Re-Creating the Seventeenth-Century Gunnister Stockings

The 1951 archaeological excavation of a shallow bog grave in Gunnister, Scotland, unearthed a pair of dark brown woolen stockings, which are currently housed in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh. For the January/February 2011 issue of PieceWork, Jaqueline Fee created a reproduction of the Gunnister stockings. Here’s Jaqueline with more:

Audrey S. Henshall and Stuart Maxwell’s “Clothing and Other Articles from a Late 17th-Century Grave at Gunnister, Shetland” in The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland of the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, Scotland, Volume 86 (1951– 52), cites the evenness of the spinning and knitting of the heavy, worsted-spun, 2-ply wool yarn and notes that the stockings are knitted at a gauge of 7½ stitches and 10 rounds per inch (3 sts and 4 rnds per cm) with a leg length of 23 inches (58.4 cm).

The authors (Henshall and Maxwell) detail the inch-by-inch shaping of the stockings from the welt top to the heel (the original feet are missing). In replicating the stockings, those proportions have been used, modifying them where they seem to be inaccurate. For example, the circumference at the top of the stocking is stated as being 9 inches (22.9 cm). Not knowing whether this was a typographical error intended to be 19 inches (48.3 cm) or perhaps actually a flat measure, the circumference has been doubled to 18 inches (45.7 cm).

Gunnister stockings

Jacqueline Fee’s reproduction of the Gunnister stockings. Photo by Joe Coca.

Increasing the number of cast-on stitches from 114 to 135 maintains the gauge of the original stockings. Furthermore, “7 rows of garter stitch” knitted at 10 rounds per inch would produce a narrow top welt. Assuming that the 7 rows could be a “ridge” count, the rounds have been doubled to 14 rounds of garter stitch for a wider top border. Most period stockings have a center back seam that varies in width from a single purl stitch alternated with a knit stitch to any manner of purl/knit combinations forming ribs and/or wider moss-stitch designs. Henshall and Maxwell describe a 14-stitch center back seam, which I worked as written. It starts below the welt top and continues down the entire leg to the start of the heel flap. The shaping for the thigh, calf, and lower leg follow the inch-by-inch shaping of the length of the stocking; however, the number of increases/decreases at each shaping point changes in proportion to the additional stitches required. As both feet on the original stockings have been replaced, one with a knitted fabric worked at 10½ stitches per inch (about 4 stitches per cm), and the other with a woven fabric, the method of construction of the original feet is unknown. The Tudor Square Heel would be authentic but wears away quickly: As worn daily by interpreters at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the garter stitch heel flaps of the Tudor stockings connected with a three-needle bind-off have a very short life before the feet need to be replaced. For practicality, therefore, the heel and toe are worked in the modern manner, or feel free to substitute another preferred style. Knitting in a reinforcement thread—a Shetland-weight wool or a blend with 25 percent polyester if authenticity is not a prime consideration—would make them last even longer.

—Jacqueline Fee

Jacqueline Fee is the author of The Sweater Workshop: Knit Creative, Seam-Free Sweaters on Your Own with Any Yarn (2nd Revised and Expanded Edition, Camden, Maine: Down East Books, 2002). The book has enabled thousands of knitters to enjoy complete freedom to work their own gauge with any yarn, handspun or millspun, to create sweaters of their own design.

To knit a pair of your own Gunnister stockings, download a copy of the January/February 2011 issue of PieceWork. For more about historical stockings, read our blog post “Magdalena de Cao Viego Stockings.”

Find more historically inspired socks and stockings in the pages of PieceWork!

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