Scrolled Stockings? Not in Jane Austen’s Drawers

March 4, 2011 at 4:51 am (books, fashion) (, , , , , , , , , , )


Early in  My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park (sent a review copy, I’m closing in on page 50), the author makes mention of “scrolled” socks worn by a costumed-character she terms “The Janeite”. Few might know what is being discussed at this point, but students of 18th and 19th century costume, or knitters (like me) who have worked socks, especially the lovely Bavarian and Austrian patterns, know well what the author alludes to. The correct term Cindy Jones was looking for is “CLOCK“.

Here’s the quote: She “raise[d] her skirt, revealing a scrolling design just above the ankle that would have been a tattoo except it was woven into the thick white stocking that covered her legs like something surgery patients wear.”

As a stocking tapers to the ankle, the only way to accomplish this is through decreasing — “clocks” evolved to be decorative and also functional at this narrowing point.

A nice knitting primer for stockings can be found here: http://www.marariley.net/knitting/stocking.htm

I have a pair of handknitted stockings I made years ago from an Austrian pattern:

It’s amazingly difficult to photograph one’s own leg!

The cables go down the entire stocking in this example, but you can see the small two-stitch cable that terminates beneath the elaborate cable just below the ankle bone. This is the area of Jones’ “scrolling”.

The Germans and Austrians — with their Dirndls and Lederhosen — have some wonderful stockings, highly patterned from top to bottom. Mine are simple in comparison to some I could display here. The yarns tend nowadays to be of heavier wool (mine are all worsted weight wools), which of course would not have the been the case for Jane Austen — or my Mary and Emma. Their stockings would have been fine-gauge. I did once make a Guernsey sweater on size 0 or 1 needles, so I know well how long it would take to knit something simple, like a pair of stockings in a fine wool.

* * *

  • Author Lesley-Anne McLeod has a lengthy, interesting, and link-filled Blogspot on this very topic.
  • The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia has a black silk pair (harder to view, therefore) that were never worn!
  • Heritage Studio actually has a pair, from the 19th century, for sale! In this case, the clocks are embroidered on after the stocking was made. Take a look at the fascinating up-close photo.

NB: if anyone out there is interested in some knitting pointers, just ask. Stockings are easier to knit than you think.

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