How to Make a Temperature Blanket
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
Temperature blankets are special things. They tell the story of one year in one location - for better or for worse. They make excellent mementos and gifts for this exact reason. They are also an excellent project to help keep you grounded in time throughout the year. Conveniently, this post goes live on January 1st, 2021 - just in time for you to start a temperature blanket for your year!
The most important choices for this project happen at the beginning:
Air temperature or mood? The latter can be a great reflective exercise at the end of each day.
--->Depending on what data is available, you can also choose precipitation, sunshine, water/snowfall, weather type, or even wind! I highly recommend you browse some data samples before settling on anything more complex than air/mood temperature, however, as the datasets can be a bit tricky to read.
--->Interestingly, you can also pull Precipitation every 15 minute data from some locations which could make an interesting choice for a blanket that tells the story of a specific storm. There are lots of options!
Where and when? That is, what location and what year?
What size? This will dramatically affect how much time it takes to finish the project.
Stripes, squares, or hexes?
Once you can answer each of those questions, it's time to get started! The instructions below use the enormous blanket I just finished as an example for the photos, but also include adjustments for striped blankets. The only change between a blanket which uses air/water temperatures and a mood temperature is the color range. If you're making a mood blanket, skip to step 2 as you won't need to pull a dataset.
(Step 1) Find your Data
This is somewhat easier if you're going day by day for the current year - if that's the case, skip this step and just pull the temperature you want each day from your regular weather site.
If you want data from a specific year and location (or missed a few days working live), follow the instructions below to get it.
First, access the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information website. This site includes global datasets which go back to the beginning of when we started collecting weather data.
From the Climate Data Online homepage, choose the Search Tool in the blue box.
On this page, you'll specify what you're looking for. Select the weather observation type/dataset from the dropdown menu. If you want temperature data, choose "Daily Summaries." Next, select the date range. If you're doing a full year, you'll start on January 1st of that year and end on December 31st of the year.
In the Search For dropdown, I usually pick Cities as that seems to give me the best search results. Finally, enter the name of the city followed by the name of the state or country (e.g. New York, NY or Hamburg, Germany) and click the Search button.
On the results page, you'll see a list of the city data geographically closest to your search term on the left and displayed as circles on a map on the right (sometimes the map takes a bit to load, be patient).
You'll also notice that the cities on the list will be displayed with their Location ID and Period of Record. The latter is helpful if you want to see how old the data can be before choosing your final dataset.
Click on the location you want to see the full details.
Q: What if the city I want doesn't have its own dataset?
A: No worries! Choose the location closest to the city you do want. If there are several, do a quick internet search to compare altitudes and choose the one most similar to your city of choice. You might also find that your city does actually collect data, but it's reported through a weather station located elsewhere. By clicking on the weather station name, you can view the Station List (towards the bottom on the left) in alphabetical order. You may find your city is actually there!
Once you've chosen your weather station, click "Add to Cart." Don't worry - the data is free - this is just the method to make sure you get exactly what you want with nothing extra. Now go to your cart (orange button towards the top right of the page).
In your cart, it's time to narrow the dataset to what you actually want. If you want anything other than temperature data, you must choose Daily CSV or Daily Text. If you just want temperature, you can choose pdf, CSV, or Daily Text. If you plan to print, pdf is your best bet. If you plan to write some formulas to do the counting for you, I'd recommend CSV.
After you select the output format, you'll need to again specify the data range. It should have carried over from your search, but it's always best to double check. Verify the location in the final box, then click Continue.
If you've chosen CSV or Daily Text, you now have the option to adjust the dataset. In the top box, the dropdown will let you adjust between Standard (US) units and Metric - this is the only place where you can make this choice!
Next, choose your dataset type from the list available. Click on the + plus signs next to the data type to get the full list and narrow even further. For example, I might only want the maximum temperature instead of average, maximum, and minimum for each day.
Once you've made your choices, hit Continue.
On this final page, take a minute to verify you've got everything the way you want it. Then, enter your email address and verify it. This is where the data will be sent, so it needs to be an actual email address. Finally, hit Submit Order.
