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July 05, 2016

Knitting memories: Creating priceless presents for future generations

A skill passed from mother to daughter yields homemade traditions

Parenting Katie's Baby
Katie_Gagnon_GreatNanaKnits Katie Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie's paternal great-grandmother knit this outfit for her first great-grandchild. These handmade clothes are even more precious to the family because Nana passed away when Katie was just a few weeks old.

My mom has a hope chest at the foot of her bed filled with preserved heirlooms. When I found out I was expecting, we sat on her bedroom floor as she withdrew baby clothes and accessories, saved in anticipation of her grandchildren. Among them were beautiful crocheted pieces that her mother, my Grandma Corcoran, created for my sisters and me, and clothes and booties that my Dad’s grandmother, my Great Nana, knit for me just before she passed away. Mom also saved the clothes and accessories that she made when she was a young mother. Holding these items, I felt connected to my grandmothers who are no longer here and could picture my mother expecting me 35 years ago. Thinking about the time and love that went into making each piece, choosing the yarns and patterns, sitting and creating in anticipation of a new baby that would soon join the family, I found myself both nostalgic for the past and excited for the future.

Katie Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie's mother knit many beautiful clothes and accessories for her daughters, including this coat, leggings and hat set for Katie's first Thanksgiving.

The art of knitting and crocheting seems a little antiquated in 2016, considering how quick and easy it is to order a baby blanket online. But I am so grateful that Mom taught me how to knit when I was young, just as her mother taught her. My skill is far less advanced than Mom’s. She makes gorgeous sweaters and intricate blankets that could sell in boutiques. Most of my life, I made scarves, easy blankets or baby hats using a simple garter and purl stitch. We’re talking really basic knitting. I was inspired by Mom and my grandmothers to attempt a more complicated piece for my son. Since he will be born in September, my first thought was to knit him a sweater.

Katie Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie's maternal grandmother was very skilled at crocheting, making many items for her nine children and 32 grandchildren over the course of her life. This is one of Grandma's pattern books with a hat and booties she made for Katie.

Mom still has her mother’s knit and crochet pattern books, dating as far back as the 1940s, and I borrowed a couple that boasted easy projects. However, reading the patterns in these books was like reading Latin. Since I was still living in the Midwest at the time, I couldn’t drive to my parents’ house and ask Mom for a translation, so I sought a modern remedy: tutorials on YouTube. I found a step-by-step video from a lovely, talented woman named Christine that details how to knit a sweet baby peacoat using a simple stitch. After purchasing yarn from Michaels, I commenced my first major baby project. It took me a couple of weeks to complete it in my free time, and I am proud of the result. As I was knitting it and dreaming of meeting my son, I felt him move for the first time. The sweater is not perfect, but it was made with love.

Katie Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie knit a sweater, stroller blanket and baby booties for the son she is expecting in September.

Since completing the sweater, I knit a heavy stroller blanket to fend off the winter chill. I did not use a pattern, just a garter and purl stitch with size 15 Clover Takumi bamboo circular needles (my favorite brand) and soft, chunky yarn from Michaels. I also made some cute little “Fortune Cookie” baby booties using a quick and easy pattern found online.

Mom recently finished a baby bunting, which is like a sleep sack, for my son using a pattern of her mother’s. Grandma’s version is saved in the hope chest, but Mom wanted to make a new one for her grandson. They are identical, save the stains that my sisters and I added to the original. Mom is now working on a beachy-colored baby blanket for the nursery and a large, colorful blanket that will be put down on the floor for my son’s tummy and play time. We picked out the yarn for these blankets at Knitting Niche, a charming shop in Ocean City, New Jersey, with the help of its knowledgeable owner, Vicki. Mom has always sourced her yarn and found help with ideas and patterns from local knitting stores, and we are lucky that a few great ones are within a quick drive.

As one of my bridal shower gifts, Mom knit a large white pillow for my husband and me. Three sides of it are stitched together with a silk ribbon. When the ribbon is removed, the pillow will transform into a baby blanket, representing the first of many special items she has knit for her grandson. Now in my third trimester, it is almost time to give these priceless presents to my son, along with the new items I have made for him.

Ever since I was young, I felt gratified by creating something with my hands. Those feelings are heightened knowing that what I am knitting will be worn and used by my baby boy. As I work the yarn, I am doing more than making gifts for my son. I am connecting with the incredible women in my family. I am binding generations through handmade traditions.

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