Anyone who was at the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention in Birmingham earlier this month might have seen a pair of 19th century knitted lace stockings that I showed, to illustrate the kind of object that we have in the Guild collection. Here's one of the pair. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
They were knitted from the top down, in the round, with a band of double rib to start and then a deep band of stocking stitch, before starting the lace part. The lace is a stitch that in Shetland lace knitting is called Print o' the Wave, but in 19th century knitting books I have seen it called Leaf and Trellis. Here it is as it appears on the stockings. They are knitted in very fine cotton, so that it takes 5 pattern repeats to go round the ankle - there is a huge amount of work in these stockings.
On the way to Birmingham, I found an early version of the pattern, in Miss Lambert's My Knitting Book. The 7th edition, published in 1844, is available online from the Winchester School of Art library, here. I think that Jane Gaugain published the pattern earlier, in 1842 (see my earlier post here), but Miss Lambert might have been the first to call the pattern Leaf and Trellis.
In Birmingham, I knitted a swatch of Leaf and Trellis to compare with the stockings. I used DK cotton for the swatch rather than anything finer, mainly to be easier for me. But I wanted it to be visible to an audience, too, and didn't in any case have any cotton thread anywhere near as fine as that used for the stockings, or the tiny needles to go with it (around 1mm thickness or less, at a guess.)
Here's my swatch, with the cast-on edge at the bottom, because that seems more natural to me. (I actually used the instructions in the 12th edition of Miss Lambert's book, from 1845, also available from the Winchester School of Art library.)
Like the stitch pattern in the stockings and other early versions of the pattern, all the decreases are done by knit 2 together, so they are all right-leaning. Later versions, and present-day Print o' the Wave patterns, use both left- and right-leaning decreases to make the pattern symmetrical. As I wrote here, the Leaf and Trellis pattern published in Weldon's Practical Needlework in 1886 claimed the credit for introducing this variation.
The lace stockings must have been very precious to the woman who wore them - either because she had knitted them herself, or because they had been bought and must then have been very expensive. We can see that she valued them, because they have been darned in several places. The heels wore through, as you would expect, and there are also darns on the back of the calf - perhaps she sometimes wore them with boots? And there are more darns in the stocking stitch sections at the top of the stockings. I would have guessed that they would have been kept up by garters, though that seems a bit precarious. But I really don't know anything about how Victorian ladies wore their stockings, and perhaps they were attached to the corset? I don't know.
Here's one of the feet, showing the darn in the heel. I'm not a sock knitter, so I don't know whether there is anything unusual in the heel shaping. The toe shaping on the other hand does look rather peculiar - it looks as though it's designed for an anatomically strange, very pointed toe.
But clearly the stockings did fit someone, who wore them a lot and looked after them. And then eventually they were put away and kept carefully, until the end of the 20th century, when they were acquired for the Guild collection. And we can admire the skill that went into making them, and marvel at the amount of time they must have taken.