Prior to this I had never sewn with stretch fabric, and I wasn't looking forward to it. The fabric sensed my fear, and this project turned out to be one of those that fights you every step of the way.
I started researching last year, looking up extant examples and reproductions. I loved the colours and embroidery on the clocks, much more interesting than a modern white sock.
|MFA. Pair of clocked stockings. European. c.1650-1750.|
|MFA. Pair of Clocked Stockings. French. c.1790-1800.|
|MFA. Pair of Clocked Stockings. European. c.1750-1800.|
It was certainly knit, and certainly nice and soft, but not white. I decided to make a pair of blue stockings as practice, then bleach the remaining fabric to make one or two white pairs.
I searched around for a pattern to use. I loved Before the Automobile's Late 18th Century Stockings, which were self drafted. La Couturière Parisienne's article on 18th Century Stockings had instructions to self draft a pattern, but the most thorough explanation of self drafting I found were Rebecca Manthey's instructions.
Although aimed at serious New England re-enactors, there is a wealth of detail and research in her instructions, and they're easy to follow.
I made up a pattern for the long gore stocking. This was before I had a real grasp on what part of the 18th century I wanted to focus on, and these stockings aren't really suited to my 1780's wardrobe, being popular up to the 1740's.
I cut out the fabric and started to make a mockup of a single stocking, to check the fit. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of this process, but you can be assured it was a painful one. I whipstitched the edges together by hand, a slow process that I wasn't very good at. I worried needlessly about the stitches preventing the stockings from stretching, and if I was using the right techniques for stretch fabric.
When I finally finished my mockup, there were problems. A few measurements had gone wrong somewhere, and there wasn't enough fabric to even cover my toes! I'm not sure if this is an issue with the instructions, or my bad maths skills. You can see on the pattern above where i've drawn arrows to indicate another inch or so needs to be added to the toe area. My whipstitching was also far too loose, and didn't look nice at all when it was stretched.
I practiced whipstitching with the knit on a few scraps, making sure to have tight, close stitches. Then I cut out the pieces for my proper pair of stockings.
I took extra care with the slippery, stretchy fabric, and managed to get some neat pattern pieces for the blue fabric, and left enough fabric to bleach. As you can see, the long gore stockings are not good for fabric conservation and don't make for easy cutting.
My original idea was to do some nice embroidery along the gores. Nothing on the same scale as the extant examples, but something small to decorate the gores with. I whipstitched the gores into place, leaving the rest of the stocking open for easier embroidering.
I (somehow) got the stocking onto my embroidery hoop and started embroidering. I'm almost too embarrassed by the mess I made to show it here, but I will. We all make horrible misinformed mistakes...
After documenting and unpicking my failure I left the unfinished stockings in my stash for a few weeks. I came back to them with a much simpler idea. Looking closely at Before the Automobile's stockings, I saw that she had stem stitched the edges of the gores with white embroidery to hide the seam. I decided to do that in a contrasting colour, and then add a small monogram.
The stem stitches were great at adding some extra stability to the gores; you can see here how they stop the seams from rolling.
The monogram was also done in stem stitch, with some simple swirls on either side. I loved the rose and yellow coloured extant example from the MFA, so I chose a pale yellow to contrast with the blue. The pink of the swirls completes the pastel look. 18th century stockings could be extremely gaudy, so mine are very tame in comparison.
A stem stitched gore and a small monogram worked out much better than my original attempt, and I was starting to feel more confident working with the knit. After finishing all the embroidery, I whipstitched the back seam.
I had deliberately made the toes two or three inches longer than I needed, to avoid them turning out too short. After the back seam was done I tried the stocking on, and measured where my toes came up to. I cut off the excess fabric on a diagonal, to better fit the shape of my feet. I then whipstitched them closed.
I wasn't quite sure what to do with the top of the stockings. Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradford has one example with the top edge left raw, and another with a hem. In the end I decided to fold the top edge over twice, then secure it with a running stitch.
These stockings were a nightmare to make. From research to completion they took me about eight months! For most of that time they sat in my cupboard after some disaster happened when I tried to work on them. I so happy they're finished now, and all the mistakes just means the next pair will be easier. I hope.