Plimoth Plantation's Colonial Wardrobe Department was taking volunteer knitters to donate their time and energy to knit gloves and stockings for their costumed interpreters to wear when working in the 1627 Village. I had been hesitant to try knitting socks as the heel has always stymied me. My Mother-in-Law volunteered to knit a pair for them, and upon seeing her completed pair and another set that someone else had completed it made the concept of knitting the square heel more within reach. So I volunteered to Penny, stating that I hadn't done socks but would be willing to give it a try, and she put me on her list for the next time yarn came in.
I received yarn from Plimoth at the end of January 2008, bought needles, and started working on the first stocking. The first stocking was completed in June and the second stocking was completed in October 2008. I was not so disciplined that I worked on them continuously, just when the mood hit me.
Richard Rutt in the History of Hand Knitting on pp. 63-65 discusses a knit tube discovered in the 1545 Mary Rose wreckage. The extant knit tube measured 30 cm/12 in long, 28 cm/ 11.25 in in circumference, and it was of a heavy black stockinette with the gauge of 12 st and 19 rows to 5cm, or roughly 6st and 8 rows to the inch. He believed that the stocking leg or scogger (arm sleeve) probably belonged to seaman or soldier stationed on the ship. He also mentions that there are similar socks in the Museum of London with garter stitch heels of a simple pouch type, with the decreases distributed all round the leg. This is the same construction of that of the sleeve/gaiter/scogger.
Julie Gardiner in Before the Mast: Life and Death aboard the Mary Rose on pp 58-59 gives more details on the knit tube found aboard the Mary Rose. She gives the same gauge as the Plimoth Plantation pattern, of 72 st cast on, and says "Some garter stitch can be seen at the lower edge and side of the 'heel' gusset." She argues against Rutt's initial designation as a scogger in that it is too short for a sleeve and too wide at what would be the wrist.
Finally the Plimoth pattern itself, created by Anne Lane, and revised by Dorrie Bell in 11/94, says it is based on a pair of stockings in the Victoria & Albert Museum, but the Wardrobe Manager informed me that they are based on the Gunnister stockings.
Alas an online search of both the Museum of London's collections as well as the V&A's collection did not turn up either of these stockings for review. There is a small picture in London Bodies: The Changing Shape of Londoners from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day compiled by Alex Werner of a stocking grouped with a child sized mitten and vest, but few details can be seen from such a small image other than a hint of garter stitch around the heel area.
Materials and Process:
- Materials: 1.3- 8oz. cones of Harrisville Highland wool, #6 Cornsilk, 5 size 3 bamboo double pointed needles.
- Process: First I knit a sample with the needles and determined that my gauge was the same as suggested in the pattern. Then I just followed the pattern given to me by Plimoth Plantation titled Tudor Stocking with a Square Heel.
- Quirks: I misread the pattern initially and made a mistake on the first stocking at the first decrease row and thus had to remove a row. In placing the needles back I ended up twisting all the stitches in that row so it is fairly obvious there is something different there. Luckily it is around the height that a garter would be tied and it doesn't affect the workings of the stocking.
I made another mistake a few repeats in, but luckily my friend Heather helped me figure out what I had done, which was reversed the direction I was knitting leaving an odd hole at the back that I had to remove a few rows to fix.
When I came to the first heel, everything went fairly smoothly, except that I missed the note to knit the gusset decrease in the back of the stitches for the right side, so there are a few wiggles in the gusset seam. Then when done with the heel I had one too many stitches on the needles so I made a decrease at the heel before finishing the foot without any trouble.
The second stocking knitting went much more smoothly except that when I tried to replicate the twisted stitches on the second sock I was unsuccessful at intentionally screwing up. I was successful at putting in other unintentional errors into the heel gusset of the second sock though, despite the lessons learned from the first sock.
The good side of a heel and gusset, and one with a wiggle in the gusset seam.
Overall I enjoyed working with this pattern and this gauge. I do hope to knit myself a pair of wool stockings, as well as a pair for Alan, eventually. The pattern was easy to follow, despite my many mistakes, and made a fine heel, if not the most polished.