Movies and TV

That TV show is provoking a lot of discussion these days. You know the one, with the inaccurate costumes. I’m not going to name it because, well, shows and movies set in historic eras are made every year. Last year it was another production, and no doubt we’ll be talking about a different one next year.

Amongst the viewers who love it or hate it, I’ve seen two statements about the impact on the reenactment and costume communities:

  1. It makes the job of a costume educator harder.
  2. What if someone shows up at an event dressed like that?

For the first one, who are these costume educators? When I took History of Costume I and II, required for design and merchandising students, I don’t remember any emphasis on TV and movies. We learned the trends and details, but I can only remember so much of that now. What did stick with me was to be critical of sources and recognize which authors were prone to errors. I learned how to research costume.

Classes in theatrical costume design would include analysis of other productions, because that’s applicable to their coursework. Museums sometimes tackle costume myths, and if a guided tour is offered they can address visitors’ questions directly.

There are informal venues for education, whether it’s blogging, videos, a living history presentation, or even a casual conversation. The Current Costume Show often becomes the topic du jour in these spaces. The presenters talk about it precisely because these productions generate costume interest.

If a visitor mentions what they saw on screen, I think their curiosity makes a living historian or docent’s job easier. What is the point of education if it’s a rehash of what people already know? Doesn’t enthusiasm about costume make the discussion more interesting? Costumes are designed for the message that they send, and to show the relationships between the players. We saw the same at the inauguration, where design is part of clothing worn in real life.

Regarding point number two, I’ve had a few discussions about inaccurate clothing with others involved in reenactment, living history, and historic dance events. One friend described how she meticulously researched and skillfully made her gown, had carefully chosen accessories, and coaxed her hair into the right style. Another lady at the event used the same fabric and cheerfully noted their similarity. My friend was appalled at first because the other lady hadn’t made as nice an outfit. She then realized she was more disappointed in herself for having the harsh judgment.

Another friend was more blunt in the discussion, saying with great sarcasm that we didn’t want to see anyone turned out in a lesser quality outfit, because we believed it spoiled our historic experience. That was some food for thought. As much as we will talk about the higher purposes of research and education, there is nothing quite like that sensation of time travel when all the details come together.

I’m a huge fan of standards for historic costuming, I’ve written some guidelines and contributed to others currently in use. There are events, reenactment groups, and historic dance performance troupes that require their members to have a specific level of accuracy. These groups also have seminars, sewing circles, loaner clothing, mentorship, and are up front about the effort and costs it takes to get there. Whew, sounds like a lot of work! For groups with an educational focus, it’s part of their mission. An event host or a group has every right to set standards.

There are private events, or groups of friends who get together for a picnic or photo shoot, where they know each other and share an aesthetic or level of accuracy. Such groups organize their own parties and events, and only invite whomever they choose. For those who want an immersion experience, a small private party may be the best fit. Being in costume does not make it an open event, though. I think we’ve all had times we just want to hang out with close friends.

But it looks so good!

I find that there are more and more historic style events happening where participants may dress however they like. There are science fiction and costume conventions, public events, and balls or dances where anyone may buy a ticket, and there is minimal guidance. If someone gets their inspiration from a movie or TV show, so what? And yes, there will be prom dresses. Prom wear is inspired by entertainment trends, and will be available soon after a show’s release date. Some attendees will see any long dress as being “old fashioned” enough to fit in. And sure, we can talk about people just starting out who will improve, but that’s not everyone. Some just want to go to an event in attire that simply evokes the spirit of the era. So what if they show up dressed like that? As long as we all go with realistic expectations, there is no need to worry about what anyone else is wearing. If you still stress over that, see my thoughts on Costume Criticism.

© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Costume Criticism

In every discussion venue, the topic of the over-zealous, picky, or policing costumer comes up. I have some observations for historic activities. This for your own consideration, and not to assume everyone is aware or agrees.

