In an effort to complete my 16th century Irish wardrobe, I undertook the study of a pair of stockings in the collection of the National Museum of Ireland. The Carnamoyle stockings are an extant pair of knitted wool stockings from County Donegal that are roughly contemporary with the Shinrone gown, of which I have made a replica. I handspun worsted yarn in a clockwise direction (Z-twist) on a wooden drop spindle and knit the stockings in the round on five #3 wooden needles.
The Carnamoyle stockings are fragmentary. The feet are not present. There is also little shaping in the shafts so it is difficult to ascertain if they are knee- or thigh-length. The stockings are knit from worsted yarn in a stockinette stitch.
The top band is the only place where the knit diverts from the simple stockinette design. It consists of three rows of purl followed by two of knit, two of purl, one of knit and one of purl. There is a column of purl stitches that Dunlevy2 calls a “back seam”. The purpose of this “seam” is to keep the knitter’s place while stitching in the round. Unlike knitting flat pieces, when one knits in the round, one simply repeats the same stitches over and over until the desired length is acquired. In order to know what row you are on, you have to have a marker of some kind. In period, this was accomplished with anywhere from one to five or six purl stitches that were placed at the back of the stocking. To a non-knitter, this would appear to be a “seam”. However, the threads are not sewn together at this point but, rather, are continuous.
Over the last year, I spindle spun a skein of Z-twist singles from purchased roving using the short draw (worsted preparation). The available information on the stockings comes from Mairead Dunlevy’s book, Dress in Ireland. This text does not list the spin direction of the yarn used to make the stockings. Enquiries to the National Museum of Ireland did not provide any further information. However all the woven garments in the National Museum of Ireland are made from Z-spun worsted singles. Since I knew that the stockings were also made from worsted singles, I made the leap of logic that they may have used the same yarn both for weaving and knitting. However, this “leap” has no historical substantiation and should be viewed as a guess with an even chance of being correct (see the documentation under Spinning for more information on the yarn).
I knit a 2″ x 5″ swatch in stockinette stitch to determine the gauge of my stitches. When stretched, my swatch contained 6.2 stitches to the horizontal inch. The swatch measured 12 rows per vertical inch. I wanted the top of the stockings to be 17 ¾” around, so I cast on 110 stitches and distributed them between the four working needles on my first row.
I knit the top band in 3 rows of purl, 2 of knit, 2 of purl, 1 of knit and 1 of purl. Then I made one purl stitch at the beginning of the row before continuing in stockinette stitch until I came back to the row directly above the single purl stitch. I made another purl stitch there and continued in this fashion until I had enough knitted to fit my leg.
In order to avoid the imperfections called “ladders” that are common to knitting on multiple needles, I took a suggestion from Donna Kenton4 and shifted the work three stitches every row. This means that every time I came to the end of a needle, instead of switching to the free needle immediately, I would knit three stitches from the next needle with the working needle. This shifted the break between needles by three stitches every single row. This eliminated the telltale “ladders” by constantly redistributing the stitches and therefore, the tension.
I knit to a length of 19″, decreasing by one stitch every couple rows to a circumference of 9 ½” (60 stitches). Then I divided the stitches in half (30 per needle) and continued to knit until I came to the middle of the heel.
The Carnamoyle stockings are fragmentary. As can be seen in the picture above, the feet are no longer present. To complete the stockings, I used a period heel treatment from Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks1.
- Bush, Nancy. Folk Socks. 1994: Interweave Press, Loveland, CO.
- Dunlevy, Mairead. Dress in Ireland. 1989: Holmes & Meier, NY.
- Rutt, Richard. A History of Hand Knitting. 1987: Interweave Press.
© 2000, 2003 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.