The Gunnister Stockings: Knitting Period Stockings
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Here's a description of the Gunnister stockings. I have no date for them,
but a version of them is used by Plimoth Plantation in their 1627 village.
"The knitted stockings measure 23 inches from the top to under the heel.
The length of the foot is about 11 inches, the circumference of the top
9 inches. The feet of both stockings are worn away, and have been
replaced by other material. There are holes at the knees, some roughly
mended. The woolen yarn is heavy, spun S, 2-ply. It is dark brown
in colour, a mixture of various shades of brown fibres, including some
black. The spinning and knitting are very even.
This description is from "The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland -- Publication of the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh,
"The work is done on four needles, 7 1/2 inches and 10 rows per inch.
114 stitches are cast on at the top, and 7 rows of garter stitch follow.
The remainder of the stocking is worked in stocking stitch, except for
the clocks at the ankle and a panel down the back.
"One stocking has the foot replaced by the leg of another stocking. The
wool is almost identical to that of the whole stocking but the yarn is
fine, 2-ply Z, 10 stitches and 15 rows to the inch. It is worked in
stocking stitch on 4 needles except on the top, which is worked below
the casting-on with 1 plain row, 1 purl row, 4 rows of rib of 1 plain
stitch,1 purl stitch, 1 plain row, 1 purl row and down the back of the
stocking where 2 lines of a single purl stitch is separated by 2 plain
stitches. 18 inches of the length of the stocking remains.
6 3/4 inches below the top the decreases start, and increases and
decreases for the calf can be seen. There is no foot to the stocking,
and there are holes in the leg. It is roughly four layers thick on to
the bottom of the whole stocking by 3 strands of thick S spun yarn.
"The foot of the other stocking has been replaced by a very coarse rep,
folded double. What is probably the warp is a dark brown lightly spun
3-ply S yarn, the weft a heavier, light brown 2-ply Z yarn. The count
is 6 x 17. It is roughly sewn on to the stocking by a 2-ply thread
with stitches 2 inches apart."
From this description alone, you can probably come up with some kind of
stocking, but just in case, here's directions on how to make stockings that fit.
First, you'll need a bunch of measurements:
- Circumference of your thigh where you want your stocking to end
- Circumference of your knee
- Distance from the top of the stocking (where you took the thigh measurement)to knee
- Distance from top of stocking - minus 2 to 3 inches for the welting at the
top of stocking
- Circumference for thickest portion of calf
- Distance from knee to calf measurement
- Circumference of ankle
- Distance from calf measurement to ankle
- Circumference of instep
- Length of foot
Should you choose to guesstimate here, The Workingwoman's Guide (1838)
offers the following proportions:
"GENERAL PROPORTIONS FOR STOCKINGS
This same "guide" also says: "It is difficult to make very correct scales
for different sized knit stockings, as so much depends on the quality of the
worsted and of the pins, as also on the knitter." Hence, the thoroughness
of these directions.
- Ascertain the proper breadth of the stocking.
- From the top to the bend of the knee is one square, or the length of the breadth.
- From the bend of the knee to the beginning of the calf is one
square or breadth.
- From the beginning to the edf of the calf, is one square or
- For the small of the leg, one square or breadth; for the heel, half a
square; for the narrowing on each side of the instep, one quarter of a
square; from the heel to the narrowing of the toe, one and a half square;
for the narrowing, a quarter of a square.
- Observe, that the squares always relate to the breadth of the stocking, at
the time the next square is begun."
Next, you need to figure your knitting gauge. Decide what yarn you intend
to use, and what size needles you want. Knit a sample swatch by casting on
30 stitches and knitting in stockinette stitch (knit one row, purl one row)
for 3 inches. Do not omit this step -- I can personally guarantee that you
will knit to regret it.
