Friday, 29 February 2008

18th and 19th Century Stockings

The 18th century child's gray/burgundy marled stockings (upper left), on 3.25mm bronze needles, are made of unlabeled wool of uncertain date from my thirty year old stash at a gauge/tension of 6 1/2 stitches/inch. The undyed ones below, on 3.25mm birch needles, are made of hand spun from the wool of a local flock of a Dorset-Wiltshire historic breed with a gauge/tension of 7 stitches/inch. The patterns for both are loosely based on stockings I have seen in photographs from books and various museum's and other institutions' collections. Both stockings have the traditional garter stitch rows at the tops, and the undyed pair has a series of openings worked with a Yarn Over/Knit 2 Together combination, so as to create an area where a garter or ribbon can be threaded through the top of the stocking.

The 19th century adult dark brown stockings are on 2.00mm metal needles knit in old, thin Dritz *sports yarn* (wool) that I would love to be able to precisely date. The ribbing (more commonly found in the 19th century) at the top is a *K3, P1* combination with 15 stitches/inch. Still in the design process, they will probably be partially based on a pair in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village (

19th Century Mitts

These elegant mitts are from a pattern published by Circa Knits (1995) based on ones (c. 1863) in the collection of the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California. They were knit on 2.25 mm needles using ivory mercerised cotton. The picot edge is knitted. I intend to knit them again using a more historically accurate lace weight wool or silk.

Monmouth Caps

The Monmouth cap has been evolved over the last five centuries into the style many of us wear today. As Mara Riley explains, "Many of the surviving examples of the 17th and 18th century caps...were knitted larger than the finished size and then heavily felted to produce water-resistant headwear, though this treatment does not seem to have been universal...The term Monmouth Cap seems to refer generically to English knitted caps in the 18th century, some of which resemble Rutt's* cap and others which look more like modern stocking caps but without the ribbing." (

*A History of Hand Knitting"by Richard Rutt (1987)

The yellow one is knit in a vintage, unnamed 3 ply wool knit on 4.00mm needles, and somewhat resembles the 15th century acorn cap. The brim, however, rolls upwards. The light and dark grey ones are both knit on 3.25mm needles in 2 ply wools I bought so long ago I have forgotten their names. The dark gray one can be folded or pushed down at the top. The brim was folded over and knit into the body of the cap at 4 inches. This folding technique is found on some of the few extant caps such as the one in Heart of Oak* and the one worn by the late 17th century Gunnister Man. None of my caps have the *button* at the top or the loop on the brim found on many Monmouth caps.

*Heart of Oak - A Sailor's Life in Nelson's Navy by James P. McGuane (2002)

Stockings for Stephen Maturin

"'...and pull on your stockings, I beg. We have not a moment to lose. No, not the blue stockings: we are going on to Mrs Harte's party - to her rout.'

'Must I put on silk stockings?...Was I to put the silk stockings over my worsted ones, sure the hole would not show: but then I should stifle with the heat.'"

Master and Commander, Chapter Six

This is the second mention of knitted objects in the POB Canon. In the third chapter of Master and Commander, James Mowett is described as wearing "a striped Guernsey shirt, a knitted garment that gave him very much the look of a caterpillar." This garment may have been loom knitted. "Worsted," on the other hand, sometimes referred to hand knit objects so I decided to make Stephen's blue stockings. The debate over the stockings in Chapter Six is followed by the description of domestic chamber music and that its audience, "Mrs Brown and a white cat, sat mildly knitting, perfectly satisfied with the performance."

What was the cat knitting, I wonder?

I chose Blackberry Ridge lace weight wool, Dark Wedgewood, for this project. I like its wools for historic knitting as the colours resemble natural dyes and the texture is like fine hand spun. I will publish the yardage used when I have completed the pair of stockings as I have no idea at this point how much will be needed. I am using five 2.00mm metal double pointed needles with a gauge/tension of 11 stitches/inch. The top of the stocking has the 18th century style of garter stitch rows edging with a stocking/stockinette plain stitch area where the garter or band would go around, followed by another double series of garter stitch rows, hopefully preventing rolling down and slipping of any fastening, and then the stocking/stockinette plain stitch for the rest of the stocking. "S" and "M" will be cross stitched in red (typical colour used for this purpose) cotton (standing in for silk) thread in the upper part of the stocking using lettering common in late 18th century samplers. The body of the stocking is based on the 1765 one and pattern found in Sharon Ann Burnston's book "Fitting and Proper," (1998).

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Garment - The Sketch

It is painfully obvious that I cannot draw. Here, however, is my sketch of TG as I envision it. It will, of course, be a tighter fit all over.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Infant Wear from the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

The infant cap and boots on the left are from Lace from the Attic (1998) by Nanci Wiseman and were knit on 3.00mm, and 2.75mm and 3.00mm needles, respectively. The infant cap, knit on 2.75mm needles on the upper right is from a pattern published by Circa Knitwear (1995) of a late 19th century cap in the collection of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California. The remaining cap in the lower left is a wool (and bulkier) version of the Baby Bonnet by June Ware, published in Spin-Off (Summer, 2000), knit on 2.75mm needles. All three infant caps and the boots were knit with Morehouse undyed lace weight yarn and with double pointed needles.

