size thread if twice this yardage (1,680 yards) was spun from 1 pound of cotton... #10 would be a thread 8,400 yds long weighing 1 pound. So the higher the number, the finer the thread. This is single-ply thread.... When the thread is plied, the number of plies is given along with the thread size, as 10/2 (2 plies of #10 thread) or 6/3 (3 plies of #6 thread). The first number is the size of the thread and the second number tells how many threads of this size there are in the final plied yarn."

    Comparison Chart
    Cotton Yarn Size #Approximate Weight
    8/4DK (double knitting)

    That's it! I now know what Mrs. Rachael was knitting and why they were so highly valued. Someday I wouldn't mind knitting one myself.

    Update 10/3/2015: Read about my adventures in knitting a pattern square for a counterpane from the vintage book A Knitting-Book of Counterpanes.