There is a large variety of events, from accurate / educational / progressive to costume-admired-but-not-required, or “any attempt is welcome.” The latter type of events are where unsolicited advice tends to happen more often.

Groups, sites and event organizers should make their requirements known to all potential attendees ahead of time. Keep in mind that an unwelcome critique of someone’s outfit can put a cloud over the whole event for them. If you really want to educate, you can organize or speak at a seminar, publish a book, or offer commentary and tutorials on YouTube or a blog. Some people have a hard and fast rule to never talk to someone about their outfit, but I fear that can squash any discussion at all.

If you’re really feeling the need to comment:

  1. Are you the person in charge of maintaining the standards for the event? If not, notify that person rather than taking on the role yourself.
  2. Is it because something is dangerous?* Am I at risk of tripping on my too-long hem and falling into a ditch?
  3. Is it something the person can fix on the spot? Tell me if I have toilet paper hanging off my shoe. Don’t bother if something is not quite the right fabric — I’m not going to re-dye it right now or magically change the fiber content.
  4. Did you bring an extra of a questionable item to loan to the person? The corollary being, if you don’t know them well enough to loan something, you don’t know them well enough to comment. Lending a coat or cloak would be a kind thing to do at a cold event.

Remember that this is a person, so start any conversation by introducing yourself. It could be their first event, maybe with a borrowed outfit. Best to ask about their interests first, rather than making assumptions.

If you are on the receiving end and feeling chastized, remember that the person addressing you probably thinks they are helping. Some of us can enthusiastically launch into a topic without noticing that no one else is particularly interested. This sort of geekery is quite common among historic enthusiasts, and not intended to be rude or intimidating at all. I know that people can feel overwhelmed, but if so there are ways to deflect it. Introduce yourself, and talk about how you are enjoying the event in general. Ask if there were some published guidelines for the event that perhaps you missed and can read at some later time. If interested, ask more about it, and if not, change the subject.

Sometimes sources are difficult to find or materials are expensive, so people will make do with what they have. Some will experiment based on their own research. Discussions about such things are great for an email list or facebook group, but not as a basis to criticize someone at an event. It may even be the case for a photo posted online. These days, getting a good Instagram photo could be the end use of the costume, with no interest to wear it among others.

And finally, among some friends, one-upmanship is a way to push each other to greater accomplishments. I used to call it the Oooh factor, when someone makes a cool new thing that makes us all say “Oooh!” That’s ok among people you know well, and should not be presumed to be of interest to everyone.

People should be assumed to have the best of intentions until proven otherwise. Everyone has the potential for improvement, whether it’s their costuming or their diplomatic skills. Be gentle, speak up, and have fun.

*Regarding things that are dangerous, reenactment events often have hazards like campfires, weapons, and kitchen knives. Anyone who has been, witnessed, or had a loved one injured is going to be opinionated about it. There are encampment and market fair events attended by people with a wide range of clothing interests. Criticism given for reasons of safety may very well lack any tone of niceness or sweetness. If you decide you don’t care about your or someone else’s well-being, don’t expect them to be friendly.

© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What is a Common Heel?

Some reenactment specifications suggest a “common heel” for stockings. What do we mean by this?

A common heel has a heel flap, and usually a gusset. The gusset shows above your shoes, so it’s a visible feature. If you look at your 21st century socks, you’ll see a diagonal line in the knit at the heel. This is a short row heel, and is the type of heel that modern circular knitting machines can do easily.

Modern stockings are knitted in the round, with the same size tube for the leg and the foot. An early patent for the circular knitter was in 1798, but a practical production machine was not patented until 1816.
Stocking from the General Carleton of Whitby, an English ship which sank in 1785. Object belongs to Poland’s National Maritime Museum, in Gdansk (CCM)

This stocking has a “shaped common heel.” It’s called “shaped” because the back of the heel has a curve. Regular common heels are squared off at the center back instead of shaped.
Another version is called a “Balbriggan heel,” and has shaping at about the ¼ and ¾ mark of the heel flap as well as the center back halfway mark.
These heel terms come from the book Folk Socks by Nancy Bush.

