A small rescue

This morning as we made waffles and chatted about our business, Elliot and I discussed the weather.  There is a big snowstorm coming, I explained to him. It is snowing now, and it is going to snow all day, and all night.  Elliot looked at me, then looked out the window at the bleak landscape, and rather seriously said “and all summer” with the exact kind of pessimism that settles into a Canadian heart at this time of year.  We learn it young, here in the frozen North.

We are all also on high alert today, because as any birth worker can tell you, this is exactly the sort of weather that babies prefer to arrive in.  Not now, not while the roads are still pretty clear and it’s not too terrible to drive around in, but later – at 2am, when everyone is tired and there’s 20cm of snow on the ground and it’s still coming down hard.  If there is a moment of lowest possible visibility, and you’re looking out the window thinking “mercy I hope I do not have to travel in this” that is when they are possessed of a sense of urgency. I have it on pretty good authority that every midwife in the city woke up this morning, looked at the weather and thought “Right then” and went straight away to make sure that all their ducks are in a row and they still have that shovel in their trunk.

I have my bag packed and ready to go (and there is already a shovel in my trunk) and I’m going to spend the whole afternoon working on the blanket (as soon as I can skip out on the rest of my work.)  Last night Elliot did not go down early (thanks dude) and it took me a little longer than expected to get around the corner of the edging (if by a little longer you understand I mean about 90 minutes) so the blanket is almost the same as when I showed it to you last.  I’m officially only about 1/4 of the way through the edging.  In short -weather and blanket status combined,  it is a perfect day for a baby to arrive, if you have a neonate’s sense of humour.

I promised to distract us all from Baby Watch 2020 with a little show and tell about an old sweater, so here goes.  I save things. Not a lot, you understand – I  part with objects fairly easily and (yarn and patterns aside) have few hoarding tendencies.  My mum was the same, and she saved very little from when we were babies, but she did have the good sense to tuck away a few bits, and I’ve been able to pass them on to Meg – along with some stuff that she and her sisters wore as bairns. My mum didn’t knit, and neither did my maternal grandmother, but my great-grandmother did, and she was really pretty good at it. When I was born, she knit me a tiny little layette set in a newborn size, despite the fact that I was born in June. (See above comments re: Frozen North. All babies get woollies.)

Considering that it is a 52 year old sweater set worn by six babies, it is in pretty good shape.  It’s a soft baby wool, slightly yellowed by age and felted by washing, and  it was white (or natural) when it was new. (I can tell because the ribbons don’t match.)  I took it out to pass it on to this baby, and found that in the almost three decades since it graced a little one, something’s had a bit of a snack on it.  It looks to me like carpet beetles, rather than a M**h – the holes are clean and look like they were drilled through – and the damage is localized. Three distinct spots, two on the bonnet and one on the sleeve of the sweater. Apparently this beastie cares not for bootees. I gave it a good wash and a little dose of sunshine, and started.

When I make a repair, usually I have some of the old yarn, or can salvage some from the garment. Unpick a cast off and pull back a row or two… then cast off again, but this is a little felted so that wasn’t going to work.  I needed a fine, softly spun wool in a matching colour.  I knew I had nothing like that in the stash (rather unbelievably) but I did have a yarn that was the right colour, though not the right weight.

Undaunted, I took just one ply of the worsted weight I found, and it worked just fine. There was a tiny hole in the brim of the hat – that took just a stitch or two to fix, I simply worked duplicate stitch over the missing bit.  The larger hole in the bonnet was a little harder, a combination of darning and duplicate stitch made that one go away.

The hole in the sleeve was another matter.  One whole column of stitches was absent – it’s missing all the ladders in that column- so I couldn’t just ladder it back up like a dropped stitch, it was too wide to just sew up, and it wouldn’t look right if I darned it.

I thought about knitting a patch, a little heart or something, and sewing it over the hole, but then I had another idea. I used a technique that I teach in my Fix is in Class.  *

Working back and forth, I gave myself the ladders that I needed, one for each missing row, then inserted my tiny crochet hook in the intact stitch at the bottom of that section, and laddered it up like it simply was a dropped stitch, anchoring it at the top with a single stitch of grafting to the intact stitch at the top.  Voila!

You can’t even tell it was ever munched.  When I was done I took the ribbons out and thought about replacing them, but though they’re a little ragged, they’re the originals, and silk, and serviceable enough that I didn’t want to swap them out. They got a little pressing, and I put them back in. The whole things looks almost as good as new, or as good as a 52 year old sweater set can.

