Keeping warm: Bulky Blankets
Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Winter cometh. So out come the warmest things in the house: woolen socks, fleece-lined hoodies, and big. giant. blankets.
Blankets can sometimes seem intimidating to craft newcomers because of their size, but they don't have to be! Anyone at any skill level can make a large and/or bulky blanket to keep you warm through the whole season. However, there are some things to consider. In this post, I've included some tips and tricks to help guide you through the process, starting with your concept and ending with your new favorite blanket.
(Part 1) The Concept
What kind of blanket do you want? How will it fit into your life? These may seem like silly questions, but they're important to ask when you begin your planning. You want to be able to describe what the blanket will look like, how the blanket will feel, and where the blanket will "live" when it's finished.
You might start the design/concept process with an idea, e.g. my friend so-and-so is in for a hard winter - a cozy blanket would be a great gift! Or you might start with a yarn, e.g. this giant bulky yarn absolutely must be in my house right now. Maybe you start with a setting, e.g. my bedroom is too chilly this season - time to start on another blanket.
Regardless of where you begin, the what, the how, and the where will describe your blanket, even if it's a little vague.
(Part 2) The Deets
Ok, so you've got your concept. You know, at least generally, what you want it to look like, how you want it to feel, and where it's going to end up. Time to flesh that out.
You need to be able to purchase your materials next, which means you have to finalize the pattern, colors, and yarn.
Let's start with pattern.
You can either (a) faithfully follow a pattern, (b) modify an existing pattern to suit your needs, or (c) design your own pattern. The first is the easiest and definitely what I would recommend for a beginner. This also narrows your yarn choice, at least by weight, and tells you how much yarn to buy.
In the photo above, I modified the Red Heart School Colors Blanket pattern to be larger than the original by extending the length of each strip/cable and making extra strips as well. The result was a blanket more than large enough for a Twin XL bed (the goal). If you go a similar route, you can determine your yarn needs using a proportion:
(amount of yarn for original pattern / original square footage) = (new amount of yarn / (goal square footage)
Solve for the new amount of yarn. It may not be exact (remember to check your gauge!), but it should get you pretty close.
You can also choose to design your own pattern. In the blanket shown at the beginning of this post, I went with "giant granny square." In the picture to the right, all single crochets with a little bit of striping. In a post in January, you'll see a much more complex design, a temperature blanket. Whatever you choose to make, you can try to estimate the amount of yarn you'll need using a gauge swatch and a basic proportion:
(weight of gauge swatch / square footage of gauge swatch) = (weight of yarn needed / goal square footage)
Solve for the weight of yarn needed and buy that much. I'd also recommend buying a touch extra, especially if your gauge tends to loosen as you work.
Colors are in the eye of the beholder. Choose what makes you happy! If you're making the project as a gift, consider what colors the recipient enjoys most as well as what colors will add to the space where you expect the blanket to live. For example, I recently made a grey blanket for a friend with an orange couch.
Lastly comes your choice of yarn. There are three factors for yarn choice: weight, fiber, and color. We've already talked about color, so let's explore the other two.
Weight is generally straightforward. Do you want something thin and light for the summer? Consider lace (2) or sport weight (3). Something bulky and quick to work up? Look into bulky (5) and super bulky (6) yarns. There are even bulkier yarns on the market now that can be worked using your arms! Be sure to also consider drape as a factor for weight, however. Bulky yarns make for stiffer blankets. Not a problem for a bed spread, slightly more so for a couch blanket. Not sure what you want? Consider Aran or DK weight (4). These work up relatively quickly, tend to create fabric with a good drape, and are widely available so you'll have a lot of choice for fiber and color.
Fiber can make a big difference in the warmth and breathability of your final blanket. Natural fibers like wool, linen, cotton, and bamboo tend to breathe the best, wick away some moisture, and provide a good insulating layer which keeps the wearer warm. Acrylics are made of plastic and somewhat indestructible - no worrying about moths and typically safe for both the washer and dryer. There is also a significant difference in cost between natural and synthetic fibers. With blankets, the amount of yarn leads the cost to be the biggest factor in making the decision. Other questions to ask:
Where will the blanket be stored? Does it need to be resistant to bugs or mold?
