At what age do baby blankets stop being useful? I bought some yarn today to make a blanket for a baby who's due any day, and I'm worried it won't be done until s/he is too big. What do people actually use baby blankets for?
Knitting for Baby
When each of my kids was born, we got many beautiful homemade baby blankets, and I never felt like they got used nearly enough. It might be because I was bad at keeping my kids warm and/or the fact that they were both born in the spring, but many of our blankets felt underutilized. They're beautiful and lovely and I've kept them all as sentimental keepsakes, but I imagine that they were lovingly made with the idea of actually covering a baby.
Mostly, we used blankets for the babies to lie on the floor before they could move. When babies are very small and very immobile, a small blanket is incredibly useful for this job. As the kids get bigger and get even a little mobile, they're likely to roll off a blanket quickly or to scrunch it up and play with it rather than lie on it.
Blankets are also great for peek-a-boo and even for dress-up and pretend play with dolls later on, but again, I'm not sure that's what you have in mind. If the blanket is big enough to someday be used as a crib blanket for a toddler, that's potentially really useful as well, though that might be a bigger job than you're envisioning.
If possible, ask the soon-to-be parents what they want or need. If they are first-time parents, they won't have a clue how to answer you — but at least you'll have their blessing for proceeding with the blanket since, almost certainly, if you ask, "Can I make you a beautiful handmade gift?" they will say yes.
A close friend of mine made us a gorgeous quilt when my daughter was born. When I was expecting my son, she asked if we wanted another blanket. I reluctantly admitted that I wasn't great at using blankets but told her that some other homemade gift would be wonderful. She came up with the idea of a wall-hanging, and it's just perfect. It's right there for all of us to see every day, I don't have to feel guilty about not using it and I don't have to wash it!
Maybe your blanket will become THE blanket, getting chewed on and cuddled and carried around well past infancy. If not, I'm sure the parents and the baby will still love it. Even if it doesn't get used every day, this is a great example of a gift where the thought really does count as much if not more than the usefulness of the gift itself.
Consider that store-bought blankets can also make great gifts, and sometimes babies prefer that fuzzy manufactured coziness to the feel of knitted yarn. You could buy a blanket (or some other gift for that matter) to give to them now and then knit a hat or a sweater. Either way, make sure the yarn you choose is very soft, baby-friendly and washable.
To anyone reading this who may have made us a blanket, thank you! We will continue to treaure the fact that you cared enough about our kids to invest this kind of thought, time and love into a gift. So, letter writer, if that's the message you want to convey, happy knitting!