Now my little grandchild can wear something I did, and that their mother did, and it was lovely to work on something my great-grandmother made with her own two hands.  It felt really good to be able to be responsible for restoring her good work like that, and I think it will feel even better to dress a babe in something her great, great, great grandmother knit. I know it’s a wish of mine that the things I make will last this long and be this loved.

That’s her – Dorothy, in the back next to my Great Grandfather Archibald. My Grandmother Kathleen is on the left, and there’s my mum Bonnie, holding me.

(PS. At the Spring Retreat I’m going to teach this sort of repair, our theme is the letter E, and that covers “Errors” and this comes up in that section. All the workshop spots are filled up, but we still have a few spots for textile artists who’re able to spin and knit. For the record, and because people always write to us and ask, you do not need to be a very experienced knitter or spinner for these retreats. They’re learning experiences, and it’s just fine to be a beginner in both departments.  Everyone always says “maybe when I’m good enough” and there’s no reason to wait. This sort of thing is supposed to help you become that good. More info here if you’re into it.)

92 thoughts on “A small rescue

  1. Holy cow! It’s like a beautiful magic! Woven threads. Woven stories. Woven generations. ❤️ (And your mom looks like A Child!)

  2. Nice work, toots. As one who’s been making similar but less elegant repairs, elegantly done. Hope the neonatal sense of humor holds off.

    • I get the feeling Steph has neglected (or simply not bothered) to ask Meg for *her* opinion on the whole blanket-before-baby idea.

  3. How have you stored this lovely all this time? Any tips? I had a conversation with my knitter 95 yo Grandmother about what to do with baby hand knits when you’re done having babies. She looked at me deadpan and said “You have another baby.” I should have known that would be the answer I would get from a mother of 10, grandmother of 30 and great-grandmother of 18. Since that’s not in the cards for me – any tips on how to preserve a few?

    • I keep mine in an old cedar chest, the most loved pieces wrapped in plastic with additional cedar balls. I don’t know about the plastic, but that’s how my grandmother gave it to me and it worked for her for several decades.

    • I am perhaps a horrible person, because I kept them all in a ziplock in a rubbermaid tub in the basement. 25 years. No harm, no foul.

      • Not just luck, with no invitational yarn fumes, steady temperature and probably limited light exposure, the hungry little beasties starved.

  4. Absolutely beautiful!
    I have the delicate little dress that my mom wore, my sister and I wore, my daughter wore, and my granddaughter wore at our baptisms… maybe someday if she has a daughter it will get used again. I too treasure these things. How wonderful that you have the skills to fix them so they can last even longer!

  5. According to my parents, I was born during a snowstorm in February. (The February part is definite, the snowstorm is the more memorable bit).
    Though both of them say that it was very stressful getting to the hospital and the staff was worried about having power throughout the night, when I finally arrived my father was so happy that he went outside and danced in the snow.
    I’ve always thought this was a wee bit strange but he still talks about it and says that February snowstorms always bring him joy because it reminds him of the night he became a father.
    I hope that this coming snowstorm is a joyful one that your family will remember fondly 😉

  6. I find this so very moving. Such a beautiful outfit, made whole, passed on anew, the whole family waiting to greet their new loved one amidst the perfect quiet of the snow.

    (And its monstrous hassle when you’re trying to get to the hospital. Two of mine were born on snowy days in April, even on the 15th. Because they could.)

    I would ask that if you can, turn your oven on to 150 (or if it doesn’t go that low, use a thermometer to show when it’s between there and 175) and cook any remaining little beasties or their eggs out of existence for ten minutes or so.

  7. So, Elliot had that espresso before bed after all! And the forecast is for lots of snow. . .perhaps you’d better wax your cross-country skis, just in case, then start knitting at warp factor 4! (Meg, quit jumping on the bed!)

  8. Babies come when they’re ready – maybe this one will be a snuggler who sits comfortably until the weather is better. Oh, the delusions of an optimist.

    It’s wonderful to be able to dress your granddaughter in clothing made by your great-grandmother. What a lovely gift. Your woolly repair work is beautiful. I took your Fix It class two years ago in Kansas City and have used what I learned there many times. Thank you for that gift.

    Wishing you a peaceful night, progress on the blanket and fun times with Elliott. May his sister wait just a little longer. Stay safe, dear Steph, in this weather!

