Communal blanket projects are extremely endearing ways to share your love with a friend, especially if they are ill or a new baby is on it’s way. A communal project generally involves a bunch of people who each knit at least one piece, and then all the pieces are joined together into a blanket. I’ve been involved in two communal blankets, and after stumbling across a post on marthastweart.com on a communal baby blanket I thought this might be an excellent opportunity to discuss the ins & outs of this very unique type of project.
Set realistic expectations. You’ll probably be wrangling a bunch of people who are at completely different skill levels and knit at different tensions. No matter what you do, or what kinds of constraints you impose, their pieces are probably going to come out looking completely different; the size, tension, thickness and shape will all probably be unique.Trying to get a bunch of knitters to follow instructions and make perfectly uniform squares is like herding cats. The aesthetic of you communal blanket will likely be kind of “wabi-sabi”, and I suggest you surrender yourself to the process and let go of any dreams of perfect little squares – it is what it is, and you’ll only be making yourself frustrated otherwise.
You need to set some project guidelines, otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of pieces that are impossible to cobble together. If you can, I would choose one yarn and have everyone work with it on the same or similar needle size.
Choose one size of yarn and stick with it. I suggest Worsted, it’s easily available at every level of retailer, in all kinds of different fibres, and is easy for everyone to work with.
Instruct your knitters what size needles to use: 4.5mm/US7 is usually safe for worsted weight yarn. Unless you are working with a group of established, avid knitters, most of your contributions are going to be coming from people who really don’t know anything about tension or needle size, and they need direction.
As I said above, if you can get your knitters to use the same yarn, but in the very likely event that this is not possible, make sure they choose yarns that are Machine Washable. Don’t fret too much over what kind of fibre they choose, the thickness is what matters when it comes to assembly.
Colour is up to you. If you can wrangle your knitters to all work in the same colour palette it would definitely look neat. For example, different shades and textures of the same colour yarn (a monochromatic palette) would be really nice. I’ve noticed over the years that colour is very subjective, and people think about colours in very different ways, which are very hard to communicate. If you are going to ask your knitters to limit themselves to specific colours, I’d keep it simple, stay with colours that are easily communicated, that everyone understands, like white, red, navy blue, black. Don’t ask for ambiguous or overly specific colours (for example salmon, mauve, mustard, royal purple), your knitters are most likely not going to be able to come through. If possible, I’d stick with solid and heathered colours – variegated do not play well with others and when mixed in don’t create any kind of aesthetic harmony or balance (ie. they look like a dog’s breakfast).
It’s a good idea to suggest the number of stitches to cast-on. Your knitters’ work will still come out at different tensions and sizes, but they’ll be somewhat similar, and you’ll have a good idea about how many pieces you need to make the blanket. The standard tension for worsted weight yarn is 5 stitches per inch, multiply that by the number of inches wide you want the square to be:
tension of 5 stitches per inch x 6 inch square = 30 stitches to cast on
- 4 inch square = cast on 20 sts
- 5 inch square = cast on 25 sts
- 6 inch square = cast on 30 sts
- 8 inch square = cast on 40 sts
Don’t bother suggesting the number of rows to your knitters, their row tension will be unique and depends on their stitch pattern and personal tension. You can suggest the type of shape you want (square 6″ x 6″, rectangle 4″ x 6″, etc), but you’ll probably only get an approximation anyway.
I wouldn’t bother asking for anything specific, mix-n-match patterns look cool in a patchwork, and being able to try different stitch patterns will keep your knitters entertained.
Before you start, decide approximately what size you want your blanket to be. Based on this you’ll need to figure out what size you want your squares should be. Say we want to make a baby blanket approximately 32″ x 32″, find a number that divides easily into the length of one side, and that can be the size of a square (32 divides nicely by 4 and 8):
Length of blanket / Length of a square = number of squares you’ll need to make that side
32″ Blanket / 4″ square = 8 squares on each side.