Does the home include pets or children? Will the blanket need to be frequently washed?
Will this yarn create pills with time? This could wear holes in a well-loved item.
Will this yarn felt if it is washed in a machine by mistake?
Is this yarn eco-friendly? Where was it made?
For example, if I wanted an eco-friendly yarn that is safe to wash in a machine, I might choose a super wash wool with some rayon content (made from plant material) to prevent pilling. If I need a yarn that's safe to be stored in a cabin in the middle of the woods, I might choose 100% acrylic because bugs and moths are the biggest concern.
(Part 3) Final Planning & Your Timeline
More planning may or may not be needed, depending on how complicated your project is shaping up to be.
In the photo shown to the left, I was using printed copies of weather data from a specific location, highlighting dates important to my family throughout, and counting the number of days needed for each temperature band, inclusive of "regular" days and "special" days. The counts were double and triple checked, then logged in a typed pattern I could later store on my phone.
This type of planning is necessary for complex projects. Even if your project isn't super complicated, you might benefit from using a basic program like Google Draw to lay out your colors or patterns if you're working with blocks, stripes, etc.
Once your plans are well laid out, it's time to establish your timeline.
Consider first your deadline. Do you have one? Move it 5 days ahead to give yourself some wiggle room.
Now break your project into discrete pieces. If you're doing a block blanket, for example, how many squares do you need to make? Will you need to sew pieces together at the end? Will you also do a border?
Start making your timeline by working backwards: 1 day to weave in ends, x days to complete the border (if you'll have one), y days to sew pieces together (if it's an assembly blanket), z days to block the pieces, and q days remaining to actually work up the pieces. Find out how many days you have between when you'll receive or buy your yarn and the beginning of the sewing / border / end weaving time. Now divide your work by the number of days to figure out how much you have to complete each day to stay on schedule.
For example: the temperature blanket which will be the topic of my January post. The plan was finished September 14th and the blanket needs to be finished by Christmas day. 1 day for weaving in ends (Dec. 24), 2 weeks for sewing everything together and adding the border (this was a mistake, I should have scheduled 3). That means all the pieces needed to be done by December 9th. Since the plan called for 374 squares and I had 85 days to make them all, I had to complete 4.4 squares a day. So, really, the goal was 4 - 5 squares per day.
Now that I'm nearly at the finish line, I can tell you I should have aimed for 6 squares / day and left more time for sewing. I started blocking while finishing up the final two colors, though, which is why it's not included in the timeline as part of the calculation.
Q: What if I can't meet the deadline?
A: Up to you - use your judgement. Plenty of people are just fine receiving a partially completed gift with an explanation of what it will be. Then you take it back to finish it. You could also gift the complete plans and a progress photo with an expected deadline. Anyone worth keeping as a friend will not mind this.
Q: What about clients?
A: Add 2-4 weeks to your estimate, just to be safe. Best case, they get it earlier than expected. Worst case, you're "on time." Always plan for the worst and hope for the best up front.
(Part 4) Sticking to your Timeline
This can be rough. I know. I've spent the last 3 months doing almost nothing but crochet the exact same square over 300 times in slight color variations. Trust me, I know.
Some tips to keep you motivated:
Use a project tracker like the Row Counter App (my personal fave) to reflect on what you've accomplished already.
Keep your completed project someplace visible - you'll want to pick it up if you can see it!
Remind yourself why you're making the blanket or for whom. Think how it will feel when it's finished - or think about how your gift recipient will react!
Pick a good audiobook or TV show to binge. Choose something lengthy, like Stargate SG-1 or The Stormlight Archives. Now make a rule: you can only watch/listen to the thing if you work on the project while you do it.
Share your progress with others! #wipwednesday (WIP = Work in Progress)
Got a good tip to share? Leave a comment with what keeps you motivated through long projects!
I hope you've found this post helpful in your blanket-based endeavors and I would love to see your WIPs! Leave comments on this post or tag me @craftematics on Instagram to share your blanket monstrosities!
Happy Holidays, friends. Keep warm.