  9. Not knitting related, but I inherited my great grandmothers rocking chair and it meant so much to me to rock my baby to sleep in that chair knowing that my mum rocked me, my Nana rocked her, and my great grandmother rocked my Nana, all in the same chair, all connected through the years in this really simple way. I imagine the feeling would be the same to dress your grandchild in this gorgeous knitting ☺️

  10. Oh my, I teared up a bit. My girl is a Dorothy, named after her grandmother, also a Dorothy. There’s very little from back a bit, we were immigrants around then. I hope that the work I do gets treasured and passed on. Thank you.

  11. What a wonderful heirloom and a good story to go with it.

    I have a girlfriend who has twice made the ride to the hospital in inclement weather. Once for a medical issue during pregnancy and once for delivery…and Virginia is considered a “Southern” state. So, it is not just the neonates in the Great White North!

    • Well, I’m pretty sure Megan won’t have to do this, as I believe she is having another home birth. But of course, the midwife has to get to her!!

  12. What a treasure to have something made by your great-grandmother, and to be able to restore it to be worn by your grandchild is so very fitting. Hope the little one waits a few more days to arrive. Knit like the wind!

  13. What a beautiful post. Is this the Grandmother who taught you to knit? How wonderful that your grandbaby can wear something she made for you.

    Good luck with baby watch. My friend just admitted to me that she watched her little sister being delivered very quickly in the living room — by her father. Everything went well, but adults were running around panicked and forgot about my friend the big sister, who I think was three years old at the time. They left the new baby in the living room and my friend decided the baby wasn’t warm enough and STUCK HER IN THE OVEN. She didn’t turn it on, thank goodness, but the poor father-turned-midwife nearly fainted when he found where the baby ended up.

  14. I wish the mothers of my grandchildren were sentimental. None of the four grandchildren were dressed in the carefully preserved clothing of their parents. They did use the blankets I knit for each one.
    I have clothing that were hubby’s and his brother when they were babies and even a little dress made from silk pieces leftover of a wedding ensemble. There is no one in the family to pass them down. I have considered donating the pieces to a vintage clothing shop.
    It is wonderful for you to have such a piece to share.

    • Don’t go to the vintage store before double-checking with the grandchildren themselves. They may be more sentimental than their parents. . .

  15. Oh my gosh—that twinkle in your mum’s eye and the smile just peeking around your baby self—how wonderful. I have a little pale green hat that my dad wore home from the hospital, I wore home, and now my kids have worn home. Happy memories.

  16. My first kid was born during a heavy rainstorm, during a mini-baby boom (9 months after the Christmas holiday hockey strikes of 2004/2005). No hospital within a 45 minute car ride would take me as all their wards were full. The midwife called in the ranks and we had an unplanned home birth. Be ready for anything, is my motto. Best wishes to you and your daughter for a wonderful delivery!

  17. Not knitting, but a baby-garment almost-disaster:
    I hand-sewed a baptismal dress for my babies from fine handkerchief linen. It was a yard long, fortunately, because when it was my granddaughter’s turn to wear it, I was so unaccustomed to my daughter-in-law’s iron that I scorched the hem. I recovered in time to cut off the bottom 6 inches and put in a new hem.

  18. What a precious photo to go along with the heirloom knitting you’ve been able to make almost-new. Wish you’d write a book with your repair tips. I know that there are some around, but nobody writes and explains things as clearly as you do.

  19. The first paragraph of this post is why I love your writing so much. It’s such a gem of a story told sparingly but with a punch. And I love that you were able to restore the layette that holds such a rich family history. Wishing you all a safe delivery.

  20. Magic!
    I have a very similar set, knit by my mother 62 years ago. My son wore it too. Sadly it’s very, very itchy; but no holes!

  21. oh wow, how beautiful and delicate!! We don’t have any babyknits left from when my sister and I wore them, I’m afraid, but … beautiful. Seriously. I’m glad you could fix it!! (And I’ll keep my fingers crossed for everyone)

  22. I was born during a snow storm too and whenever I travel, I often bring snow.

    I had tears from your blog. Very sweet and thoughtful.

  23. What a great 4 generation picture! Such riches in family life! I wish I had something like that. To my sorrow I haven’t any children to pass on anything I’ve made. I have a big pile of shawls but no one will want them.