To find the total number of squares required:
8 squares up the side x 8 squares along the bottom = 64 squares total
64 squares seems like a lot to get people to make, and also to assemble. That might be a bit ambitious. Let’s try again with the other number that worked with a 32″ length, 8″ squares:
32″ Blanket / 8″ square = 4 squares on each side.
4 squares up the side x 4 squares along the bottom = 16 squares total
16 squares sounds much more manageable! You could also used 6″ squares to make a 36″ x 36″ blanket (you’ll need 36 squares that are 6″ x 6″).
Now that you have an idea of how many squares need to be made, finalize the total number of knitters. Don’t give more than one square to your less experienced knitters, unless they want to. It’s a lot more work for them than it is for a seasoned knitter.
Regardless of how you plan to join your squares, ask your knitters to leave nice long ends! If you’re going to crochet around the edges and then join the pieces you only need about a 6″ end to weave it in. If you are going to seam the pieces together with the ends, ask your knitters to leave the ends about 3 times the length of the square (this is a pretty generous approximation) – and don’t forget to ask for a long cast on strand too (although they may not have the skill to do this, so you might not get your wish). That said, I think it makes life easier to weave in the ends and join the squares with a separate strand of yarn – if you have to undo your squares and take things out it will make life MUCH easier. You can ask your knitters to weave in their ends, but they may not know how, or at least how to make it look nice, so you might want to do it yourself.
Extra yarn can be extremely useful when it comes time to assembling the blanket. You may need to crochet around the edge, add an inch in length, or make a whole extra square to make the composition look balanced. Do not be shy about asking your contributors for the leftover yarn from their square/s.
You’ll need to block your squares before assembling them. I suggest you wash them in Eucalan or Soak and lay them flat to dry. If some of the stitch patterns naturally contract (like ribbing) you might need to pin them down to really flatten them out. Ribbing, cables and lace all need to be blocked to get their true size and shape.
Lay your squares out on a flat surface (table, floor) and get an idea of which square fits where. The pieces probably won’t line up exactly. It’s not actually a bad thing if they are very wonky, you can always knit some pieces to fill in odd spaces. Otherwise you can crochet around the edge of a piece that is too small to bring it up to size. Once you’ve got your pieces laid organized, take a picture of the arrangement as a reference (you’ll have to reclaim the table at some point).
You can join your squares in a number of ways:
- To create some uniformity, crochet around the edge of each piece and seam together using Mattress Stitch (use a single crochet stitch, the crab stitch won’t work well here since we are joining the pieces). You can use the same colour for the crochet edge or a bunch of different ones, it’s up to you and the aesthetic you’re going for (this is a great way to use up scraps!)
- For a fast, easy, but slightly raised seam, you can use a Slip Stitch Crochet Join.
- If you want a simple, flat seam use Mattress Stitch. With mattress stitch you can also try to stretch your squares into shape and try to force them into a space. One caveat, I don’t feel they really ever truly submit – if the square is strained or compressed it’ll always look that way (poor little square).
You don’t have to make a border around the entire blanket, but it will unify the piece (as much as it can).
You can do a few types of edges:
- If you joined the pieces using a slip stitch crochet you might want to continue with this look. For a slightly more substantial border you can also do a row of Single Crochet after your slip stitch row.
- You can pick up the stitches along the edge, knit a few rows of garter stitch, and cast off. It is easiest to do this one side at a time, log-cabin style.
Whatever techniques you use, you’ll be picking up stitches and you’ll have to eyeball your tension to make sure your piece isn’t buckling in places. It’s more art thank science – c’est la vie.
Above is my Niece Lucy’s communal baby blanket. My brother commissioned it as a gift to my sister-in-law for the birth of their first child. I advised on the project, their extremely generous friend Heather put it together, and the squares were made by a broad group of friends and family (the duckies were made by my mom, the log cabin pieces are mine, and I think the little sail boat and sheep were Heather’s. As a baby Lucy loved looking at all the different pieces (especially the big duck – score one for my mom). Lucy’s dolls still enjoy and use her blanket.