Go check your email - you should have a confirmation of your order. In a few minutes (or sometimes longer, depending), you'll get a second email with a link to Download your file - click Download to access your dataset. The file will download directly from the email and you can then open it in the appropriate program.
But wait, there's more! Weather stations actually collect data from multiple locations in the area - now you get to narrow the list! There should be a column labeled "NAME" - give the file a scroll and find the location closest to your city. Check to make sure you're not missing any days, then you can finalize your dataset.
Working with a pdf, that will mean printing the file, but limiting the print to the pages that include that location. Working with a CSV, you can either (1) copy the data you want to a separate sheet or (2) delete the data you don't want.
Hooray! You should now have your data ready to go! That was the hard part, now we get to be creative again.
(Step 2) Choose your Color Bands & Yarn
When I say "color bands" - what I actually mean is the colors that will denote specific things. For air temperatures, this means ranges of degrees. For mood, this could be "green for happy, blue for sad." For precipitation in a storm, each color would be tied to a range of inches per hour. Make sense?
It's a good idea to skim your data before making these choices:
What's the highest value in your dataset?
What's the lowest value?
Are the highest and lowest very far apart or are they somewhat close together? This will help you decide how wide your ranges should be.
For my data, I chose to do ranges of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, beginning at zero degrees. This meant my ranges were: 0-10 degrees, 11-20 degrees, 21-30 degrees, etc. Be careful none of your ranges overlap!
You also want to consider your yarn at this step. You need to make sure the yarn you choose comes in enough colors for the bands that you want. I used Impeccable solids from Loops & Threads for a few reasons. First, I needed 100% acrylic because this blanket is going to live in a cabin in the middle of the woods so the fiber had to be (1) washable and (2) resistant to insects. Second, I needed something that came in lots of colors. Third, I started this blanket about a month later than would have been comfortable schedule-wise, so it had to be available at a nearby store. Thus, this choice.
Whatever you choose, be sure the fiber choice is appropriate for your setting and you can get enough colors to work with all of your color bands. Not sure what to pick? Check out (Part 2) The Deets in my post about Bulky Blankets.
(Step 3) Decide if you will make some Days Special
You can use a change in pattern to distinguish some days from others. The differentiation can be very simple or quite complex - you have a lot of creative freedom here.
In my example, the blanket tells the story of the year my Grandparents purchased the family lake house. I choose to tell that story by making special squares for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays where we gathered as a family (Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). The large flower shown to the left is a birthday square.
If you've chosen squares or hexes, you can make these days special with a different pattern for that day - although be sure that you end up with the same size piece!
If you've chosen to do rows, you can use a special stitch. In crochet, this could be something like a puff or bobble stitch or something dramatic like a star stitch. In knit, you might work a stripe of lace or work a pattern in knits and purls to include a shape (e.g. Christmas trees) or a name for a birthday.
If you choose to make some days special, highlight these days on your dataset so you don't forget about them. I used color to help me differentiate between the types of squares I wanted to use - this is very helpful for step 5.
(Step 4) Finalize your Layout & Design
Here's the thing: 365 days doesn't divide nicely to make any sort of rectangle. Sure, it's divisible by 5, but then you'd have a 5 by 73 piece which does not a blanket make. So what do we do?
Personally, I went with rows of 17. Yes, that's a weird number. I know. But a 17 by 22 blanket is 374 squares. This meant I could do one special square in each corner - a Dragonfly (the name of the cabin is Camp Dragonfly) and also include the year - 1997 - at the bottom with dragonfly squares on either side. That gave me 5 dragonfly squares and 4 number squares, 9+365 = 374 which worked out perfectly.
You're welcome to steal this layout. You can also get creative here - consider what other squares/hexes you may want to include to make the blanket extra special.
If you're doing stripes - think about sizing. How wide will the blanket be? How many rows will you use for each day?
For any design - now is a good time to decide if you will include a border so that you can include it in your purchasing list from the start.
