One of my earliest memories is of watching my grandmother Hamlin crochet doilies and handkerchief edgings using tiny hooks, size 12 and 13, the tip so small it seemed impossible she could see the stitches it made. She also crocheted “baby sets” — matching bonnets, sweaters and booties she sold through the Woolworth’s store in Skowhegan in the late 1950s. It was watching her make booties that most captivated my imagination. I loved the motion of her wrists, hands and fingers moving in the complex rhythm that resulted in the little booties she stuffed with tissue paper, to give them shape when completed. It fascinated me that she could talk and crochet at the same time, never consulting the pattern because she had it memorized, and often not looking at her hands as she worked.
My grandmother had a particular approach she utilized in making the booties. She always began with the instep, chaining 8 stitches with a size 3 or 4 hook, using fine yarn, often nylon, and working in single crochet until she had completed 5 or 6 rows to create an oblong shape, then she chained 30 or so stitches and fastened it to the other end of the oblong shape — this made the opening for the ankle. She would make many pairs of insteps and tuck them away in a cardboard box, the kind that new shirts came in. Often they were paired together on tiny gold safety pins.
My grandmother always carried her crocheting with her whenever she visited her sons and daughters. With the insteps “made ahead,” she would select one and begin crocheting the sides of the foot. I don’t recall how she made the sole of the bootie, but it it was in natural progression from the side of the foot to the sole. She completed the ankle part of the bootie last, finishing the top edge with a shell stitch motif. She wove narrow ribbon into the stitches at the ankle for ties, though sometimes she chained a length of yarn to serve as a tie and finished each end with a tiny pom-pon.
Years ago, when my sons were newborns, I made booties for them using the pattern my grandmother used, which must have been in wide use at the time. But somewhere along the line I lost the booklet containing the instructions and gradually the memory of the pattern specifics faded from my mind.
I looked for years for the same pattern my grandmother had used, but never found it until I happened to stumble upon one recently at antiquecrochetpatterns.com — an almost-like-my-grandmother-made pattern for booties — not quite the same because the sole is made as a separate piece. But it has the instep piece and the pom-pon ties. I can figure out the sole part as I work.
Of course, babies don’t wear booties anymore — baby gear has come a long way since the 1950s when my grandmother was at the height of her crocheting days. Still, I think I’ll make a pair or two, just for old times sake, and to remind me of my grandmother, a daughter of Arachne of legend if ever there was one, twining in her fingers the strands of yarn that created a web of her crochet days.
Mary Bird of Orono writes that Tom Chappell of Tom’s of Maine will be the keynote speaker at the Fiber Maine-ia Conference and Festival, Oct. 15-16, at the University of Maine during homecoming weekend. Chappell, who learned to spin from Debbie Bergman of Purple Fleece in Stockton Springs, is leading a project linking sheep farming, fiber processing and marketing of fiber through a “Growing Underwear in Maine” initiative. Also on Fiber Maine-ia’s agenda this year, in addition to an expanded selection of fiber arts workshops and demonstrations, are sessions on funding fiber work, arts and entrepreneurship, selecting and caring for the fiber animals that are right for you, a spin-in and much more.
The Newport Cultural Center on Main Street has Japanese inspired quilts stitched by Annette Houston on display during June. Also on display during June is a Civil War-era flag of grand proportions hand-stitched by a Newport resident. For information, visit newportculturalcenter.org.
The group making the Maine Made Wine Wraps (gift bags for wine) needs fabric with winter themes. It also needs old wool sweaters for the felted version of the wraps. If you have winter-themed fabrics, wool sweaters or time to sew, call Ellen Russell at 944-1441. More information is available at the group’s Facebook page, Maine Made Wine Wraps. Since October, the wraps have yielded nearly $4,000 for the Komen Maine Race for the Cure breast cancer research.
Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.