    • Perhaps other relatives or friends kids may love and appreciate your shawls! I know I’ve rescued hand made items from thrift shops and sales while sending thanks to their anonymous makers! I love all knits equally 🙂

  24. Thanks for the laddering trick. Would never have thought of it on my own, although I honestly can’t think of a time when I would have needed it. Always good to have those tricks in your bag.

    Your mom looks so incredibly young! What a wonderful photo.

    Hmmm. Supposed to touch the “music note” but they really mean the treble clef.

  25. I am inspired to pull out a knitted set from the early 1950s for my newest grandchild. You have given me wonderful ideas for restoration.

  26. I don’t think I’ve ever commented on your blog, so I want to take a minute to tell you how much I really love the words and wit and wisdom that you gift us with. You never fail to at once make me laugh out loud at your wonderful sense of humor and then tear up at the poignant moments you share. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing so much of your head and heart with us. I truly believe people like you make the world a better place by doing so.

  27. What a beautiful post, and a loving legacy to pass along. Wishing you all a peaceful night, giving the snowplows time to clear the roads. Sending positive vibes and good weather thoughts for the arrival of this little one, whenever she feels it is time.

  28. “Working back and forth, I gave myself the ladders that I needed, one for each missing row, then inserted my tiny crochet hook in the intact stitch at the bottom of that section, and laddered it up like it simply was a dropped stitch, anchoring it at the top with a single stitch of grafting to the intact stitch at the top.”

    My jaw just dropped into my lap. This is brilliant.

  29. What a beautiful and wonderful treasure you have to pass on! A lucky baby she will be! I’m hoping all goes smoothly for this birth, and that you all get to spend a long cozy, quiet night at home during the storm!

  30. Wow love that family photo!
    Great stuff fixing those holes. The baby will be very cozy in the set.
    Is this set probably from one of those classic Patons booklets?
    Liking the idea of vintage patterns, I used to try to knit those types of items for new babies. The sizes can be very small for modern babies. And I wasn’t that fast, or good at planning ahead, so the baby had already outgrown it by the time I was finished…

  31. I am in awe of the magic you spin with fiber and sticks. The repairs are flawless and the legacy gift is priceless. And the blanket…wow! My 4th great-nephew arrived Monday and received a paltry stroller blanket. I need to up my game! Thanks always, for the inspiration.

  32. That layette set is such a treasure! I wish I had something like that in my family, but it looks like I will have to be the one to supply it. My mother can crochet a bit but, as far as I know, never made anything for me when I was a baby, and she certainly didn’t make anything for my daughter. But I knit plenty for my kid, and now she can knit and crochet, so here’s hoping we’ve started a family tradition.

  33. I think these kinds of things give children roots. I have things that belonged to my great-grandmother, and to my great-great grandmother. I have music that belonged to my great-great Aunt Velma, who had no children but who is remembered in our family because of her love of music and the stories that are told about her.

  34. Lovely hand knits to pass down! I was born in early September in North Dakota (read: southern Canada) on a cloudless day. Mom had been in labor most of the night and all day when she decided it was time to head to the hospital. Dad chose that moment to announce that he forgot to top off the windshield washer fluid. Mom was so uncomfortable she paced around the car while dad did his thing. When my first child was about to be born my dad gifted my husband with windshield washer fluid. Great family joke about being prepared for anything!

  35. Aww… you win today’s prize for poignancy. That last pic with all you kin is sweeeeet. Good luck with the storm and the impending baby!

  36. This is completely off topic but I am very much rooting for a Leap Day baby. As a child I had a friend born on a Leap Day and was completely fascinated by the whole thing. I had several friends born on holidays and my own brother and sister (twins) were born on Halloween but those holidays pale in comparison to Leap Day.

  37. That laddering thing is awesome! I just love vintage knits too.

    As for baby-watch, at least it isn’t a full moon right now, so you have that going for you. I worked 11 years as a registered nurse in a NICU in Cleveland, Ohio. I used to dread night shift when the moon was full and the barometric pressure was low. We would get slammed with high risk deliveries and admissions every time!!
    But babies come when they decide it’s time.

  38. Great Grandmothers have a great fascination to me. One of my great grandmothers died in 1915 and another in 1935. This comes from my dad being 10th of 13 kids and my mum 4th of 6 kids and the intervention of two world wars. I’m only 66 and my last grandparent died in 1967 at the age of 83. I love to see pictures of generations as it’s so amazing to me. It then follows that handing something down in the manner of your little layette is so important. A christening gown was also passed through all of my cousins, there were about 16 or more that wore that little gown where I lost track of what happened to it.