Above is another stocking from the General Carleton, and this one has a Dutch heel. Instead of simply being folded, it has a band of knitting that continues under the heel. ‪It has the side gussets, too. I’m still trying to find the earliest date for a Dutch heel to see if exists by the Rev War era, but the common, shaped common, and Balbriggan heels can be found for that part of the century.

Something to avoid is a slip stitch heel flap, a later technique to make a sturdier heel. It gives a slightly ribbed appearance, and part of it will show above a shoe. It’s popular with modern sock knitters, so if you commission someone to knit a pair of 18th century stockings make sure they don’t do that. For reinforcement, run in the heels instead.

‪There are a few extant 18thC stockings that do not have a gusset. A stocking which is dated as 1750 (in the DeWitt Wallace museum at Colonial Williamsburg) has decorative clocking, but the structure itself has no gore.
With a similar design and also without a gore is this silk stocking, dated to 1700, which was in the Museum Of Costume & Textiles in Nottingham, England.

Gores allow for a better fit, but were likely skipped in some stockings so they would not interfere with the design. Some stockings are made with a taller gore. Ankle high gores are sufficient for fit, so taller gores also become a design element.

This blobby foot, from the General Carleton, has a short gusset that is not well defined.

This fragment, also in the National Maritime Museum in Poland, is from a Fresian ship that sank in 1791. It would have had no gusset, and the ridge makes it a little bit different from a short row heel. Oops, hey, that’s not supposed to exist in the 18th century! But there it is.

While they’re not all called “common heel,” a gusseted stocking is most likely what you will find in the 18th century. There are variations, so it’s just a matter of having an example that works with the rest of the outfit.

© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I’m Just Dyeing

Space dyed yarn, ready to knit.

Variegated colors of stockings are found in descriptions. Marbled, marled, speckled, clouded, mottled, and also two threads of different colors twisted together, are some found in 18th century sources such as the Pennsylvania Gazette. For some of these, a small amount of color goes a long way in adding some design.

Stocking from the General Carleton of Whitby, an English ship which sank in 1785. Object belongs to the Polish Maritime Museum (CCM)
Detail of Jesse Wilson’s stockings, worn about 1796 in New Hampshire. These belong to the DAR museum (, accession number 1858.A&B.

The General Carleton (GC) stockings and the DAR stockings both have patches of blue stitches. The GC stocking was probably also white with blue, but stained “archaeological brown” due to the cargo of tar that preserved the textiles. Notice that the GC stocking has the blue and white yarn every fourth row, and the DAR stocking has it every second row. The colored rows on both seem to be about 50/50 blue and white. The DAR stocking also has clocking, a design stitched onto the ankles in silk thread.

My own experiments began with tying off parts of a skein of yarn into sections. I used rubber bands for this part. For the part of the yarn intended to remain white, I stuffed it into balloons. For the first try, I had someone help by holding the neck of the balloon open. It took some strength and was time consuming, and there had to be a better way.

Second go round, I started by rolling down the stem of the balloon.

I slipped it onto a handy device. Yes, that is an elastrator, available at livestock suppliers.

Opened it up,

put the yarn in, and secured it with another rubber band.

About halfway along.

All tied up. It took a few dip-and-oxidize rounds with the indigo pot. The air in the balloons meant it tried to float, and we had to weigh it down a bit. I didn’t want to squeeze the air out or immerse the balloon section completely, because that might draw the dye liquor in to the white sections.

Special thanks to the DC Area Natural Dyes Group for the support, advice, and the dye at their dye meetings.

After a few more dips to get the color darker, I rinsed and took the wet yarn home, gave it a diluted vinegar rinse, and let it dry a few days.

