I grew up in the world of knitting. The neighbor was having a baby? Baby booties were produced like magic. I needed a red sweater to match a new outfit for school? Ta-da! It arrived in the mail from my grandma. I didn’t know there was any other type of dishrag than the knitted kind. When mohair sweaters became popular, a fluffy pink one arrived under the Christmas tree. All the women of my family knitted, and suddenly, around the age of 8, I was a knitter too. I made slippers for everyone, made clothes for my dolls, and began to collect my own knitting needles and yarn. There were some off years, but by the time I was a mom myself there was hardly a day when I didn’t find some time to knit.
Hey, it’s not like I had a choice in any of this. This is the fault of my mom, her mother and all those ancestors living in the Swedish countryside who passed down these knitting genes. I think that knitting was probably a survival skill back in Sweden, but once the family was in America and located in the desert Southwest the knitting continued. It’s hot in New Mexico and Southern California, so a lot of that knitting was done for the house (placemats, bedspreads, pillows, and even a tablecloth) and gifts. In general, if there was spare time and you couldn’t read, some knitting got done: obviously a genetic trait!
I received a lot of knitting artifacts from my mother, aunt, and grandmother as the years went by and their knitting stopped. I have antique patterns, old needles and hooks, and even an ancient darning egg. I still have some of the things that they knitted, and a little collection of patterns that my grandmother knit up and sent to my mom over the years. Of all the girls in the family, I am the only one who is a compulsive knitter, and so I got the stash. The knitting gene must be a recessive one I guess.
One of the patterns that I remember the best from my childhood is for a baby bootie that my grandmother used to make. The big deal about the bootie was that it was kick-proof and it stretched as the baby grew so that it could be worn for a few months. My mom and her sister also made these booties, and the pattern (oral tradition only – I never saw this thing in writing!) was explained over and over to me. I’m not an auditory learner, and I never caught on until the booties for my own boys arrived. Then suddenly I understood the pattern as I tied the little booties onto their tiny feet. Clever, clever, clever. The whole bootie is constructed in one piece and definitely performs as advertised. I loved these booties and used them until the boys were walking. Now I make them for other people.
This weekend I made two pairs of the booties for the office manager at my car repair shop, who needs to give them to new mothers as baby gifts. They are just little booties, but they are so much more than that. They are the past, the present and the future all at once. They are my connection to the women of my family who gave me the pattern and the Swedish knitting genes. With each stitch that goes into them the gift lives on.
The baby bootie pattern was written up by Christine Bourquin, a woman about the same age as my grandmother, and was published as a letter to the editor of a magazine in 1989. The pattern and more information can be found online at Fuzzy Galore. There is also a great online tutorial posted by Major Knitter. I wonder if Christine was Swedish?