Journey Through Time: Knitted Socks Inspired by Outlander

Inspiration for a pair of knitted socks can be found just about anywhere, including in the pages of a popular book. Designer Heatherly Walker found the creative seed for this pair of striped socks in a passage from the Outlander* book series by Diana Gablaldon; the socks were featured in the September/October 2015 issue of PieceWork. Here’s Heather with more:

It is intriguing to discover how modernity shapes our concepts about clothing and its design. In the description of the eighteenth-century clothing worn by Claire Beauchamp in Diana Gabaldon’s novel Outlander (originally published in 1991; reissue, New York: Dell, 1992), she wears a chemise, a petticoat, a bodice, and overskirts. From museum collections, books, and historical films, we have a pretty good idea of what these items were and how they were constructed.

A description of one item reads, “Brown-striped stockings of wool and a pair of yellow slippers completed the ensemble.” What is the immediate image that the phrase “brown-striped stockings” conjures up? In which direction do the stripes you envision run? If you are like me, you saw horizontal stripes, which we now are more used to seeing.

knitted socks

Start your journey wearing Heatherly Walker’s knitted socks, which are a tribute to the clothing worn by Claire Beauchamp in Diana Gabaldon’s novel Outlander. Photo by Joe Coca.

But that design would be far from the historical actuality. In the eighteenth century, stripes underwent their own revolution, and vertical stripes became more common. (It was not until around the middle of the nineteenth century that we again see what we think of as “traditional” horizontally striped socks. For a history of stripes, see Michel Pastoureau’s The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric [New York: Columbia University Press, 2001].)

If you, like Claire Beauchamp, were to find a portal and be whisked through time into an eighteenth-century past, what would you soon be wearing on your feet? Possibly stockings or socks with vertical stripes, knitted, each stripe about ½ inch (1.3 cm) wide, in a nice homespun wool.

The construction of my socks, beginning with the length, is not what a modern sock knitter would consider to be the norm. Nonetheless, I invite you to create these socks and journey with me through time.

—Heatherly Walker

Heatherly Walker lives in northern California with her husband and their six children, all of whom know how to knit. She teaches fiber arts both locally and at events. She is the author of the eBook 4 Glorious Mittens to Knit.

* The idea for this project was inspired by the clothing in Diana Gabaldon’s book Outlander and the television series of the same name. However, it was not authorized, approved, licensed, or endorsed by Diana Gabaldon, her publishers, or Starz.

Learn about a pair of knitted socks from a 17th-century pattern in our blog post, “A Pair of Knitted Stockings from 1655.”

Find more projects inspired by literature in the pages of PieceWork!


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