Rose Garden Socks

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Level of Authenticity

To be honest, there’s a lot going on about this project that I probably could show evidence for in period.  But then I had to go and make that one choice that makes it sooo not period.

What/When/Where

Sixteenth century (European) style stockings/knee socks, displaying colors and heraldic motifs appropriate to the identity of the wearer.

Who

I made these for the Baroness of Montengarde (Brangwayn Hesson the Everpresent).

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Why

As far as why stockings were worn in the sixteenth century, presumably it was at least partially for the same reasons we wear socks and stockings today.  As far as wearing stockings with colors and heraldic motifs declaring the lineage of the wearer, there’s more research I could do around what classes of people did this, how often it was done, whether it was localized to Florence, etc.

As far as why I made this pair of stockings for this recipient, it’s because I subscribe to a “sock yarn a month” subscription box and the nam of this colorway, when it arrived, was “Rose Garden”, and it became immediately clear to me that I needed to use it to make a pair of stockings for the Baroness of Montengarde.

Normally I’d stop there, because I’m making things that a 16th century tailor would make, not things that Monna Caterina would make.  In this case I could probably also go into “Why would Monna Caterina make and give a gift of this nature to a recipient of this nature?”.  There is a lot of info in “Shopping in the Renaissance” by Evelyn Welch on the social meanings of gift-giving in the Renaissance and what kinds of gifts donors at various levels of society can give to those either higher or lower in station than themselves and if I was entering this into a Kingdom-level competition I would put some of this context in.

How

Materials

I used machine-spun 4-ply sock/fingering weight yarn.  I haven’t been keeping up with logging all of my materials in Ravelry so I can’t give the exact brands or fiber contents for any of these but I believe that all of them were between 75%-80% superwash merino and 20-25% acrylic.

Although I’m certain that all of my yarns were colored with modern chemical dyes, I do believe that the pink and the bright yellow colors could have been achieved with kermes and weld, respectively.  It’s even possible that all of the various colors in the “Rose Garden” colorway are individually achievable with natural dyes, but I must be very brutally honest that I have never seen any kind of sixteenth century garment with anything resembling the highly variegated look of this yarn, and in this case I really am going to take absence of evidence as evidence of absence.

Eleanora of Toledo’s most famous pair of knit stockings are made of silk (the sources I have don’t talk about the weight) but knitted wool stockings, possibly for wearing in bed, are also mentioned in the documentary sources consulted by Landini and Niccoli (Moda a Firenze p. 146).  In the later 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I is noted as having had made worsted knitted stockings (Arnold, 206).  I still do not have as good an understanding as I would like to of what 16th century terms like “worsted” meant to their contemporaries, but I wouldn’t want to assume that, as it does now, the term means a particular weight of yarn.

The Tudor Tailors give less detail than I would like on the materials in the extant socks they examined, but suggest using pure wool 4-ply fingering weight untreated yarn (not superwash) such as Blacker Pure Shetland or Jamiesons Shetland Spindrift or a handspun equivalent (Tudor Tailors, p. 147).

I used the materials I chose instead of more period materials because:

  • the idea came to me based entirely on the Rose Garden yarn that came as part of a subscription box and given the nature of the idea, it wouldn’t have made sense to substitute a different material – the other two yarn colors were based on what was available to me quickly in a color that more or less matched; and
  • the project was meant as a gift for my baroness to be able to use and enjoy without worrying too much about specialist care and washing instructions, rather than as an oustanding example of my very period craftsmanship.

Tools

As you may be able to see from some of the photographs, I used Knit Picks wooden double pointed needles, US Size 2/2.75 mm because that is what was called for in the Modern Maker pattern.

I admit that I have not done any independent research on knitting tools or techniques in the 16th century or earlier but am instead relying on what I’ve been told by my apprentice sister Johanna Katrin and my student-to-be Lorette de Chasteauneuf.  I’m told that knitting was done on “knitting pins” or “knitting wires”, which sound like they were likely made of metal, but I’m not 100% certain.

