There is a tale behind knitted rainbow booties

Published 8:50 am Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Daily group exercise on weekdays at Skyline Plaza is one of my few predictable routines. One then might surmise that I get bored easily on my indoor walks. When the weather edges on the balmy, I itch to walk outdoors, but an early morning drizzle talked me into treading the tiles at the mall not long ago on a Monday.

Near the end of my third round, I noticed a woman bent over like the letter C, hanging out on the otherwise empty barbershop bench. She was concentrating on knitting from a wide rainbow of yarn that was intriguing enough for me to stop and inquire about her mesmerizing motions.

Her name was Shirley and she lives in Lamberton several hours away. Shirley awaited her husband, who buys his yearly seed for their farm crops, just across the highway at the Albert Lea Seed House.

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She said she spends hours waiting on him on their out-of-town trips, and thus spends many hours knitting. She held up her needles and some yarn by her right hand for me to inspect. She explained that the piece of knit work I was looking at was not her handiwork. Rather, it served the same purpose as a ball of yarn. In fact, it was a flat knitted rainbow rectangle and was the source of yarn for a pair of socks she was knitting for herself.

Two socks near her left hand were a kaleidoscope of colored rainbow bands. As she went into detail, a friend of mine from the Art Center stopped by with another woman and listened to the knitter’s story. The socks are made of a fine, durable and washable wool that does not bleed when washed. She orders the wool online and it comes in plain white in long rectangles. Then she dyes it on the back, soaking colors through to the front to make a series of inch-wide stripes of brilliant colors that cover the length of the rectangle. When she’s ready to knit with her thin circular needle, she is able to make two socks at the same time with the duplicated thread coming off her skein. It sounded as though she makes gifts of socks for most all her friends and family.

Shirley thinks of her skill as a craft, not an art. However, she also sews and at one time made porcelain dolls for another enterprise, but found the projects too repetitive to hold her interest. Not surprisingly, she also plays the organ. The three of us Albert Leans, listened to her talk for more than a half hour and found she still has relatives in Hayward who ran the grocery store there years ago, just around the corner from where my husband and I used to have our hardware store.

When it was time for us to part paths, we walked outside the mall entrance to find her husband. She told me her husband’s truck was blue, but I simply could not see any blue truck, where she pointed to in the area of the mall parking lot.

Then she shook her finger at a blue cab with a full-sized semi-trailer behind it. Their truck was obviously so big I couldn’t see it looking straight at it! Shirley’s openness in sharing struck me as a quality that could lead her to possibly marketing her products in Albert Lea. A few days later I received a squishy package in the mail. Her gift of a pair of her hand-knitted rainbow neon socks, made just for my very own my big feet, told me her priority was not selling her products, but connecting with people.

What fun to learn both about her and from her! With her delightful connection I actually got a wonderful gift of rainbows from that rainy day.

Sara Aeikens resides in Albert Lea.