After finishing a couple hats and a pair or two of booties, I wanted something a little bigger to focus on, so I cast on as many stitches as my needle would hold - in this case, 60 -- and started the old standby basketweave pattern. It's simple: a few rows of garter stitch base border, and then a K 5 (for side border), followed by P5, K5 until the last five stitches. It doesn't matter if you end with a P5 or a K5; just K the last five stitches to establish the other side of the garter stitch border. Do this for five rows, purling in the Ps and knitting in the Ks...then switch, and knit in the Ps and purl in the Ks, repeating this for another five rows. You get the idea. It works with any set of stitches in multiples of 5.
So this was what I did along I-86 in western New York, using a white Wool-Ease with royal blue flecks in it. And by the time we passed Jamestown it was pretty evident that the piece of knitting emerging from my needles would be too small for even most preemie babies - so it would become a bereavement blanket. Which brings me to the point of this post.
We all know that most babies are born healthy and happy -- but some, for any number of reasons, don't make it. About five years ago, when I first got involved in service projects, I realized that many hospitals do have a need for tiny gowns, wraps and blankets for little ones whose parents can only hold them briefly before saying goodbye to them. I learned that in the absence of a size-appropriate wrap, the only thing the hospitals can give these grieving parents is a receiving blanket sized for a full-term newborn...and the irony of wrapping their tiny, fragile baby in a blanket that's far too large only sharpens their sense of loss.
I learned that there were many, many volunteers out there who trade patterns and ideas for these items. And I 've since learned that, when a nurse or a hospital social worker can bring an appropriately-sized blanket or gown to a grieving parent, they feel a tiny bit of comfort in the midst of their heartbreak. That comfort may only last a moment, but it's there.
There are many names for these small items - burial gowns, blessing garments, angel wraps, etc. etc. Hospitals tend to refer to them as "bereavement" items. Call them whatever you like...but if you can make them, please consider doing so.
Some volunteer crafters, perhaps because they've been through a painful loss themselves, can't bring themselves to make these tiny items, and that's OK. But if this is something you can do, I think you'll find it to be a very special experience. I started making them years ago out of a sense of thanks for all the big, healthy babies that my family has been blessed with. Rather than being a sad chore, it brings -- at least for me -- a grateful reminder of these blessings, and a sense of quiet responsibility to those who may be going through a loss.
As with all special-needs projects, contact your local hospital for guidelines and items they may need before you make them. If the words don't come easily to you, just ask the volunteer office about their need for neonatal bereavement items, and they'll know what you mean. In general, though, think soft and small-scale -- a heavy yarn can make a tiny baby seem even more fragile.
There are some good links out there for other items to knit, sew and crochet. I invite you to let me know of your own experiences with this very special service work.