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My five-year-old niece, Rose, begged me to come tuck her into bed, so I obligingly followed her back to her room. I sat on the edge of her bed as she crawled into the rumpled sheets and reached for her stuffed animal and favorite blanket. I did a double-take when I saw the blanket. It was a blanket I had crocheted for Rose when my sister was pregnant years earlier. This simple, handmade, purple and white little blanket had become her favorite. I was touched; I couldn’t help but feel proud of my handiwork and pleased that my niece had loved it so much.

Over the years, especially during those broke years of college and graduate school, I have made quite a few crocheted baby gifts. Most of those were blankets, although some were booties or hats. When money is tight, some of the more expensive registry gifts aren’t options, but I wanted to give more than just a set of onesies. Crocheting is fun, relaxing, and fairly inexpensive. It yields a gift that is handmade, durable, and very practical.

I tend to prefer crochet to knitting because it is quicker—especially with tricks such as two strands of yarn crocheted at the same time, and long stitches like the double or triple crochet. Crocheting also results in a looser, softer feel than a lot of knitted products, at least in my experience. Once you’ve got the basic idea, the patterns and complicated stitches available offer endless possibilities!

Some people love to get lost in the possibilities of crocheting, counting stitches, changing techniques, and working with intricate patterns. For me, crocheting is a way to relax after a long, busy day. There is a certain type of hands-on productivity that is deeply satisfying—I love to be able to sit back and say “I made that!,” and then delight in using the thing I just finished.

Most of the time when I crochet, I am also either enjoying time with people or relaxing in front of the television. My husband enjoys sports, and he loves having my company in the room during a game. My attention span when it comes to sports is sorely limited, but if my hands are happily occupied with crochet, then it leaves my mind and eyes free enough to still hang out with him and half-watch the game.

If you’re new to crochet, start out with this quick tutorial for basic crochet terminology and stitches. And some easy roundup posts of free baby blanket patterns are here, here, and here. If you’re looking for something else easy to start with, try a pot holder, a kitchen towel, or mug cozy (all great hostess gifts!) A few tips:

  • Supplies: I love this yarn for baby blankets (which I’m still doing a lot of these days!), as it gives a soft, baby-friendly product. However, for something like a potholder, you would want yarn that is durable and won’t melt or transfer heat. I find that the metal hooks are more comfortable and slide through the yarn more easily than plastic hooks. Patterns are easy to find online, or a quick walk down the yarn aisle of your local craft store (or even Walmart) will also give you lots of options for patterns.
  • Be aware of what size hook the pattern calls for at the start of the project. A smaller hook will yield a smaller stitch and smaller finished product, which may or may not be okay, depending on the pattern. You can buy a wide variety of crochet hooks at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, etc. I like having a set of different sizes on hand so that I always have the size I need for a project.
  • Another thing to be aware of if you are following a pattern is gauge. Gauge is a term that measures the number of stitches in a certain distance, often inches, of finished stitches. Everyone’s gauge is slightly different, as people hold the yarn with a different tension. But, if your gauge is significantly different than the gauge called for in the pattern, it can mess up your results, and you may need to make an effort to hold the yarn tighter or looser to adjust. Find a tutorial here.

These days, my typical “pattern” involves two strings of yarn at the same time. The simplest pattern is to do double crochets all the way across, row after row. My favorite way to add a touch of interest to the blanket without too much counting and stitch changing is to alternate the colors of the yarn I use. I will do most of a blanket with one strand of colored yarn and one white strand at the same time. Then, I’ll make stripes sometimes by doing two colored strands together for a few rows, then two white, then two colored. It’s been a simple way to change it up a little bit without losing the mindless nature of relaxing after a long day of work.

About a year ago, I started a baby blanket before the intended recipient was even conceived. My husband and I were trying to start a family, and I was beyond frustrated because we were dealing with my medical issues. Starting this blanket was more of a stubborn act of hope than anything else. Now, as I write this, the blanket is almost finished, and my little one is almost here!

Whatever you’re going through at the moment, crocheting can be a peaceful and restorative hobby—and you’ll make some beautiful things to last you through the years.