I do research on and recreate garments and objects from the past. My sources range from original items to photographs in books, periodicals, art works, literary references and period patterns. My research also involves the history of knitting needles and related implements.
The portrait in the corner is by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) of Elisabeth Alexeyevna (?), location and ownership unknown.
The Brewster Stocking by Jacqueline Fee was featured in the magazine Piecework, January/February, 2010. The pattern for her modern adaptation of the spiral stocking is available by request, from Jacqueline Fee, and is not the sock pattern that appears in the issue of the magazine. It is based on a stocking owned by Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts and is dated from the 17th century. The article and the photograph of the original stocking stirred up debate on several electronic forums devoted to historical knitting with questions raised as to its dating and previously documented use of the spiral pattern on stockings in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. No one, unfortunately, including me, could immediately produce a photograph of or pattern for a spiral stocking although I seem to remember seeing a photograph of such a stocking on a museum website in the past few years. The relative shapelessness of the stocking also gave rise to comments and speculation as to the skills of the original knitter and the owner, believed to have been “William Brewster (1567-1644) of the Plymouth Colony,"* his leg and his health, gout being one of the suggestions due to the width of the leg and shape of the foot.
Since this was an adaptation of a period object, I decided to follow the pattern exactly and not make any changes. The heel flap had been modernized from the traditional long square one of the original stocking but the spiral patterns had been left in the new design much as they had appeared in the original. There is also no seam stitch although there appears to be one in the original stocking, based on the photograph in the article. Ms. Fee has been very helpful since the publication of the article, according to those on the net who have shared their questions and her responses. The pattern was worked from notes and a sketch she did some twenty years ago.
The top of the original stocking also intrigues me. It appears to have two rows of welting that may have been folded over from the inside over to the outside, visible thanks to the part that has rotted or torn or been eaten away. The original stocking had a tension/gauge of 11-13 to the inch and was knit in wool. The size of the needles could only be determined by matching gauge with a similar weight of yarn.
My finished measurements came out a tad different than the pattern suggested ones in spite of swatching. My adapted version is 12 inches in width at the leg, 12 inches around the foot at its widest at the base of the heel, its length measuring 11 inches and the stocking, itself, 10 inches around the garter stitch section near the toe and 25 inches from top to heel. The adapted pattern calls for 2.75mm/2US needles using Bartlett Sport Weight 2 ply-wool to get a tension/gauge of 7 stitches to the inch. In keeping with my oath to stash bust, I swatched with a nameless laceweight, Blackberry Ridge laceweight, Brown Sheep Nature Spun laceweight, and, finally and successfully, Harrisville Design’s New England Shetland (394 yards per skein) in Russet. The stocking used two skeins with just a yard or so left over.
The leg looks wide and unshaped but there is some decreasing. The spiral pattern does not work out evenly round and round the stocking but the difference is minimal and easily adjusted as one knits. I tried to stay true to the pattern (unusual for me) but gave in at the toe which is supposed to be grafted. I simply do not like grafting and do not do it well so I made a drawstring toe.
The spiral pattern does not, unfortunately, really come across that sharply in the photographs. It is easier to appreciate the rippled effect it creates on the sides. Click on the photographs for a larger image.
The stocking was fun to work on, partly because of the spirals and partly because I didn’t have to write the pattern! I decided to make only the one stocking as no one will wear it because of the shape. This modern version was also a dry run in case I want to go back and make a more historically accurate version of the original stocking with more shaping in the leg, a period heel and seam stitch. Knitting with Harrisville Designs Shetland was terrific, too – I adore that wool!
* Fee, Jacqueline. The Brewster Stocking. Piecework, January/February 2010, p. 29
I mentioned my fondness for old films some time ago here, and named Bette Davis as one of my favourite actresses. Apart from all of the legendary lines she delivered and her place in film history (not only as an actress), she was a keen knitter. April 5 would have been, her 102nd birthday so I would like to feature her in different photos that I have studied for information about knitting in her lifetime. There is a tad of knitting history if we look at her knitting bags such as the one on her lap in the photo of her in sunglasses on the set of, I am guessing, The Old Maid. I also always try to get a good look at her needles in the films where we do see her knitting.
Here she is knitting off-camera with co-star Ann Sheridan (who appears to be crocheting) on the set of The Man Who Came to Dinner.
I haven’t watched Now Voyager for some time but I do seem to remember an early pivotal knitting scene as well as knitting while cruising later on in the film.
She also knit in Phone Call From a Stranger.
Look at the knitting container (case/bag/cylinder – what was this called?) next to her as she works on a contribution for the Red Cross during World War II. If she was knitting in between takes in this photograph, I have yet to identify the film.
Bette Davis’s most famous filmed handwork, though, must be the crocheted lace she worked on throughout the film, The Letter. She is seen here, crocheting on that set, alongside her stand-in, Sally Sage, who is knitting an Argyle sock. I wish we could see their work bag and basket more clearly.
Davis’s character’s crocheting and her supposed finished work are again, important elements in the film. I just wish, too, in this one of my favourite films, let alone favourite films of Bette Davis, that her character had, instead, been knitting lace!
Credits: Images from The Old Maid, Now Voyager, The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Letter owned by Bettman/Corbis? They can all be found on various Flickr accounts.
Image from Phone Call From a Stranger is from The Complete Films of Bette Davis by Gene Ringold, New York: Citadel Press, Inc. (1985, 1990), page 157.