Lastly - time to choose the design for, minimally, your "regular" days. You can always do special days later if you can't decide now, but now is a good opportunity to wrap up the planning stage.
For squares or hexes: make sure any special blocks come out the same size as a regular block. For stripes: be careful when choosing patterns for special days that may require a set-up row. You can still use them, but remember to plan ahead.
I chose the Vintage Square from 500 Crochet Stitches, p. 148, to be my regular square. I chose this one because the fabric is mostly close together (I did want the blanket to be warm), the squares work up relatively quickly, and the pattern is easy to memorize while not being totally boring. I then chose the Flower square, p. 148, for anniversaries (shown to the right) and the Embossed Motif, p. 214, for birthdays (shown above). With the former, I included a round of all double crochets so the number of stitches would match the vintage square on the last round. With the latter, I left off the last two rounds so the birthday squares would be the same size as the vintage squares.
When it comes to really unique squares, I used rows of single crochet with various patterns to create shapes, like the turkey (Thanksgiving) shown to the left, and changes in color to make the numbers for the year (1997, shown in the first image).
Each square was 23 stitches across (so ch 24 to start) and 24 rows in single crochet. I used double crochet, front post double crochet, loops of chains (later secured by single crochets) and puff stitches to add dimension and create shapes. The Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter squares I designed myself using some graph paper and some trial and error (if there's interest, I can write these up). The Dragonfly Square is a slightly modified version of the one included in the Dragonfly Baby Blanket from Baby Crochet by Sandy Powers (out of print, sorry). It also uses front post double crochets, loops of 12 chains, and an enormous bobble for the head.
(Step 5) Count it Up!
If you're doing a "live" blanket (i.e. one row/square/hex a day in real time) - skip this step.
For those using the historical data we pulled, time to count!
Personally, I counted by hand because I hadn't figured out yet that I could pull a CSV and use formulas to do the counting for me (oops). If you will also count by hand, I found tallies on each page to work well. I then added them all together to get the final totals.
If you're counting by hand - double and triple check your work! Even better is to have someone else double check it for you. You don't want to end up with too many or too few squares in a few months. Better to take a little extra time now and save yourself the trouble later.
If you will use formulas to do the counting, may I suggest the COUNTIF function? Don't forget to isolate and account for your special squares if you will include them!
(Step 6) Purchase your Yarn
You can, of course, buy yarn as you go. Personally, I prefer to wait for a good sale/coupon and buy all my project supplies in one go. For this particular project, I had to go to 2 stores over about a month to finish the full buy. But I was also working one color at a time so there was no worry over dye lots.
How much yarn do you need? That depends. Time to check your gauge! Work up one of your "regular squares" or a "regular row" if you're doing stripes. Now weigh it.
My first square weighed in at 13 grams. Since each skein of yarn of Impeccable weighs 127.5 g, I should, in theory, get about 9 squares per skein. HOWEVER - my gauge got looser as I worked and I wound up with about 8.5 squares per skein instead.
My advice? Buy a skein for one of your big colors and work the whole skein - then count how many squares you got out of it. Use that figure to purchase your whole lot of yarn. Better to spend an afternoon getting the math right than need to make extra trips to the store to buy or return yarn!
Remember also to buy yarn for the border, if you will include one!
(Step 7) WORK IT
Having over 300 crochet squares in my house was a bit of a trip.
As you can see from the first benchmark - 100 squares - the skeins to go took up more space than the finished squares. You can also see this photo was taken when it was warm. The finished photos are all indoors because it's been a few months and now it's freezing. Literally.
I chose to work through the squares one color at a time, starting with the warmer weather squares and ending with the colder days to match with the current seasons - keeping up with the transition of the seasons was motivating for me.
Some things I found helpful:
Make a schedule and stick with it! I gave myself 2 weeks for sewing at the end which meant 4-5 squares per day.
Weave in the center tail while you work the square.
Leave a long tail at the end (about 2 times the length of one square side) for sewing your rows.
When getting close to the end of a color - count and double check your count so you don't accidentally make extra squares. I use the Row Counter app to keep me on track.
