the stockings were hung by the chimney with care: a hand-knit family tradition

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My stocking for baby Matthew on the left, the stocking Joan made for me when I was born is second from the left and the others she made for my husband and daughters.

Every year as we decorate the house for Christmas, our stockings become a focal point.  While I am sure that we are not the only family that decorates with Christmas stockings, ours are truly special and they are part of a family tradition that dates back more than 50 years.  Each member of the family, mine and all of my cousins and their families, has a hand knit stocking with their name on it.  My mother’s sister, my Aunt Joan, knit one for each of us as we were born and then as each of us married, our spouses were also given stockings.  It became a right of passage in a way, if you were gifted a hand-knit stocking from Joan, it was a big welcome to the family!

The tradition continued on and as the grandchildren came, so did the stockings.  When my aunt passed away, we all wondered who would continue the tradition of hand-knitting the stockings!  My mother, who is a knitter herself, was not up to the task; she simply did not think she could make one due to the color changes.  Knitting with multiple bobbins of 6-8 colors per row can be tricky and if you have color blindness, it can be nearly impossible.  What am I talking about?  My mother actually has color blindness which is something that men are more commonly affected by.  Needless to say, the tradition of a hand knit personalized stocking for each new family member was in question and it was quite possible that it was finished.

However, as my mother will tell you, I am not one to shy away from a challenge and I quickly offered to make one when one of Joan’s sons, my cousin Tim and his wife Laura, welcomed Sara into their family.  Can I just say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into?  Knitting with bobbins and lots of color changes…Had I lost my mind?  This was so beyond my knitting skill!  Somehow, I managed to complete that stocking for Sara.  Then came one for Ed, the new husband of my cousin Mary, Joan’s only daughter.  To get some practice, I decided to knit a set for my closest friend, her husband and their son.  With each one, my skills improved and the process became easier.  Then, nothing.  No additions to the family until late this summer.

In September, another of Joan’s sons, Chris and his wife Rosemary, welcomed little Matthew into the family.  Suddenly, I had a stocking to make!  Quickly, I went out to purchase the needed yarn to make the stocking.  Sounds easy enough but truth be told, yarn colors change just like fashion trends change and finding the colors I needed was not easy and in the end, I went with colors that are notably different from all of the stockings Joan and I had previously made.

IMG_2076My stocking is over 50 years old now, and yes, it pains me to say that.  When Joan made mine, she used wool and angora and over the years, moths have damaged it.  Several years ago, I had to have mine repaired because moth larvae had eaten patches of the angora.  These days, the acrylic yarns available make avoiding wool and angora pretty easy which means that the stocking I knit will not become a target for moth larvae.  To make the beard and fur trim, I used a ball of Bernat Boa yarn and it was a little challenging to work with.  Not only is it fluffy and bulky, it gives off a lot of fibers and it is difficult to actually see the individual stitches which is an important part of following a graph to knit a pattern like this one.  In the future, I may try to find a yarn that is a little less textured.

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Every knitter using the same pattern is bound to have different results.  Like handwriting, how you hold the needles and the tension you keep on the yarn can have many different results.  The different yarns can only further change things.  All I know is that it is a tradition I am glad to continue and I hope to keep knitting them as the family grows.  It makes the holiday a little more special to look at the collection of stockings hanging in our house and I can only hope my work lives up to Joan’s!


IMG_2086Before I sent the newest member of the family his stocking, I hung it from the mantle in our living room with the collection of stockings Joan knit for us.  Looking at the stockings hanging there together, knowing that I made one, a certain feeling of satisfaction came over me.  More importantly, I was excited to send it on its way so that Chris and Rosemary could hang a stocking for Matthew.  Then a thought occurred to me, I missed one.  It seems that someone in that small family is missing a stocking; don’t worry, Rosemary, I’m on it!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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