As evidenced by our recent Knitting Histories post, it’s not uncommon for someone who knits to also have a relative who was a maker–of–things—someone who appreciated the craftsmanship of handmade goods, made well. In many cases, it’s not just the singular person, but several people, going back generations through our family lines. For me, my mother, grandmother, and several aunts were all makers-of-things. My mother’s aunt, Kathryn Vallance, was one such person.
Kitty, as she was called by her brother (my grandfather Charles), was an accomplished knitter. In the 60s, she lived in San Francisco, where she was an active member of the local Beta Sigma Phi sorority. A non-academic sorority, ΒΣΦ is a collective of women that focuses on passing on knowledge and skills, and providing a community of support and encouragement. Formed in the 1930s, Kathryn’s chapter of ΒΣΦ focused on community service and outreach projects that often involved baking, sewing, or knitting. Many of the women in the sorority were accomplished knitters and often created their own patterns for adult-sized garments. Kitty was especially skilled at changing these into smaller garments that they could sell as clothing marketed for Barbie, a doll gaining massive popularity among children, including her young niece, Gail (my mother).
Each of the garments pictured above were hand–knit using standard garment construction techniques; they are just miniature versions of pieces Kitty knit for herself to wear. Worked entirely on US 000-US 1 sized double-pointed needles, these pieces fully illustrate the ability of my great aunt’s knitting. They feature fabrics indicative of the time—100% wools and angora blends, leftovers from her own knitted garments.
While everyone in my house is now beyond their Barbie years, and Barbie herself has taken a turn towards pink, plastic, and processed, I love pulling these pieces out and observing the tiny stitches. The attention to detail rivals my own when it comes to picking up stitches or meticulously hemming a doubled edge. While they might seem like vintage kitsch, these pieces tell a portion of my family’s handmade history.