You can find more tips on staying motivated and tracking your project in my post about Bulky Blankets.
(Step 8) BLOCK IT
Do you hate blocking? Me too. But it's always worth it. So we do it. If you went with stripes, you get to skip this step. The rest of us will suffer.
I started blocking before I finished the last of the squares because the warmer rows wouldn't need the cooler colors. Here's what worked for me:
Block one row at a time, using your data and design to guide you.
After laying out the row on your board, double check it for accuracy before pinning.
When the squares have dried, unpin but do not move the squares!! Instead, stack them top to bottom, beginning of row to end of row. This lines it up nicely for sewing later.
LABEL the row with a scrap of paper and a pin. I included the row number as well as the date ranges so I could reference the data sheet if needed.
Loosely tie the long tails of the row together so the stack remains grouped.
Ias able to block 2-3 rows per day since I could swap them out mid-day (thanks, COVID, for making me be in the house literally all day every day). Since I had 22 rows, this took about a week and a half total. In that time, I finished up crocheting all the squares and started sewing a few rows together.
(Step 9) SEW IT
This was probably the most mind-numbing part of the project for me. With the squares, you feel very accomplished looking at your little stack each day. With the sewing, I was coming up on my deadline and had to get through 2 rows per weekday and about 5 each weekend day to make it so all I felt was anxiety.
Be smarter than me - leave more than two weeks for sewing.
To sew the squares together into their rows, I like the "lace-up" method of sewing. You can see what I mean in this video from Red Heart Yarns. The advantage of working in the round is that you'll always be working with the "finished" ends of the stitches.
Working with knitted squares? Try the techniques in this video from GoodKnitKisses on sewing squares at right angles or this video from Alexis Winslow on sewing squares side to side and bound end to bound end.
TIP: Leave your row labels ON until all rows have been sewn together. This will make assembling the rows much easier.
Once all your rows have been assembled, it's time to sew the rows together! This is the point where the blanket starts to look like a blanket.
I worked from right to left so the blanket got longer and covered my legs as I added more rows. It did become a bit unwieldy after a while, here's what worked best for me:
Use a single foam square (or cardboard or a textbook or whatever) under where you're actively working as a flat surface so you can easily tug and tighten the sewing yarn as you work.
The color of the yarn used to sew doesn't matter too much - I tried to choose the most common square color for each row.
Keep the length of your sewing yarn manageable. I like an armlength and a half - find what works best for you.
If you have a choice of tapestry needle, I find metal works best and metal with a bent tip really works best.
Use the squares to your advantage - make sure the corners match up as you work! If they don't, back up a bit and "cheat" by either working into one stitch twice or grabbing two from one side to make it behave.
(Step 10) Nearly at the finish line: Add the border
If you don't want a border, you're already done! If not, pick up a stitch at one corner and off you go! Here's the border I default to and the one I used on this blanket:
R1: Starting at the top of the blanket, with the right side facing you, attach your yarn. Ch1. Sc into the same st and each st around, working 3 sc into each corner. Slst into first sc to finish the round.
R2: Ch 1. Dc into the same st and each st around, working 3 dc into each corner. Slst into first dc to finish the round.
R3: Ch1. Sc into the same st and each st around, working 3 sc into each corner. Slst into first sc to finish the round. Bind off and weave in the end.
(Step 11) Celebrate because you're done!!
Some stats for this particular project:
Final size: 11 feet by 9 feet (ish)
Total squares: 374
Final weight: 12.4 pounds
Total time: 222 active hours (spread out over about 3 months)
Each square was 6 inches by 6 inches due to my gauge loosening up through the first 10 squares or so. What I had planned to be a lap blanket is now big enough for a California King! Always check your gauge, friends. And remember that you'll probably loosen up as you work.
That's all for now, friends. I hope your temperature blankets come out to be everything you imagined!
I'd love to see and share your creations and WIPs (work in progress) throughout the year - don't hesitate to tag me!
And importantly - HAPPY END TO 2020 - A DUMPSTER FIRE OF A YEAR. See you in 2021, let's hope it will be better <3.