Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stocking Stumper

One of my mother's quilting buddies recently gave me a clothing collection she accumulated over the years. She is more interested in quilts and sewing tools, and her children are not into the old clothes, so I happily accepted this gift. More than happily, actually- I seriously can't believe my luck. Sometimes I find myself giddily hugging this stuff like toddler with a new teddy bear. I contained myself as best I could when I went to pick the collection up because I didn't want to seem greedy, and I knew I didn't do anything to deserve a whole collection falling into my lap. Now it's mine though, and words don't really describe how I feel. Picture someone with a stupid grin, hands clasped at her chest, hopping from foot to foot a little, and making a high-pitched noise that sounds something like, "Squeeeee!" That's me. Because the day I can afford a pair of knit stockings dated "1819" on my collecting budget is unlikely to ever arrive, and yet I have some! There are other exciting pieces, too, but I'll feature those later.

These stockings are on my mind lately because my museum, Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, has a War of 1812 event and we are putting together a little exhibit on clothing and accessories that will include the stockings.

The stockings have integrated reverse knitting that reads, "S. B. 1819"

As we think ahead to exhibit text, there has been a little debate about how they were made. I know nothing of knitting or knitting history, but my colleagues do. One thinks that the stockings were knit by hand for personal use, and she bases her assertion on the construction and the presence of the initials "S.B." and the date 1819. Another colleague says there was an active home industry, especially for stockings, where the knitting was done on a frame. She feels that it would be easy to custom-order the personalized stockings from a professional. Since these were purchased from an antique dealer in Pennsylvania, there's little hope of determining who S.B. was, so our best chance for learning more is to look into stocking manufacture trends in general.

Overall view of the foot.

This detail shows the connection of the heel and calf area, as well as the zig-zag pattern knitted into both sides of each stocking.

I figure that if you can tell whether stockings were made by hand versus on a frame, this side seam connection  may be the key. Then again, maybe hand-made and frame-made stockings have the same kind of seam. I hope to find out.

The toes have been mended several times over. The mends appear to be period rather than recent.
I'm equally enamored of the stockings no matter how they were made, but I enjoy exploring the history. Anyone out there have specialized knowledge of 19th-century stockings to share? 

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