I finally unwrapped it to let it dry the rest of the way. The results were not perfectly even, but neither are the DAR stockings. Once dry, I re-reeled the skeins and will wind it into a ball when ready to knit.

© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Interactions With Visitors (and Each Other)

A few months back, someone described a situation at a reenactment event. She and her children approached a progressive group because the kids had some questions. They were ignored, which she assumed was due to snobbery. Many people agreed that the progressive group had an attitude of being too good for everyone else. I was the dissent with a different idea: sometimes the people with excellent material culture are introverts who are bad at talking to people.

In the past few years, as clothing standards are written, an approach has been used of Best, Acceptable, and Unacceptable. While there will be some discussion on the details, it’s believed that most people can be at the level of “acceptable” in their outfits with some effort.

What if we used Best, Acceptable, and Unacceptable as a framework for interactions with visitors and each other?

I think we can agree on the unacceptable behaviors, such as ignoring someone or putting them down. Reenactors all have their stupid visitor stories, which are best saved for retelling after hours.

Best are those who can can talk to a group and hold all their interest. There are brilliant first-person interpreters who can stay in character, speak in dialects, and handle “modern” questions without interrupting the illusion. Sadly, such skills can seem unattainable to others who will refuse to even try. Slightly Obsessed says to give it a try anyway.

This brings me to “Acceptable” and, like good historic clothing, will take some effort.

Greet the visitor. Often the “stupid” questions or comments are the visitor’s attempt to engage. Why leave it up to them to do that? If you were sitting on your porch at home and someone walked up, wouldn’t you say something? I was on a garden tour where, whenever another person or group approached, they were greeted and invited to join the tour. Don’t be so involved with one visitor (or another reenactor) that you completely ignore another.

Have a good opening line. As a visitor to events in the past year, I had some instances where I was greeted and the statement was “Do you have any questions.” I just walked in! Instead, consider the situation and why a stranger would approach. In Colonial Williamsburg the historic tradespeople can presume the visitor is a customer. “What will you buy?” asks Janea Whitacre at the millinery.

Is the visitor a refugee, or perhaps a farmer wishing to sell some food? Are they a traveler looking for an inn or directions? While you can indicate something they are wearing or carrying, pointing out that their modern clothes are strange will pull them out of the moment.

Something else to consider is an emotional start to a conversation. Are you frustrated that the thread is cheap and keeps breaking? Happy that the produce is fresh? Excited that a shipload of goods has just arrived? We know how thrilled we were when the Wells Fargo wagon was coming down the street.

As a visitor, I approached a small group of reenactors and asked what they were doing. “We’re just gossiping.” Awkward pause. No juicy tid-bits to share with me? Yes, I know they were probably chatting about non-18thC things and I caught them off guard. It’s possible to have something to say, though, even better if the gossip is about a person who does not exist.

Don’t block out the visitor. Some years back, I took a workshop with Mark Wallis of Past Pleasures, Ltd. He had us go through some exercises, and it was an eye-opener to see how many of us did exactly that. It’s a normal thing for people in a conversation to pull into a circle. Arranging the group in an arc makes it accessible to the visitor. Pausing to see a visitor’s reaction leaves room for their reactions or questions. Both a physical and intellectual space can be allowed.

Whatever your topic, your knowledge should be T-shaped. No one needs to have deep knowledge about everything. A shallow amount of information (the top of the T) will satisfy most visitors, But! They may have just heard the same thing at the last event or even have studied it themselves. I’ve done enough fiber work that a spinning demonstration is something I already know. Tell me how it fits into the person’s life, perhaps with wills or diary entries, as a deeper part of the topic.

Finally, I’ve been a reenactor and, more recently, a visitor. I’ll try to be a “stealth” visitor, but many people still know me. For reenactment groups, have you ever considered asking someone to do a critique of the interpretation? It’s something we could do for each other across time periods. Do you go to sites like Colonial Williamsburg and observe how the pros do it? I’ve often found them open to discussing their techniques.


© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stocking Priorities

Between the difficulty and expense of “perfect” accurate stockings, what are the priorities of choosing what to wear? What do people notice first about stockings, and in what order? With the help of Sue Felshin, Colleen Humphreys, and Sharon Burnston, we came up with an outline for a Hive talk in 2014. This is focused on the American Revolution era, but the ideas can be applied to other time periods or other items.


   1. Color

      a. DIY (dye it yourself). Changing the color of stockings is easy to do with modern dyes, or challenging with natural dyes.

      b. Studies have been done of the colors that show up in runaway descriptions, for the prevalence of certain common colors.

      c. Light colors will be more noticeable than dark.

      d. Black stockings with black shoes will “disappear” from notice.

   2. Patterns

      a. Is it right for your impression? Designs on stockings changed through the decades.

      b. Any pattern will draw the eye more than a plain color. More contrast to the pattern means it is more visible.

           i. Clouded: do they look like originals? 

               – Extant space-dyed stockings are 12 to 25% color.

               – Some descriptions are of two different colors of yarn twisted together (before knitting).

               – Heathered stockings are two colors of fiber mixed before spinning.

          ii. Clocking is decoration, which could be knitted in or embroidered.  Most of the 18th century has clocking as a triangular shape at the ankle, same on both sides of the stocking. Some decoration is more subtle, especially in the Rev War years. Do they look like originals? Can they be matched to the decade and outfit portrayed? There are lots of efforts out there, some closer in accuracy than others.

               – Position of the clock design on the leg

               – Shape of the gore

         iii. Stripes

               – Some banding (horizontal stripes) can be found, not in visible areas. Many frame knit silk stockings have narrow bands in the top 1/2 inch. Two examples of mid-century ladies’ silk stockings, heavily embroidered, have bands around the knee.

               – Vertical stripes are seen. Some apparent depictions of vertical stripes are actually ribs.

        iiii. Diced Hose, the checked design worn by highlanders.

   3. The seam: Pretty much all stockings had them, either the actual seam of a sewn-up cloth or frame knit, or the ditch created by a purl column on a hand knit.

      a. Get or make stockings with a seam.

      b. Stitch a tuck on the inside of the stocking for the appearance of a seam.

      c. Make a run in the stocking, one stitch wide, and hook it back up to make a purl column. Secure the ends well so it does not fray.

   4. Surface texture

      a. Ribs, both hand knit and machine knit, are available by the time of the revolution. They tend to be a masculine fashion based on advertisements that specify men’s ribbed stockings, but there is one ad that lists women’s ribbed. The exception that proves the rule?

      b. No cables and fancy stitches such as are used on modern highland hose.

      c. Lace/openwork patterns are possible to do with both hand and frame knitting. Some stockings had a bit of openwork in the gore, but not yet for the entire stocking. Research carefully vs. your impression.

   5. The textile

      a. Wool (worsted), silk, linen or hemp (thread), and cotton were used.

      b. No elastic or spandex. Wrinkled knees and ankles can be seen in 18thC portraits and sculptures.

            i. Synthetics can make a difference in comfort in hot weather

          ii. Synthetics can also be a safety issue around fires.

      c. A finer knit is a finer/better quality stocking. (Should you be wearing a coarse or fine stocking?)

      d. Knits were not as stretchy as our knits today, they were denser. It’s hard to find a fabric with the same density.

            i. Modern hand knitters do not knit that tight. It can be done, but sock knitters need to know that the gauge and some construction elements are different for historic stockings.

          ii. Modern knitting machines cannot knit that tight without potentially damaging the machine. Some antique bearded needle machines are in use, but are using a looser gauge for light, lacy textiles.