I’m not a super experienced knitter but in my experience to date, the type of material that the needles are made of does not have any noticeable result on the outcome, so I’m comfortable using tools that are not made of the same material that the original tools would have been made of.

Techniques

The socks were knitted in the round, primarily in stockinette stitch (which, in the round, is knitting every stitch).  The decorative band is worked with a combination of knit and purl stitches, as are the “seams” down the back of the leg and along the clocks.  Decreases are done by both k2tog (knit two together) and ssk (slip two stitches individually knitwise, then knit through both together) and increases are done with kfb (knit through front and back of loop).

Both knit and purl stitches can be found in Eleanora of Toledo’s stockings.  I’m not sufficiently good at examining extant pieces of knitting (like, not even ones that I myself made last week) to determine what kinds of increase and decrease stitches have been used, so I relied on the instructions in the Modern Maker pattern.  I had to make a number of modifications on the fly though, because a more accomplished knitter than me had already made me a pair of stockings exactly according to the pattern and I could tell that following the pattern exactly was not going to leave me with a pair of socks that fit their intended recipient, and my modifications were in many places haphazard because I don’t yet quite know what I’m doing with sizing and shaping of knitted pieces.

I did a lot of knitting and then tearing out and then knitting and then tearing out again, especially when I got to the heel turn, so to be honest I don’t even remember what technique I used for the heel turn.  I have observed based on the works of those who are more accomplished and well-researched knitters than me that the method of heel turn used by 16th century knitters is something that there is no current scholarly consensus on.  I was also very very done with the Modern Maker’s pattern and the project in general when it came to tapering the toe, so I just used the most common modern method I am aware of instead of checking to see what would have been done in period.

Project Design

In the Modern Maker’s pattern, the top decorative band is a pattern of lozenges.  When I originally purchased the pattern from his website he had a link to an image of extant stockings on which he had based his lozenge band.  Unfortunately the image is no longer linked and I wasn’t able to track it down independently, but my recollection is that on the extant piece, the pattern was more laurel-wreath shaped and less lozenge-shaped.  Because I don’t know how to re-find that piece, I don’t have any current way of knowing whether the laurel leaf design had any specific meaning for its original wearer.  I have always been intrigued by the reference in Dressing Renaissance Florence to the “two pairs of silk stockings with the family device” in a certain bride’s trousseau (Frick, p. 237), so I decided it might be appropriate to design the band with references to Montengarde’s heraldry.  Note, though, that based on the information I have, which is quoted in its entirety in the previous sentence, we can’t tell where on the stockings the family device was located or even if the stockings were knitted.

All of the extant stockings from this time period that I am aware of seem to be a single color only.  A selection of knitted silk waistcoats from the early seventeenth century  (North, p. 88-89) appear to be worked in stranded color work in what may be high-contrast color combinations, with some having a somewhat striped appearance.  But to be clear, I don’t think these extant items are a good justification for me calling loudly striped stockings period accurate.  The primary reason I made striped stockings is because I had only one skein of the yarn that was the reason for the project in the first place, and I knew it wouldn’t be enough; and the reason I didn’t worry too much about trying to find a less contrasting yarn is because we have an Avacalian cultural history/trend of wearing striped socks.

What’s Next

I love knitting, and I love research, but I’m not sure that I will put a lot of energy into making my knitting more period, because I have other avenues I want to pursue that are higher on my priority list.  For example, I now have a loom and I’m keen to try weaving my own Tarim Basin fabrics….

 

Works Consulted

Arnold, Janet, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, W.S. Maney & Son Ltd., London, 1988 (“Arnold”).

Frick, Carole Collier, Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2002 (“Frick”).

Gnagy, Mathew.  The Modern Maker 16th Century Woolen Stocking pattern: https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/16th-century-woolen-stocking

Huggett, Jane and Ninya Mikhaila, The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625, Fat Goose Press, Lightwater (Surrey, UK), 2013 (“Tudor Tailors”).

Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli, Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza, Edizione Polistampa, Firenze, 2005 (“Moda a Firenze”).

North, Susan, and Jenny Tiramani, eds., Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns, Book One, V&A Publishing, London, 2011 (“North”).

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