  39. My terrible quandary. There are some very busy railroad tracks between me and most of the places downtown that I want to go to. About three or four times a days there are exceedingly slow ‘crossover’ trains. Sometimes I take my knitting with me, and usually those are the times the tracks are clear and the lights all in my favor. But if in a hurry I dash out to the car without grabbing a knitting project, that will be the lengthy time that I will wait, and wait, and wait for the tracks to clear.

    • Don’t grab a project on the way to the car–keep one there! My “emergency knitting” sock usually just gets a few rows waiting in line to get gas, but if I end up with a longer wait time, Im ready!

  40. Those repairs were magical. I love things that are passed down in a family and its a big complement to the knitter when they are. You can almost see the love radiating off that layette. My grandmother used to hand sew quilts. It really wasn’t a hobby at first; she raised a family in a very poor part of Louisiana during the depression. In those days, flour sacks would come in patterned material and people would make clothing out of them. Many of the quilts she made were from those flour sacks. Alas, they have fallen apart over the years but some of the happy memories of my childhood include being tucked in under those quilts.

  41. The baby set is beautiful, and your mending very impressive. I learnt stuff! Oh, and your mum looks sooo very young. Wowsers.

  42. My son decided instead of being born at the end of March, which usually has mild weather in Michigan, to be born at the beginning instead: during a snowstorm. My parents, who live what usually requires a 20 minute drive from the hospital, took 2 hours to get there. (Partly because my dad insisted on taking a “shortcut” and we know how those go.)

  43. Thank you for the how to do repairs, those carpet beetles are just awful beasties and creep into the knitting far too often. Those repairs are just fabulous! I need to go back and fix my socks that have holes.
    I pray that the baby makes a decision to wait until the plows have cleared the roads and safe traveling is possible.

  44. What a great idea — creating those ladders! Bravo! And your beautiful set reminds me of the clothes I’ve saved…from my children’s babyhood (made by my mother and my (paternal) aunt; from my own babyhood — including a blanket — made by my mother, her mother and that same aunt; and from my father’s babyhood — a long cotton (sewn) Christening gown with a pin-tucked bodice, ca. 1904 — and worn by my daughter at her ‘coming out’ at 3 months (1981). Alas, no grandchildren are in my future, so the treasures will find there way elsewhere in time…but I do hope they will be received with the same love as yours. Blessings to new baby, whenever she arrives!

  45. I am sure I read in the science pages a few years ago that the numbers show that women really are more likely to go into labour when a low-pressure system comes through.

    I went into labour in a snowstorm. It took two hours to get to a hospital that’s only half an hour away in normal traffic, leaving home at one in the morning.

  46. what a legacy of love and caring your family provides. i’m grateful you share such important moments with us. Bravo on the sweet sweet sweater set.

  47. Oh how I wish I had your mad mending skills! I made my DIL a lovely shawl a couple of years ago and some M***s have gotten at the edge of it. About three inches of the decrease edge are compromised and I have no idea how I am going to repair it.
    A lucky babe indeed to have this wonderful family keepsake to wear. I hope the baby waits until the snowstorm is over before making an appearance!

  48. A legacy of love. Thank you for sharing this gentle process of wool care which points to the past and the future. Best wishes to the whole family as you await the new addition.

  49. Coincidence! I’ve just been going through a few of the bits from mum’s house which I hadn’t sorted at the time and found 2 of my old baby dresses and 2 tiny weeny girls cardigans, sadly not hand knit – I suspect the hand knit ones didn’t stand up to my mother’s rather vigorous washing. I looked at the dresses which are very 1962, both pure nylon and very long and checked with the offspring – nope not interested. Which is fair enough as I wouldn’t dress a baby in pure nylon now! I’ve kept the cardigans in case I have a grandaughter (2 grandsons so far) and decided to free up the dresses on ebay – and got a bid within an hour! So pleased that someone wants them and they will be loved.

  50. You are absolutely right about the weather. My first grandchild decided to arrive on the day of a major snowstorm in New York City. My son and daughter in law walked to the hospital down the middle of a Manhattan street since all motor vehicle traffic was shut down! At 4 years old he still loves snow.

  51. This is just an amazing story of preserving those sweater sets for 3 decades. So much inspired to see the beautiful snowy white set back after mending by grandma. Yes its looks very soft even from the picture, your granddaughter is lucky enough to get the Wollen Generation to pass on to her Blessings.

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