Early Handknitted Stockings

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Handknitted stockings first appear in British knitting history during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547). A stocking leg or possibly a knitted sleeve, along with knitted caps and other knitted fragments, were recovered from the Mary Rose, Henry's flagship, which sank in 1545. These pieces were found on the decks inhabited by seamen or soldiers, not the areas where officers lived or worked, so the supposition is that knitting was becoming part of everyday life at that time. This theory remains unproven because it is not known if the knitting was done in England or if the articles of clothing happened to be castoffs from more wealthy persons aboard the ship.

By the time of Edward VI's reign (1547-1553), the knitting of stockings is clearly documented. Records from 1550, a time when woolen knitwear was being made for children and the working class, show that 12 pence was paid for a pair of knit hose for a little boy named Francis Willoughby. By 1572, the craft of knitting was known throughout England, and knitted stockings had become the norm.

Royal records from subsequent reigns attest to the making and use of knitted stockings in Britain. During her short reign, Mary I (1553-1558) was given four pairs of hose "of garnsey making" by Sir

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The original fourteen-page leaflets have been published in facsimile editions by Interweave Press.

Leonard Chamberlain, and Mary, Queen of Scots wore handknitted stockings when she was executed in 1587.

It was during Queen Elizabeth's long reign (1558-1603) that the technique of knitting became thoroughly established throughout Britain. The story of the Queen's delight with the handknitted black silk stockings she received as a gift in 1560 from her silk woman, Mistress Montague, is well documented. Afterward, the Queen abandoned her cloth stockings forever and wore only silk stockings "because they are so pleasant, fine and delicate" (Richard Rutt, A His-tory of Handknitting).

Whether this story about Elizabeth is true or not, such silk stockings could only have been knitted once the manufacture of fine-gauge metal knitting needles had

Source: Dover been perfected. Making metal needles from steel rods required a very high level of expertise. The craft of drawing steel through plates with holes made thin needles generally available, which led to the expansion of fine-gauge handknitting. It seems that the skill of making fine needles was known in Italy and Spain earlier than elsewhere, and it may have been in one of these two countries that Elizabeths fine silk stockings actually originated.

Once hanclknitted stockings became a part of both high fashion and everyday life in Britain, knitting schools were created to teach this useful skill to poor children to "keep them from mischief and relieve their poverty," according to Rutt. The oldest knitting pattern for socks was published in Natura Extenterata or Nature Unbowelled, a medical compendium published in 1655. We can be grateful that Rutt translates this pattern in his book because the original was written in one very long sentence and toe shaping was not included.

Source: Dover

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