Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Stockings from 1817

This pattern is from The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant Designed for the Use of the National Girls’ School, printed in 1817. The facsimile edition, which I used, is available from Robin Stokes (www.robinstokes.com) In the introduction to the facsimile edition, Ms. Stokes writes that she believes this instruction book is the earliest printed pattern currently available. As of May, 2011, there seems not to be anything earlier that has survived in English. Ms. Stokes also writes that “The original purpose of this book was a charitable effort to teach the poor to knit for extra income.”

There are patterns for five sizes of stockings and three sizes of socks with a “scale” (sizing/stitch chart) at the end for both stockings and socks. The pattern, itself, is presented in a question and answer format, e.g., “Q. How do you cast on the stitches? / A. I take the worsted that is on the ball in the right hand…” The stocking is not difficult to knit and the older knitting language is easily interpreted.

I knit the smallest size stocking. There are also patterns for a man's stocking and socks, respectively, knit in lambswool.

In keeping with the times, there is no tension/gauge or needle size stated although “coarse worsted and large needles” are suggested. I followed these instructions by using 3.25mm/3US needles which are larger than the usual sizes I use for reproduction stockings. I also chose Harrisville Designs’ Shetland (two ply) as it is twice the thickness of the usual finer weight wool I use for 18th/19th century stocking; it gave me 7 ½ stitches to the inch. I adore knitting with this wool and, in this case, the gorgeous Marigold color was so bright and cheerful, a definite antidote to Second Stocking Syndrome.

There is no welting or rows or panels of garter stitchs. "Six rounds ribbed" (italics in the original pattern) of "three stitches plan and turning three" (knit three, purl three) instead. Do the italics stress the departure from the older style of stocking top? The narrowing or decreases were knit two together on the right side of the turn or seam stitch, right leaning as is typical of the era, and on the left of the seam stitch, a knit one, pass the next (unknitted) stitch over the knitted stitch. A single knitted stitch, as usual (although I have seen two), was left on either side of the seam stitch on the leg.

The foot had and extra stitch knit “in the loop” either side of the instep “to prevent holes in the corners.” There were also instructions for widening the “heel sides,” as is evident in the photographs from the outward slope on the bottom of the flattened feet.

The toe decreases are not the usual every alternate row but are done in different numerical sequences.

When starting a new ball of wool, it is suggested that the "end of the worsted" be "knit in with the first three stitches."

I followed the exact directions throughout (which is unusual for me) and thought that the leg was a bit short in proportion to the size of the foot. I am 5’3” and have legs in proportion to that height but the stockings only come up to my knee and do not go over them at all. On the other hand, or foot, so to speak, my shoe size is 37 ½ mm/7US, and the foot of this stocking is a good 2 ¾” longer than my foot. It is also a bit roomy on either side of my foot as a result of those added side heel stitches.

The final measurements for the stockings are 10 ¼” around the leg under the ribbing, 8” around the ankle, 10” around the widest part of the foot and 8" around the narrowest part of the foot, between the two sets of decreases. The stocking, from the top of the ribbing to the bottom of the heel measures 18 ½”.

I plan to make the socks, next, but will adjust and fit them more to my foot so I can wear them.


JoAnn said...

Just a thought, but perhaps these were sized for men? That would account for the longer foot to leg ratio and wider heel.

One More Stitch said...

I think the pattern I used is meant to be generic with the understanding that once the pupils had learned the basic construction of a stocking, they could adapt to specific sizing.

The longer foot does, certainly, suggest a man's size so perhaps these patterns were mostly intended for male wear. I made the smallest size in the book.

I have edited the original post to include specific measurements and some more period techniques.

Mette said...

very interesting!

Pen said...

I got a good look at the 1780's stockings from the wreck of The general Carleton, and was intrigued to see they had a ribbed start but the ribs were highly irregular; so say, it would be 3 sts purl, followed by 7 plain, followed by 5 purl, etc. Yet it didn't look like a beginner's piee - it was extremely fine gauge and perfectly made.

Well done on the colour! I found an edict from a local poor house (Howden, Yorkshire, and very close to this date) that proclaimed all paupers' stockings knit there were, henceforth, to be knit from yellow worsted. I'm guessing it's because weld was cheap and freely available, and is one of the easiest dyes to use.