Thinking out The Garment and the Wool

Ever since I first read Post Captain in the very early 1990s, I have wanted to make the Garment (TG). As a reproduction knitter, I study a garment and try to duplicate gauge/tension and materials, using, by necessity, modern yarns unless the project calls for handspun. I knew that a life size version would take a great deal of wool, far more than I could spin or commission to have spun to my specifications. Commercially produced yarns looked far too modern and slick or were too thick or too thin. Most garments I have studied from the late 18th/early 19th centuries have a vary fine gauge/tension, obviously knit on the thin needles we see in 18th/19th century paintings and museum or historical society collections. Would, however, TG have been so finely knit? The texture would have to be sturdy as it was meant to be an outer not an under garment. Since stockings from this era range from very fine to coarsely knit as are some surviving caps, I decided to look for something which would produce a denser knit that would also hold its shape over time.

Quantity was also a consideration. Much as I would have liked to knit TG on 1.00mm needles with Jameison or a Morehouse or Blackberry Ridge lace weight wool (all excellent choices for reprodution knitting) as an approximation of 18th/19th century wool, the quantity needed and the cost to do so, physical, time and financial, would have been prohibitive. Stephen Maturin's height is stated as 5'6"; my model is 6'2". Lace weight would produce not only thinner fabric but also a a small gauge/tension that would require a great many stitches for the needed size.

Matthew Paris, as Stephen said, knit TG "to my design," words which, I must admit, when I sat down to work out the pattern, created a sinking feeling, as I recalled some of Stephen Maturin's enthusiastic but unusual ideas. It is described as a "single tight dull-brown garment; it clung to him, and his pale, delighted face emerged from a woolen roll at the top..." and Stephen tells Jack that it "partakes of the nature both of a Guernsey frock and of the free and easy pantaloon" which implies a comfortable, flexible fit. Patrick O'Brian may have based TG on something he read in an original document or anachronistically envisioned the union suit. I was inspired by mid-late 19th century men's knitted under drawers, a pair of which I had been working on when I finally got a volunteer model for TG. Knit from the ankle up to the waist, one leg at a time would be a good way to adjust the dimensions of TG as it grew. Like the under drawers and stockings, I wanted to kit TG in the round, in the plain stocking/stockinette stitch with the garter stitch edgings which was more commonly used at this time on stockings and, I theorise, the waist, neck and sleeves of the 18th century shirts and jackets (with this edge) used as underclothes that I have seen.

After more than a year of serious searching for a suitable wool taking into account ply, historic breeds of sheep, choice of wool available to Matthew Paris, the story of Merinos, and trying out several contenders, I finally settled on an undyed dark brown wool from Twist of Fate Spinnery, llp, in Portland, Connecticut, 3 ply 140 yards/137 metres. It met all the requirements of an all natural wool, an "ape" colour, a Merino ancestry and a consistent but not an ultra-modern mechanical looking twist.

To Jack, TG is "subhuman," horrible at a distance...worse near to - far worse...," that vile thing." To me, a process knitter, it is a fascinating challenge every step and stitch of the way.

All quotations are from Post Captain, Chapter Twelve

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Beginning The Garment

The Garment is being made to fit a volunteer model. It is being knit in parts that will be seamlessly joined or the stitches picked up and continually knit. Here is the first part, the lower left leg, on double pointed needles, in the round.
Stephen Maturin's garment was made by Matthew Paris "who was once a framework knitter." It is described as "a single tight dull-brown garment." If the fabric of it had been made on a frame, it may have been knitted in large pieces and then cut, fitted and sewn to fit Stephen's body in the manner of stocking construction of the time. Paris may also have knit by hand pieces more or less to scale and fitted those to Stephen. The garment is described as one piece but that does not mean that it was a continual piece of knitted fabric or hand knitting. I lean towards this theory of construction as Stephen tells Jack that Paris "is working on one for you at present." This suggests that Paris already has the pieces of knitted fabric or may be still hand knitting pieces that he intends to fit to Jack. Of course, this never happens and there is, unfortunately, no further mention of this style of "deeply rational" garment again. I like to think that the pieces intended for Jack were recycled into gloves, mittens, caps and comforters or perhaps some knitted under shirts for Paris's mates.

Stockings in this era were also hand knit, often with a purl stitch on the outside marking the back seam on every or alternate rows. This seam stitch is visible in the photo from the inside of the piece, appearing as a knit stitch. The stocking tops usually had bands of garter stitch rows at the top, sometimes several, in the area that went over the knee and were held up with garters made of woven tape, ribbons or straps above or below the knee.* I have taken the usual garter stitch edging and used it for the lower edge of the leg as I have also found this kind of edging on mitts, gloves and jackets or undergarments from this time. This part actually goes over the foot but can be rolled back to the ankle. Stephen states that he can withdraw his head "entirely" and "the same applies to the feet and the hands" suggesting some extra length at all of the ends. This piece will be gradually widened either side of the seam as it approaches the ankle and continues up the leg.

*Coming soon: two pairs of reproduction stockings including Stephen Maturin's blue worsted pair

All quotations are from Post Captain, Chapter Twelve

Wednesday, 20 February 2008


I have knit or am knitting samplers, stockings, socks, undergarments, caps, gloves, mitts, mittens, reticules, purses, personal and household accessories from the last five centuries as well as a great deal of lace, ethnic and contemporary knitting. I am also currently creating my version of a woolen garment worn by Stephen Maturin in the novel, Post Captain, by Patrick O’Brian. The progress of The Garment, as it shall be known, will, although not historically documented, be discussed as will other objects currently on or off the needles that are related to the Aubrey-Maturin books.

"My wool garment? You have noticed it, have you? I had forgot, or I should have pointed it out. Have you ever seen anything so deeply rational?"

Patrick O’Brian
Post Captain, Chapter Twelve