vintage sock knitting

For Christmas, my boyfriend’s mother gave me some fantastic vintage knitting patterns. There was a copy of Needlecraft no.113 on Knitted Stockings and Socks, which was published in 1914, so a hundred years ago this year. There’s some more information about this booklet here (and a lot of other vintage pattern booklets besides). And if you’re interested in really vintage knitting patterns, the University of Southampton’s Knitting Reference Library has made all of their Victorian patterns available digitally online, for free. Anyway, back to the matter in hand (or should I say foot?). Within these pages, you can learn how to create all kinds of continental wonders, including a Dutch heel, a German heel, or a Norwegian toe!

My favourite pattern in this booklet is the gentleman’s golf stocking, below. The description reads: “This is a very comfortable stocking, with a well-shaped leg and a 10 1/2 inch foot knitted with fine wool, this last point making it particularly suitable for gentlemen with tender feet.” Those contoured stripes in the construction are surely more than smart enough to put one’s opponents off in a game of golf. I don’t actually know anyone who plays golf (apart from my uncle, and he tends to play in hot countries where socks like this would likely put him off his game more than his opponents), so I don’t think I’ll be able to test this pattern out in its intended environment, but I think it could probably adapt to alternative surroundings. Isn’t it funny the way that vintage patterns tend to suggest a specific purpose for every garment?

I also got a copy of Weldon’s Practical Stocking Knitter, ninth series, on Designs for Gentlemen’s Socks and Stockings in Silk and Wool. I wasn’t able to find any information about this one online, but from looking at other pattern booklets of the same name I thought it was probably published c.1900. That turned out to be a good guess, as I was fortunate to find a couple of the patterns had been revisited in Nancy Bush’s book, Knitting Vintage Socks, which gives a publication date of 1901. And handily, Ms Bush chose to re-work the only pattern that isn’t illustrated in the booklet – the gentleman’s fancy sock – so now I know what it looks like! Although the text accompanying the patterns is less chatty and entertaining, this booklet is my favourite, and there were so many great socks inside that I couldn’t choose just one to share.

First there was this gentleman’s hunting stocking with stag’s head turnover. As with the golf stocking, I know about minus three people (gentlemen or otherwise) who hunt, so I doubt I would ever be able to test how well these work for hunting in. However, they would probably work just as well for keeping one’s toes warm on a walk in the countryside sans rifle, or indeed on the sofa on a lazy weekend.

And then my other favourites were these gentlemen’s half hose with wedge pattern. They remind me a bit of the gentleman’s sock with lozenge pattern design, also re-worked in Nancy Bush’s book, which I’ve been wanting to make for some time. That’s also from a Weldon’s pattern, but an older one, from 1895, not one of the ones I’ve got. These are just wonderfully elegant socks, in my opinion. I would be impressed by any gentleman sporting a pair (though sadly, given the gender imbalance typical of knitters it would almost certainly be a sign of his having a very loving partner who had knitted them for him, and thus not a wise thing to base a romantic advance on).

I think I’m going to have to read in more detail what wisdom Nancy Bush has to share on following vintage patterns before embarking on one of these from scratch. For a start, all of these socks look as though they’re knitted on much finer yarn and with much tinier needles than anything I possess, and that’s speaking as someone who tends to knit relatively fine socks (or at least I thought I did!). Then, as Nancy points out, there is no gauge specified for any of the patterns, just the quantity of wool required, in ounces… So it could be tricky. But just think how much better off all the gentlemen in my life would be if I were to start churning out these fancy stockings for all occasions!