From your sample, carefully determine your gauge, both width-wise (stitches
per inch) and length-wise (rows per inch). The most accurate way is to
place a straight pin (it won't distort the knit) into the sample about one
third of the way across. Measure from that point one inch. Place another
pin, and count the number of stitches. Do a similar procedure to measure
the number of rows per inch. Don't make the mistake of trying to make your
sample smaller and measure from the edge. You don't get an accurate
measurement at the edges. You must measure from the inside to get the best
Convert Measurements to Stitches
This is pure mathematics. If you have a measurement that is 10 inches
wide, and you knit at 5 stitches per inch, you will need 50 stitches at that
point. If you need to knit for 2 inches long, and you knit at 7 rows per
inch, you'll need to knit 14 rows to get 2 inches. Round out to even
numbers for your widths.
Decreases and Increases
Thigh-To-Knee Decrease: Take the number of stitches at the thigh, and
subtract from it the number of stitches for the knee. That's how many
stitches you will need to decrease when you work from the thigh to the knee.
Because you decrease 2 stitches at a time (one on each side of the center
back), divide this number by 2 to determine the number of times you must
work a decrease row.
Because you must knit 2 to 3 inches even for stability and welting at the
top of the stocking, you'll want to look at the shorter measurement from
thigh to knee. Determine the number of rows you need to knit to get from
thigh to knee.
Now you have the number of rows you need to cover the distance, and you
know how many of those rows need to be rows in which you decrease. Divide
total rows by decrease rows to get even spacing.
Knee-To-Calf Increase: Use the same procedures outlined above in reverse.
Calf-To-Ankle Decrease: This uses the same principle as the Thigh-To-Knee,
but you need to make a decision first. You may choose to evenly distribute
the decrease rows all the way down the calf to the ankle, or you may choose
to put the majority of the decreases near the calf, and fewer (or none) as
you get closer to the ankle. Either way is appropriate. Look at your leg,
and figure out the best way to handle it.
Once the decision is made, you can proceed as above.
Welting is simply several rows of stitching to help give strength and
stability to the top of the stocking. The simplest form is six or eight
rows of garter stitch, and is more common in the earlier stockings. By
1838, a knit 3-purl 3 rib was common, as was any variation of that (knit
4-purl 4; knit 5-purl 3). Basketweave (k 3, p3 for 3 rows; then p 3, k 3
for 3 rows) was also used.
Center Back Panel
Something has to mark the center of the back, so you can keep track of
rows. The simplest way is a single purl stitch down the center. They were
often more elaborate, to also allow for a little give.
Some known variations:
Feel free to design your own panel.
- a six stitch panel (2 purl, 2 knit, 2 purl)
- or (1st row: k1, p1, k2, k1, p1. 2nd row: p1, k1, k2, p1, k1)
- or (1st row: k1, p1, p2, k1, p1. 2nd row: p1, k1, p2, p1, k1)
- a five stitch panel (1st row: p1, k1, p1, p1, k1. 2nd row: k1, p1, p1, k1, p1)
Clocks are designs at the ankles. Sometimes they are just on the outside
of the ankles; other times they are on both the inner and outer ankle. The
Gunnisters have them on both sides.
You can put one design at the ankles, or you can put two or three on top of
each other. The Gunnisters have 1) a moss stitch diamond, 2) an moss stitch
inverted triangle, and 3) a broken knit 2-purl 2 ribbing only on the sides
of the ankle. These are fairly common because they are nice geometrics.
Florals motifs have been found, but are less common, probably due to their
The easiest way to design clocks is to chart them. Using knit and purl
stitches for contrast, basically just figure out what you want. From the
chart and your calculations, you can figure out where you'll need to start
them on the stocking.
k k k k k k k p k k k k k k k k k p k p k p k p k p k p k k
k k k k k k p k p k k k k k k k k k p k p k p k p k p k k k
k k k k k p k p k p k k k k k k k k k p k p k p k p k k k k
k k k k p k p k p k p k k k k k k k k k p k p k p k k k k k
k k k p k p k p k p k p k k k k k k k k k p k p k k k k k k
k k p k p k p k p k p k p k k k k k k k k k p k k k k k k k
k k k p k p k p k p k p k k k
k k k k p k p k p k p k k k k inverted triangle
k k k k k p k p k p k k k k k
k k k k k k p k p k k k k k k
k k k k k k k p k k k k k k k
moss stitch diamond
Heel and Foot
The only heel I am certain is an accurate style is from the same book
The Workwoman's Guide from 1838. The drawings show it as a pointed flap.
