These are very comfortable boots and not at all difficult to make.
— Weldon’s Practical Knitter, 13th Series (1886)
I have a dear friend who is having her first baby and adores antique baby styles. I’m kind of esoteric myself, and gladly mix together whatever works best (with the least fuss and the most clever solution) from whatever period, and therefore when she specifically said that she wanted traditional drawstring baby booties, I was at a loss.
I don’t particularly like baby booties. I like socks. The booties I do like are totally seamless, modern affairs. I had NOTHING saved in my Ravelry library or my Pinterest that would suit the request. So, I pulled up my irreverently digital copies of Weldon’s and began my quest for the Holy Grail: drawstring booties, not too fussy, with pattern directions that aren’t completely broken, and preferably an illustration so I can see what I’m getting myself into.
As a devoted follower of Franklin Habit, I was steeling myself for the worst possible offenses of vague pattern writing: would there be ANY mention of yarn weight or needle size? How inscrutable would the instructions be? Would I have to hold a séance to contact a long-dead knitting designer with my questions?
Finally I found something that looked promising (“Infant’s Boots. Dotty Pattern.”), picked an appropriate yarn that wouldn’t completely self-destruct if I had to frog and re-knit a few times, and dove in.
I eliminated the selvages and knit in the round (because doing the prescribed 3-needle BO across the sole and seaming up the back wouldn’t yield a “very comfortable” foot covering to my mind) and was merrily on my way through the ribbing. But the so-called dotty pattern! Oh, no! First I tried it as written, without regard for the conversion to working in the round, but that makes a strange combination of eyelets and slip-stitches. Then I tried the conversion for working in the round, but that simply yielded a kind of corrugation or welting, not dots or bumps. I enlarged the illustration in Weldon’s as far as I could and tried desperately to match the pattern to ANYTHING in my book of knitting stitches, and while that was unsuccessful, I did find a swatch of the same line directions, although it’s under a different name and the picture doesn’t look “dotty” but rather striped. In fact, it looked very familiar– because it was the second thing I’d tried.
So please note that I consider “dotty” to be a misnomer in this pattern, except perhaps in that the original designer had to be dotty to think that coral knot stitch looks anything like dots. The textured section looks more like a fancy welted pattern than a dot pattern, at least to me. I think these booties would be awesome with the pattern section switched out for something that IS knobbly, like double moss stitch or trinity stitch, but that’s a trial for another day.
I’ve also updated the decreases from all k2tog to symmetrical k2tog and ssk pairs and made notation clearer throughout. The end result is a pretty cute, fairly streamlined bootie that *could* pass for a more modern baby’s sock if you omit the drawstring.
To the pattern!
Weldon’s doesn’t get any more specific than “infant”. The original pattern suggests “Andalusian wool”, which would be approximately modern sport weight, and No. 16 steel needles, which would be roughly modern US 1 or 1.5. I tried a sport weight yarn on US 1.5 needles to start, since I tend to be a tight knitter, but the resulting booties were HUGE (based on the sole measurement, suitable for the average 2 year old!), so I made some alterations to the size and also yarn and needle recommendations.
My prototypes are knitted with Knit Picks Palette on US 1 carbon fiber DPNs. These are VERY elastic, and therefore the size isn’t well-defined. The cuff section has a circumference of about 3″ unstretched, and the leg stretches to about 7″ circumference. The foot is about 4″ long. I would estimate that these booties are probably a newborn size. The doll modeling the booties in the photos wears a size 0-3 months usually, so these are a bit tight on it but still work fine.
You could easily make them a little bigger (toddler size) by using a sport weight yarn and US 1.5 needles, or a little smaller (preemie/doll size) by using lace weight yarn and US 0 needles.
about 75 yards of fingering weight yarn
US 1 (2.25mm)DPNs
About 24″ of 1/8″-wide ribbon or cord for ties (optional)
pick up yarn and purl/knit one— pick up yarn from between stitches using the L needle and purl/knit into this new loop with the R needle
M1— make one, using the backward-loop method
For the leg:
Cast on 44 stitches and join in the round.
Rounds 1-12: *k2, p2* to end of round
Coral Knot Stitch:
R13: *k2tog* around (22sts)
R14: *pick up yarn and purl 1, P1,* to end of round (44 sts)
R17-44: Repeat the above 4 pattern rows (R13-R16) a further 6 times.
R45: *k2tog* around (22 sts)
R46: *pick up yarn and purl 1, P1* to end of round (44 sts)
R47: K28, turn work (16 sts will remain unworked on the L needle)
R48: P12, turn work (these 12 center sts form the instep)
Rearrange stitches as necessary. On DPNs, I had three needles holding 16sts, 12sts, and then 16sts again.
For the instep:
R1: M1, *k2tog* across (7 sts)
R2: *K1, pick up yarn and knit 1* to last 2 sts on instep needle, K2 (12sts)
R5-R23: Repeat the above 4 pattern rows (R1-R4) a further 3 times, and then work R1 through R3 again.
R25: K2, ssk, K4, k2tog, K2 (10 sts)
R26-R28: knit three rows
R29: K2, ssk, K2, k2tog, K2 (8 sts)
Repeat rows 26-28, then break yarn.
For the foot and sole:
Pick up 10 stitches along R side of instep (7 sts along coral knot section and 3 sts along garter stitch section) and knit across instep sts. With a new needle, pick up another 10 stitches along L side of instep, and knit the 16 sts from the L needle to return to the original beginning of round. You will have 60 sts in total.
R4: K25, M1, K2, M1, K6, M1, K2, M1, K25 (64 sts)
R5-R8: Continue in garter stitch
R9: K28, ssk, K4, k2tog, K28 (62 sts)
R11: K28, ssk, K2, k2tog, K28 (60 sts)
R13: K28, ssk, k2tog, K28 (58 sts)
R15: K2, k2tog, K21, ssk, ssk, k2tog, k2tog, K21, ssk, K2 (52 sts)
R17: K2, k2tog, K18, ssk, ssk, k2tog, k2tog, K18, ssk, K2 (46 sts)
Use a Kitchener graft to close up the sole of the bootie (23 sts on each of two needles). Repeat all instructions to make the second bootie.
Weave in ends.
(Optional) Cut a short length of ribbon or make a short cord (about 12″ in length– mine are about 10.5″ and a bit fiddly for bow-making) for the drawstring tie on each bootie. Thread the tie through the eyelets in the last repeat of the coral knot stitch pattern on the leg of the bootie and fasten with a bow over the instep.
Slip some sweet baby feet into the finished booties and enjoy your 19th-century cuteness!