Design Tips for Baby And Children’s Knits

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For many knitters, nothing is more enjoyable than knitting baby or children’s garments. They are smaller and much faster to make than adult knits. It’s wrong to think that kid’s designs are simply mini versions of adult styles. Baby and children’s sweaters are not only smaller, but the proportions are different from an adult’s. Motifs that look great on an adult sweater are most likely unsuitable on a child’s sweater. It’s important to understand kid’s proportions and adjust your approach, so that the baby or child is comfortable in their new knit garment.

Body Proportions

Children have large heads in proportion to their bodies. Babies and toddlers don’t have much of a neck. Necks become more defined as the baby grows and their proportions change. Babies are basically a tube shape, with no natural waistline to help keep a garment in place. Children’s waist and wrists are thicker than those of adults. The neckline, waist and wrists are key areas that need addressing when choosing patterns or designing a garment.

Kid’s patterns are written or sized according to age and chest measurements. The following chart is from the Craft Yarn Council (yarnstandards.com). The numbers reflect standardized body measurements. These are actual body measurements that do not include ease, and are only a guideline. Measure a child under the arms, and add a generous amount of ease, at least 2in(5cm) to the finished measurement. When choosing a pattern, if the chest measurement is between two sizes, pick the larger one. For new babies, make the 3 or 6 month size, so they can at least wear the item for a short period of time. If the pattern gives both chest and finished measurements, it’s easy to figure out the amount of ease that’s incorporated, by subtracting one measurement from the other.

actual body measurement charts for babies and children

For Babies

  • want to combine style and wearability.
  • since garments are small, designs should have simple lines and small stitch patterns. 
  • too many details are overwhelming on a small body.
  • large stitch patterns and oversized motifs look out of proportion in a limited space, and overwhelm a small body.
  • easy on and off garments are best for babies and toddlers.
  • because of their big heads, the most common fitting problem is a tight neckline, particularly with crewnecks and turtlenecks. The neckline must be made wide. The way to avoid this problem is to make an opening in the neckline. Choose from these techniques: buttons at the shoulder, front neck placket, zipper in the shoulder or raglan seam, and keyhole opening in the back. Instead, you can opt for a cardigan, problem solved.
  • avoid back neck openings with buttons on garments for newborns or small babies. When lying on their backs, this style will be uncomfortable.
  • wide necklines such as a boat or envelope, and V-necks are other good options.
  • crossover or ballerina styles that are tied at the side are cute and practical.
  • don’t make a jacket or coat too long for toddlers, or they will trip over their little feet.
  • because of their tube shape and no waist, A-line shapes for coats and cardigans work well. Slits at side hems of sweaters have the same effect.
  • make sure there is enough ease when working with thick or bulky yarns, or the project won’t fit well. The thicker the yarn, the more ease you should add.
  • minimal shaping at the wrists and wristbands is important.
  • it’s important to not include features that could harm a baby, like glass or metal buttons and beads. These are details that they could swallow or chew. I’m always leary of small buttons on baby clothes.
  • a great first design project for babies is a sweat shirt shape with drop shoulders. Measure one they have and then build extra room into it. Use simple stockinette or garter stitch, so you don’t have to fiddle with stitch repeats.

For Children

  • children’s knit garments are still small, so similar rules apply as for babies, simple lines and smaller pattern stitches and motifs.
  • however, as children get older you can add more details, like collars and pockets. Children often have more say or ideas about what they want to wear. You can involve them in the process of choosing style, yarn and colour.
  • children grow quickly, outgrowing clothes before they wear them out. Make enough room for one year’s growth or a generous amount of ease.
  • make deep armholes and wide sleeve tops.
  • necklines should still be on the wide side.
  • zippers are practical for children’s clothes.

Choosing Yarn

There are a variety of fiber options to choose from including wool, cotton, and bamboo. Don’t limit yourself to the go-to acrylic, that people assume is best for kids. Regardless of the fiber type, choosing washable yarns is the most important characteristic to consider when making kid’s garments. The fiber should also be gentle against their skin and durable. And if you want to use cashmere, I won’t judge. Children can be involved in this process. As with designing any project, the yarn should be chosen based on the stitch pattern, the season in which the garment is worn and the wearer.

You can extend the life of a garment!

Children outgrow clothes very quickly, but you can make some modifications to extend the life of a child’s knit garment.

The most obvious solution is to make the garment oversized or go up a size in a pattern. Knit the cuffs twice as long as they need to be. To begin with they can wear the cuffs turned back, and let down the extra to cover lengthening arms. You can also start with a longer, tunic style. These two changes potentially add an extra year of wear. I think kids look sweet in oversized sweaters and coats.

Some alterations can be made by reworking sections of a garment. Extending the length of sleeves and front and back pieces is only doable in stockinette or garter stitch. For example, if you want to later add length to a sweater, it’s best to knit from the top down, so it’s easier to lengthen, adding inches to the bottom of the sweater and sleeves. Drop shoulders are easily modified when worked from the top down, that is knitting from the armhole down instead of cuff up. Later unravel the ribbing or edging at the bottoms, and add the desired length. 

Alternatively, ribbing can be cut off from a garment; unravel a row or two of stitches across the garment, then pick-up the live stitches and rework the length. Don’t be afraid to cut a knit fabric, just try to do it evenly, and by unraveling a few rows the work will be aligned, ready to pick-up the stitches. You may have other creative solutions that can extend the life of a child’s garment.

The most important consideration when designing for children is that their bodies are not shaped like adults. Making oversized garments and modifying certain sections of them allows for growth. The beauty of children’s knits is that they can be handed down or passed on to the next child, and they won’t even bat an eye at the prospect of being given something old.

knit baby vest