A Night on the Town with the Evening Stockings Kit

evening knit stockings piecework magazine

Lovely warm stockings for an evening out, Victorian style.

Victorian sensibilities and fashions obviously vary greatly from today’s trends. “Evening stockings” today might call up images of fishnet hose and stiletto heels (or more extreme styles that would make Her Majesty faint with horror. She would not be amused.).

Yet in 1900, when Weldon’s Practical Needlework published this pattern, delicate lace in a warm yarn made much more sense. Factor in the intended audience–“for a young lady to knit,” says the full title–and we can see why these stockings look so sedate now. Context is everything.

Women wore floor-length skirts in 1900, with boots, dress shoes, or dancing slippers on their feet. Houses had no central heating and everyone worried about drafts. Ladies could always add shawls or scarves to their shoulders, but only stockings could keep their lower extremities warm unless they were dancing. Even a simple lace pattern would add some zip to these practical garments.
The lace design would also enliven knitting, especially on long stockings. In plain stockinette, knitting might seem to go on forever, with only some decrease rounds to break up the monotony. But a 5-round openwork pattern could introduce a young woman to the joy of lace knitting. The plain stockinette panel at the back calf would simplify shaping while also accentuating a leg’s curves. Decorous young ladies could not publicly display so much as an ankle, yet they might privately savor the delight of flattering stockings.

weldons practical needlework stockings

The original illustration from Weldon’s Practical Needlework, vol. 15, 1900.

Nancy Bush’s research on Weldon’s pamphlets (see PieceWork January/February 2006, p. 37) shows that the needlework series targeted women who could craft for pleasure. Yet even ladies of leisure might have desired projects that marked them as advanced knitters; “accomplished” women could attract better mates and cement their family’s social status.

Given all these historical factors, evening stockings from 1900 now seem a little more adventurous. With Interweave’s new kit, you can make your own lace footwear in a baby alpaca yarn with sparkling highlights. You might not wear these socks out dancing, but you’ll certainly want their cozy elegance on other occasions.