In 1982, Masterton resident Bridget Denton gifted her first grandchild an intricate handmade shawl she had knitted herself.
It started a tradition that would continue into the mid-1990s, repeated for each of her daughters.
It was an auspicious time to begin the custom.
“1982 was the year Prince William was born and the shawl she knitted [for her daughter, Pat] was one she got from the Woman’s Weekly that was being knitted for Prince William,” one of Bridget’s five daughters, Fiona Cundy, said.
Margaret was the next daughter to receive a handmade shawl for her newborn.
This time, the pattern was one Bridget – originally from Scotland – had come by when she worked as a nanny in London.
“She had wanted to use it for her babies but we were quite poor, so she didn’t have the money to knit it then,” Fiona said.
Fiona and her older sister, Kathleen, kept Bridget busy in 1992, having their babies six months apart.
“Margaret can recall mum being under a bit of pressure to get these shawls knitted,” Fiona said.
Moira was the last of Bridget’s daughters to be gifted a shawl, which she received in 1995.
The memories the sisters have shared with Midweek are particularly poignant, as Bridget died recently, shortly after her 88th birthday.
For her birthday celebrations, Fiona and her siblings arranged with Julie Adams, the recreation co-ordinator at Lansdowne Court where Bridget lived, to have the shawls and photographs of the grandchildren as babies on display as a surprise for Bridget.
“Mum’s face – she just beamed. And all the residents who came to her afternoon tea just thought it was wonderful,” Fiona said.
“She passed away nine days later, so we are very lucky we did it.”
Bridget remained a prodigious knitter until the end of her life, with woollen hats a firm favourite, Kathleen said.
“All the great-grandchildren, everybody, they’ve all got hats. She knitted hundreds of hats over the years.”
Bridget was an industrious and warm-hearted woman, the sisters said.
“She was just an awesome, awesome, awesome person,” Fiona said.
She “absolutely loved kids” and “did a bit of teacher aiding” at Ihuraua School, one of the rural schools Bridget’s children attended in Wairarapa.
As well as shawls, Bridget instilled other traditions in her family, including going on the annual garden tour, decorating the Christmas tree over a glass of wine and flower decorating.
“She loved flower decorating,” Fiona said. “She’d come to my place and we’d get her to do flower decorations in these vases.
“Once she passed, all us girls have got little vases and on a Friday, we do our flower decorations together.”
Kathleen attributes the closeness of her family to having no relatives in New Zealand, as Bridget and her husband, Patrick [Paddy], originally from Ireland, emigrated to Aotearoa in the late 1950s.
“And we are from a good Catholic family, so there are lots of us,” Kathleen said. “Lots of daughters and one son and we were bought up in a home filled with so much love. We are all very close.”
Bridget was “just the best”.