   6. Knit to shape

      a. Both hand and machine knit stockings of the time rely on decreases and increases to fit the leg. Modern knitting calls it “fully fashioned;” this knit shaping can be seen on either side of the seam.

      b. Circular-knit machines were developed in the 1790s, but were coarse and  used for hats. Early circular knit stockings (1830s) have a dart in the ankle to shape them to the leg.

      c. Stockings cut and sewn from fancy knit yard goods are available in the late 1780s. “Cut ups” from plain knit yard goods are known in the early 19th century.


   1. This is part of the heel/foot construction, made with a flap knit down the heel and joined to the foot.

   2. The gore can also be a decorative element, made with purl stitches or implied with a shape embroidered later.

   3. Check that the gore height fits your portrayal.

   4. Some originals have no gore, so nothing appears above the shoe.

C. THINGS THAT ARE NOT VISIBLE (under breeches or inside shoes) The terminology is taken from “Folk Socks” by Nancy Bush, with excellent illustrations of the different elements.

   1. Heels

      a. “Shaped common heel” is most common, where the heel flap is decreased in the center before binding off.

      b. The boxy “common heel” is still around, where the heel flap is folded with no decrease. The common heel is found more in earlier stockings.

      c. Band heels are seen on Joseph Gest’s stockings, worn for his 1765 wedding, and are in the Chester County Historical Society. This style of heel is also firmly documented for 1785, with some on the ship, General Carleton of Whitby, made that way.

   2. The top/welt/garter is also not stretchy.

      a. On some frame knits, the top folded over in construction to form a top hem. Stitching left an open loop inside the hem, and this was a result of the construction and not for any tie or garter.

      b. On hand knits and frame knits, some are plain knit and left to roll.

      c. On hand knits, garter stitch, alternating knit and purl rows, help keep the top from rolling.

     d. On hand knits, ribbing, 1/2″ to 3/4″ of the top, is documented for 1785 (General Carleton) to keep it from rolling, but not stretchy.

   3. Toe shapes

      a. Hand knit: star

      b. Hand knit: wedge

      c. Hand knit: 3-part wedge

      d. Decrease and bindoff on frame knits


   1. Circular knit (tube) with shaped heel.

      a. Problem elements include:

           i. Stretchier than originals

          ii. Short row heel

         iii. Stitched toe

      b. Improvements that have been made for accuracy:

           i. Some have purled seams

          ii. Some are re-worked for turned heels.

   2. Hand knits

      a. Problem elements include

           i. Too coarse

          ii. Stitch is too loose/stretchy

         iii. Modern sock yarn is not like 18thC stocking yarns.

        iiii. If modern sock patterns (tops, toes, heels) are used, they are inaccurate.

      b. Improvements:

           i. Better gauge

          ii. Accurate tops, heels & toes

         iii. Better yarns

Running in Heels

Running in Heels: How to save your soles. Well, heels really.

Some stockings were pre-darned as a reinforcement against wear. My stocking research was initially focused on the American Revolution era (1770 – 1783), but the extant stockings where I was seeing it were early 19th century. Did it exist earlier? I had heard that there were orders issued to soldiers, and researcher Steve Rayner found it in Cuthbertson:

‪“XXXVIII. The greatest uniformity should be observed, in the colour of the stockings, through a Regiment, as nothing more offends the eye, than a variety in this particular: white, besides being most showy, is the readiest colour to be obtained in all places; not will they be found so difficult to keep clean, as those of a greyish kind (which next to white, are the only coloured stockings, that can decently be admitted for a Soldier’s wear) because the smallest application of the pipe-clay, used for the Accoutrements, effectually cleans them unless they are too far gone in dirt: four pair of stockings should at least be each Soldier’s stock, three of which should be of fine yarn, eighteen pence a pair, and the fourth of thread; worth about two shillings and four pence, to wear on Sundays, and other particular occasions: all these stockings should be knit, being stronger by many degrees than wove ones; they must also be well shaped, long enough both in the feet and legs, and full large in every part: running them in the heels will strengthen them exceedingly, therefore every Soldier should learn that piece of oeconomy, as well as to mend his stockings, it being very praise worthy, besides saving him a constant expence.”