One half of the total number of stitches are knit as a flap long enough to
go down and around the heel. At that point, several decreases are evenly
spaced in the same row, reducing the total number of stitches by 20%. The
heel is bound off and sewn.
Take up the instep stitches and pick up stitches all around the foot.
Decrease as needed along the foot to the toe. Decrease for the toe resemble
the modern mitten. Simply decrease evenly until there's only a dozen or so
stitches left, then fasten off.
I do have reference to a similar heel in a Tudor stocking, which I am told
is in the V&A. I have not seen it, nor do I have any more information on
it, other than it exists.
I can't imagine that a seam under your heel is going to be very
comfortable. You'd have to be very careful about weaving it. Also, this
will likely never show. This being the case, feel free to use your favorite
heel, foot, and toe.
If you know of any more heels, please let me know so I can add it here.
Okay, now it's time to put this all together.
I used just shy of 4 ounces of a medium sport weight on size 4 needles for
each 25 inch stocking. Plan on eight ounces for the pair, but if you want
them longer, you will need to buy extra. It takes nearly the full 4 ounces
for one stocking. This gave me a gauge of 5 stitches and 8 rows per inch.
- 1. Cast on the required number of stitches for the thigh. I cast on over
two needles, just to make sure that the cast-on is loose enough. If yours
is tight, like mine, you might want to do that.
- 2. Work 1 to 1.5 inches in your chosen welting. Start your chosen center
back panel and continue this panel until you get to the heel. Work another
.5 to 1.5 inches in plain stockinette stitch.
- 3. Start the decreases to knee. For a nice, neat appearance, don't
decrease immediately beside the center back panel. Keep one knit stitch
before and after the panel. You may want to decrease by knitting two
together in the back of the stitches on one side of the panel, and in the
front of the stitches on the other side. This keeps both decrease stitches
slanted in the same direction (either toward, or away from, the center back).
- 4. At the knee, knit .5 to .75 inches plain. Then start the increases to
- 5. Once you reach the calf, knit .5 to .75 inches plain. Then start the
decreases to the ankle.
- 6. Start your chosen clocks in the appropriate place. They will probably
start about 2/3 of the way down the calf, and should bring you right down
the ankle, to the start of the heel.
- 7. Divide the stitches in two. Put half the stitches aside for the instep.
Either follow your favorite sock pattern from here, or continue along. Work
the heel flap on the other stitches until the flap reaches under your heel,
almost to the middle of your foot. Decrease every 4th or 5th stitch in the
next row, and bind off. Fold the heel flap in half, and sew it up.
- 8. Pick up all the stitches on the instep. Looking at your measurements
for your instep, figure out how many more stitches you need. Pick them up
evenly along the heel rows. You'll probably need to pick up one stitch
every other row, maybe even 75% of the rows.
- 9. Knit plain for 2 rows. Then start decreasing for the foot. Generally,
you decrease 2 stitches (one on each side of the instep) every other row
until you are back to the number of stitches for the ankle, then knit
straight for the foot. Your foot may not be shaped that way, so decrease
only as many as you need, or perhaps every third row.
- 10. Knit even until you are two inches from the end of your toes. Start
decreasing every other row, by knitting together every 7th and 8th stitch
(or something like that), then every 6th and 7th stitch, every 5th and 6th
stitch, and so on, until you are down to only a dozen or so stitches. Cut
the yarn, leaving a 15 inch tail. Run the tail through all the stitches,
take them off the needles, and pull tight. You may want to run the yarn
through the stitches again, then weave in the ends.