“Michelle, would you be willing/able to knit a pair of booties for our new little one for Christmas?? It would mean so much to all of us.”
The text was from Nancy, and the new little one, due sometime in January, is her first grandchild. A week or so earlier I had sent her my last MDK story, a farewell to her parents, Genie and Ed McCliment, who were my good friends and dearest neighbors.
I had planned on knitting this January baby Elizabeth Zimmermann’s February Baby Sweater from Knitter’s Almanac. It’s a favorite pattern of mine, written in Elizabeth’s friendly voice. Adding matching booties would make a lovely layette, and there’s something about warming tiny toes that always has me reaching for my needles.
“Color?” I wrote back, mentally casting on my trusty favorite, Bosnian Booties by Carole Barenys.
The reply came, “Pink, for sure. Could you add a hat to match?”
The next day, Covid-style, I picked up the last five skeins of a dusty pink cashmere merino from the front porch at Home Ec Workshop, a yarn store here in Iowa City. I chatted with Codi, the owner. Four years ago, I had knit hats for her baby. Which one did she like best? I was content with Codi’s choice until that evening when I discovered my soft beautiful wool did not suit the pattern.
Suddenly, after raising three daughters, I knew nothing about babies or the hats they need. I queried Natasha who has a local hand-dyed yarn company, Ewe and Lea. She’s a terrific knitter and a mother of young children. Bonnets are the best, she advised, and recommended several adorable possibilities, including one with an irresistible name, Beloved by Tin Can Knits. Need I tell you my choice?
Booties would be first. I tossed caution to the wind, set aside my beloved pattern, and embarked on an elegant and more complicated design. Truth: frogging happened. Truth: with the help of a tutorial, I got so proficient at the knit Kitchener stitch, my brain finally grasped how to graft the sewn version. Still, they were not perfect.
So I switched to simplicity for a second pair, riffing on the Bosnian Booties. They knit up quickly, perfectly. Inspired, I whipped up more colorful ones for a Brooklyn baby. When I began the bonnet, I fantasized how more of these booties would be my winter’s knitting.
As I stitched on, Knitter’s Almanac was never far away. The sweater would be last. I could send it after the baby was born, but on the day we all heard the news of the vaccine approval, I celebrated by starting, with hope and confidence, the February Sweater. It was like meeting a good friend for coffee, without masks. The book practically opened by itself to the pattern.
The following day, I went back to the bonnet. Christmas was not far away. The news was all about the vaccine and the myriads of those who made it possible, including some in my home town. As I neared where the final decreases become an i-cord, I thought about my friendship with Genie and Ed—which brought me to knit these gifts—and about Nancy reaching out to me, so I too could welcome this baby.
I thought about the help I received along the way: Codi, Natasha, Carole Barenys, who went to Bosnia with her church group, bought booties for 10 Euros, and on her return home, deconstructed them to make a pattern I have grown to love and adapt as my own, and Elizabeth Zimmermann, who, sitting by a campfire with a pen she had left there the year before, wrote a book that has aided and comforted me for decades.
In our time of great worry and cataclysmic divide, it’s easy to miss those who dedicate their lives to making our knitting possible, but they are there—writing patterns, teaching techniques, pushing our craft to new levels, creating motivating posts, stocking shops with wool, needles, and notions. And let us never forget those who bring forth our wool; raise the animals; shear their fleece, spin it, dye it, and more, I am sure, much more.
A few weeks before Christmas, Nancy was in town, and she picked up the booties and the bonnet. Not long after, the February Sweater was finished, the loose strands woven in, the right buttons found and sewn on. Then I packed it up, put on my mask and face shield, and brought it to Joe and the crew at Mailboxes where I ship my Etsy packages. I trusted them with my gift too. A postal driver picked it up from them, and, with the aid of others, the February Sweater was on its way to Des Moines.
Many hands made light work. We are all in this together. May 2021 bring us all peace, warmth, and wellness.
Illustrations by Michelle Edwards
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