Updating a family heirloom

My brother, sister, and I are almost exactly two years apart. So, in almost every family photo of an outing, one of us is in the baby backpack. This was a late-60s/early 70s-style backpack, with straps that look like today's school backpack straps and a metal kickstand of sorts, which could be pulled out to make the backpack into a baby seat. It was usually worn by my dad, who inevitably ended up with Cheerios down his collar.

A Chinese baby carrier (mei tai) in use. (Watercolor drawing by Ann Swanson)
An ornate baby carrier from southern China from the personal collection of Anni Kristensen of Himalaya Yarn. (Photo by Joe Coca)

When I saw Lily Chin's Chinese Silk Baby Carrier in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of PieceWork magazine, memories of our family's version of the baby carrier flooded back to me. Since I'm four years older than my sister, I remember her being carried around in the pack, smiling her darling little smile and waving her precious, chubby hands. She was the cutest baby! Even an older sister appreciated her charm.

The original baby carrier (mei tai) that was used by Lily Chin and her sister Amy when they were infants. Their nephew and his wife used the carrier for their first child; it is now on its way to their niece, who is expecting her first child. (Photoby Joe Coca)
Lily Chin's knitted silk baby carrier.
o by Joe Coca.

Here's Lily, to tell you the story of her baby carrier, and its cultural history.

A Chinese Baby Carrier

When my nephew Victor and his wife were expecting their first child, my sister Amy gave them a baby carrier (mei tai), the very one in which she and I had been toted around as infants. She had saved it, but I'm not certain how long it had been in the family before our generation.

Baby carriers are known in nearly all Asian cultures. On a recent trip to China, I saw many in use even today. Anni Kristensen of Himalaya Yarn has one from China; she has two Indonesian carriers from Borneo made of wood and beads, not fabric like Chinese ones.

Chinese carriers have a square or oblong body with a long strap extending from each corner and may be worn either in front or in back. Traditionally, the center square is 15 to 16 inches (38.1 to 40.6 cm) across. I made mine larger, however: having no children of my own, I plan to use it as a wall hanging. I've included both sizes in the directions.

For yarn, I chose silk, the most Chinese of fibers, as China is the original source of silk. The "back" of the carrier is just as nice as the front, and so I see this as a fully reversible piece.

The geometric motif comes from the traditional "good luck" envelope filled with money and given to children when they reach one month of age. Red and gold are the de rigueur good-fortune colors. Good luck envelopes also are given to children on Chinese New Year and other special occasions.

Our family's original mei tai is now on its way to my niece, who is expecting her first child, and I hope that this tradition will continue for many generations to come.

—Lily M. Chin, from PieceWork Nov/Dec 2013

These days, there are lots of innovative baby carriers out there, and I love that Lily has updated a treasured family heirloom. (Please note that the knitted baby carrier does not provide head support, so it's best for older infants who have fully developed head and neck control.)

I love these sorts of stories from PieceWork, and I look forward to each issue, because I know I'll learn so much!

Stitch pattern detail

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P.S. Have you updated or passed along any knit family heirlooms? Tell us your story in the comments!

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