My brother-in-law’s family (the Barrons) has a tradition of knitting booties for each new baby that comes into the family. In 2016, when the first new baby of a generation was due to enter the world, the handwritten bootie pattern needed to be deciphered, and I was asked to help. Several abbreviations were unconventional (“N,” “O,” and “Bi 1”). Research, combined with trial and error, helped me figure out the pattern and find its original publication. The origin of the bootie tradition is unclear, but the family has more than a dozen pairs—all the same pattern—that have been worn for at least three generations. Among family members, the booties are remembered for two things: their fineness and that “they stay on.”
Hulda Petterson Gibb (1886–1973) of Minnesota made booties for her grandchildren (the Barrons) in the 1940s and 1950s. The bootie pattern was reportedly a part of her Scottish husband’s family tradition. (Hulda’s parents were immigrants from Norway.) Her granddaughter, Georgia Barron-Mees, notes, “Hulda majored in home economics in the early 1900s at University of Minnesota. . . . She was an excellent seamstress [and] her older sister was a crocheter and did tatting, probably knitting, too.”
Hulda knitted several examples of booties from what has come to be called the Barron-Gibb pattern for her grandchildren, including Frank Barron’s (born 1955) pair and his sister Georgia’s (born 1949) pink pair shown here. The tradition changed slightly with both Frank’s and Georgia’s children. The next woman to knit booties for the family was neither a Barron nor a Gibb: Joyce Clark Arnold (Frank’s mother-in-law) used the same pattern Hulda used to make booties for Frank and Kathie Barron’s children, as well as for Frank’s sister Georgia’s daughter in the 1980s. Kathie Barron explains, “[My mother] knit at least one pair for each of my five children and, I think, a pair for each of her non-Barron grandchildren (four more?). Additionally, the first pair she knitted, made of very fine white yarn in a newborn size, was worn by all of my babies. This pair is now being worn by my first grandchild, with the understanding that it will be passed along to his siblings and cousins as they are born.”
—Heather Vaughan Lee
To read the rest of the fascinating history of the “Barron-Gibb Baby Booties and Toddler Socks” and make Heather Vaughan Lee’s stunning version of the baby booties, pick up a copy of PieceWork January/February 2018.
Heather Vaughan Lee is a fashion historian, author, and knitter, whose work has focused on the study of dress in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She was the editor of and a contributor to Volume 3 of Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2015), and she published “Found in the Museum: A Callot Soeurs Gown” in Dress: The Journal of the Costume Society of America, 42.1, Spring 2016. More about Heather Vaughan Lee and her work can be found on her blog, Fashion Historia at fashionhistorian.net/blog.
Published January 12, 2018; updated March 2, 2021.