A Pattern from the Past: Baby Socks

A dainty knitted pair of baby socks decorated with pink and green tulips inspired this project and my admiration for their maker, Tamsen Dame McBride. Tamsen’s socks are made from handspun singles yarn and demonstrate a great deal of skill in mastering color and purl-stitch patterning combined with sock-shaping techniques.

In November 1846, the Holbrook and Knight families, most likely bound from Illinois to the territory of Nebraska, became separated from the rest of the Emmit Miller Wagon Company. Janvrin and Sophia Andrews Dame, with their children, Phidelia, Laura, Wesley, Tamsen, and Margaret, volunteered to rescue the strayed families. Sophia was pregnant with her sixth child. They journeyed some 220 miles (365 km) and eventually found the families, sick and out of food. The Dames shared their provisions, and when all were well enough to travel, the group started out to rejoin the rest of their party, but winter storms had arrived, which forced the group to spend the winter on the northern plains, probably somewhere in what is now North Dakota.

Jude Daurelle’s baby socks were inspired by those knitted by Tamsen Dame McBride for her sister Phidelia in 1871, which originally appeared in the September/October 1997 issue of PieceWork. Photo by Joe Coca.

The food, only enough to last one family one winter, now had to be divided among three families. Several died of illness or starvation, and in January, Sophie died of complications following the birth of her son Simon Richard, who also died. In the spring, Janvrin guided the survivors back to join the main emigration. His brother and sister-in-law William and Lovinna Dame (Sophia’s sister) eventually adopted his five surviving children. The family continued on to the Utah Territory, arriving in 1848.

Tamsen made the socks for her sister Phidelia’s daughter, probably about the time of the child’s birth in April 1871. Phidelia’s daughter, Lovinna Farrer Bennett, donated the socks, along with other articles and several family documents, to the Museum of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers in Salt Lake City.

—Jude Daurelle

Jude Daurelle thanks the International Society of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and Nancy Bush for her help in deciphering the pattern and techniques used in the 1871 socks.

Download a copy of the September/October 1997 issue of PieceWork or Knitting Traditions 2010 to knit Jude Daurelle’s adaptation of Tamsen Dame McBride’s baby socks. Plus read our blog post, “Baby Booties from a Vintage Knitting Pattern,” to learn about a pair of vintage baby booties.

Find more baby socks and booties in PieceWork!

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