‪P. 60, Cuthbertson, Bennett, “A System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry…” London, 1779.

Steve found that it also appears in the 1768 edition: ‪Cuthbertson, Bennett; “A System for the Compeat Interior management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry”. Dublin, 1768.; Cited in Strachan, Hew; “British Military Uniforms, 1768 – 1796: The Dress of the British Army from Official Sources.” Arms & Armour Press, London, 1975.

After some digging, a more readily available source to me was on my ookshelf, rediscovered after an online discussion. “What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America” by Linda Baumgarten, cites the Sept. 26, 1748 edition of the New-York Gazette Revived in the Weekly Post-Boy for this:

“All sorts of Stockings new grafted and run at the Heels, and footed; also Gloves, mittens and Children’s Stockings made out of Stockings; Likewise plain work done by Elizabeth Boyd, at the Corner House opposite to Mr. Vallete’s.”

The ad can also be found in “The arts and crafts in New York: advertisements and news items from New York City newspapers” by Rita Susswein Gottesman; an interesting source with all kinds of trade ads.

We have it dated at least back to 1748, yay! So what is running in heels, and how can you use it to extend the life of your reenactment stockings?

Plain knit, outside

From the outside, plain knit yarns are in a series of “V”shapes.

Plain knit, inside

Inside, the yarns are horizontal. This is where you want to add the stitching.

Adding the reinforcement

Using a tapestry, darning, or other blunt needle, go under the horizontal stitches on the inside of the stocking. This is done in a random sort of pattern. I’m using two different colors to illustrate, but originals use the same yarn, or same type of yarn, as the stocking was made from. Don’t pull it too tight. That’s all there is to it!

This example is an early 19th century stocking, a hand-knit stocking.

The edge of the running-in angles up from the gore, to cover the heel. This may have varied depending on the individual’s wear pattern.

The outside of the heel (left) will end up with a nubbly appearance. That, and the area being thicker will tell you if your antique stockings are run in the heels. For some of my collection, I like to keep one rightside- and one inside-out, so I don’t have to handle them too much.

A funny thing happened at the Museum of Costume & Textiles in Nottingham. After identifying some run-in heels on stockings, I was walking down a hall and happened to glance at a sampler on the wall. It had a piece of knit fabric patched in, and the run-in stitch was done on it. A lovely little bit of practice on this practical stitch!


© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2001 — 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited.

Arranging the needles

From January 19, 2001:

     One of the things I had to learn to do was cast the lead that holds the needles.

Two needles are cast into one piece of lead.  The lead is shaped to fit the machine (each knitting frame has a mold for the needles). The lead has shapes that fit into the machine on both a horizontal ridge that goes across the machine and a vertical slot for each set of needles.  It’s somewhat precise, but since the lead is soft there is also a certain amount of adjustabilty.

This is the first step, adding a bit of carbon to the mold with a candle flame.  This helps release the casting, similar to greasing a cake pan.

Here is the lead being melted in the ladle.  Since old lead is re-used, impurities need to be skimmed off the top.

This is the cast needles still in the mold.  Pouring the lead tends to be fast, so I didnt get a good picture of that.  Notice the lead on the right side of the mold, that will be cut off and re-melted.

Here is a box of needles with the lead castings.  In the lower left corner is a top view, where you can see that there are two needles in the lead.

This is a lead that has been trimmed down to fit into the machine.

This is how to hold the needles to place them into the machine. They need to be fed into a narrow space.

As the frame was reconfigured into two sections instead of three, the needles could be inserted from the front.  To change broken needles, they need to be removed & inserted from the back. It’s taken me several tries each time to place the needles between the correct sinkers, but I’m getting there!

Here are the sinkers held out of the way so needles can be added from the front.  You can see the ridges that the needle leads fit onto.

Shiny new needles in place.

Finally the sinkers need to be arranged between the needles, one between each needle.

This shows how chaotic they were while other elements were changed and arranged.

Here are the sinkers nicely arranged on the right with a bit more work to go on the left.  Each sinker fits into a slot along the bottom, which is why I think of it as combing.

Though I am learning to knit on another frame, it seems that I have a pair of pliers in my hand much more often than I handle any yarn!


© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2001 — 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited.

Further Progress

Picking out a row with a mistake.

January 10, 2001,  I responded to a couple of questions.

What does plated design mean?

The design is made by incorporating a second color of thread into the knitting. With most two-color knitting, when the second color thread is knit the first color floats behind it. For plating, when the second color is added the thread is placed on top of the primary color thread. You’d think this would result in a thicker area where the two threads are used. Actually the threads are so fine that the extra thickness is not really noticeable.

Plating is done as the stocking is being knit, as opposed to embroidery which is done afterward. Plating seems to have fallen out of use around 1750. This probably meant the frame knitter could make more stockings and an embroiderer did the embellishing afterward, off the frame.

This looks very complicated.  What is a jack and what is a sinker?

I had to go look in a book to make sure I got this right! The sinkers are what you can see on the front of the frame. Every other sinker is attached to a jack.  The jacks move, one right after the other, to drop the sinkers between the every other needle. Then the second set of sinkers drop down so there’s one between every needle.

I am looking foward to seeing the threading and the machine in use.

Me too! I’ve been working on learning to knit.

Is it water-powered or how? Human powered only like a loom?

Human powered like a loom. I was working on one of the smaller machines, and today switched to a larger machine. It was much more difficult to operate!  I had to practically stand on one of the pedals to make it work.

Thanks for sharing! This is eighteenth century, really???!!!???

Yes, really! The actual machines may have been made in the 19th century, but the mechanism was around in the 18thC. It’s hard to tell, because machines were adapted, parts added, etc. These may or may not have 18thC parts.


© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2001 — 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited.

What is a stocking frame?

Frames at the Wigston Framework Knitters Museum

What is a stocking frame?

The short version: in 1589, Reverend William Lee invented a mechanical device to knit. While most hand knitting was done in the round, the frame could only kit flat pieces at first. It’s about the size of an upright piano, but half the width. Frames got wider as developments were made. They were known as stocking frames, knitting frames, and stocking looms.
What they are not is a peg frame, an extended version of a spool knitter. The stocking frame is a more complicated machine.
Back to my adventure, January 8, 2001.
     There are two photos of the frame, including the supports for the springs at the top. A lot of that has been taken off in order to move the sinkers.

The way the frame works, is that there is a row of hooks, or needles. There are jacks and sinkers, and then a second set of sinkers. The first set of sinkers go in between every two needles as the thread is fed into the frame. They maintain the slack needed in order to make the loops. The second set of sinkers comes down in between the first set, so there is a sinker in between every needle. This forms the actual loops on the needles.When the frame is set up to make three scarves, there are three sets of sinkers & needles with gaps between each set. They need to be moved around so I have two sets of sinkers and needles with one gap in the middle.

This photo shows the loosening of the second set of sinkers. They are accessible from the front of the machine. The sinkers are riveted onto lead pieces, and it’s the lead pieces that are being loosened. You can see a plate on the left side of the frame holding the lead pieces, and the rest of the plates have been removed.

Here, I’ve begun moving the sinkers. You can see that the gap on the left is being filled in, while the middle is having the sinkers removed.  To the right is the gap that has not been filled yet.

The sinkers have been moved. There are still jacks to be moved, which is why it looks like there are three gaps. Eventually the two at the sides will be filled in completely and there will be an empty space in the center. You can see at the top center that lead pieces are being filled in, leads without sinkers attached that are used as spacers.

Finally the plates have been replaced which hold the lead pieces.The next task will be to move the jacks.


© Carol Kocian and StockingFrameOfMind, 2001 — 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited.