[HNW] Gauge for socks

Kim Salazar kbsalazar at mediaone.net
Wed Jan 2 07:25:24 PST 2002


Katya asks about sock gauges, especially for mid 1800s socks.  I burrow
into my bookshelf and bookmark page and attempt to answer.  Unfortunately
the earliest my own research materials go is the 1880s.  Sock patterns
weren't widely published before the great knitting book boom of the
1880s.  Perhaps it was taken for granted that everyone knew how to make them.

Here are some gauges for socks I've picked out of various repro historical
patterns for daytime wear in-the-shoe type socks, knit in the round.  I
give cast on numbers because most of the patterns of this time say to
narrow until the stocking is narrow enough rather than specifying the exact
number of stitches to be decreased.  The distinction between stockings and
socks is my own.  These terms are often but not used exclusively in this
way in the historical patterns.  The number in parenthesis is the
recommended needle size.  When a gauge is specified in the pattern or in
the accompanying text, I have supplied it as well.


Stockings (usually cast on above the calf, then increased for the calf and
tapered before the ankle)

   Mens
	1880s-1 - Wool - 98 stitches (#16)
	1880s-1 - Wool - 88 stitches (#16)
	1880s-2 - Wool - 104 stitches (#15 or 16)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 120 stitches (#15; pattern is for very large stockings)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 100 stitches (#16)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 117 stitches (#14; heavily cabled)
	1882 - Wool - 156 stitches (#16)

   Womens
	1870 - Cotton - 121 stitches  (#16; very small stocking)
	1880s-2 - Cotton or Silk - 128 stitches (#18)
	1892 - Silk - 169 stitches (#19; 16 stitches per inch)
	1892 - Silk - 152 stitches (#19; 16 stitches per inch)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 120 stitches (#16)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 80 stitches (#15)
	1882 - Silk or wool - 148 stitches (#18)

   Childrens (5 years+)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 96 stitches (#16 or 17)
	1880s-3 - Wool 81 stitches (#16)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 80 stitches (#17)

Socks (usually cast on below the calf, most but not all contain some minor
ankle shaping)

   Mens
	1892 - Silk - 113 stitches (#19; 16 stitches per inch)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 92 stitches (#15)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 90 stitches (#16)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 84 stitches (#14)
	1882 - Wool - 64 stitches (#16)
	1882 - Wool - 120 stitches (#16 - seems big to me...)
	1884 - Silk - 84 stitches (#17 - seems small to me from length of foot)
	1886 - Wool - 112 stitches (none given)

   Womens
	No patterns for short-length womens day wear socks are offered.
	Not surprising given the fashions of the time.

   Childrens (5 years +)
	1870 - Cotton - 84 stitches (#19 or 20)
	1880s-3 - Wool - 80 stitches (#16 or 17)


Note that patterns intended for silk or cotton usually contain more
stitches than patterns intended for wool.  It's not that those fibers were
worn in looser fit as much as it is evidence of wool's superior stretch.

As to foot sizes, think small.  My guess based on foot length estimates is
that womens' average feet were around what would be considered a US 5 shoe
today; and mens average feet were around a US mens shoe 8.5-9 today (by
contrast, the average womens' shoe size is US 7.5-8 today and men are
around a US 10.5).  For calf sizes, don't estimate based on some modern
pumped-up runner or cyclist.  Think of a more gracile leg.

The 1892 work specifies the average size of a man's foot as being 10.5
inches long. It also contains an excellent chart for knitting silk
stockings in various sizes.  The chart is indexed to foot length in inches
with corresponding numbers of stitches to cast on, numbers of stitches to
decrease to for the ankle and on which to work the heel.

Needle sizes - note that modern equivalents are approximate.  The metric
equivalences are closer than the US designations.
	#14 - 2 mm, (US 0)
	#15 -  1.75mm (US 00)
	#16 - about 1.6mm (between a US 00 and 000)
	#17 - 1.5 mm (US 000)
	#18 - 1.25mm (US 4/0)
	#19 - 1.0 mm (US 5/0)

I often use 1.25mm DPNs (US #4/0) and standard modern fingering weight wool
yarn for my own socks, and achieve a stitch count of 96 stitches around
with no particular difficulty.  It's not impossible, and the socks aren't
stiff.  In fact they are lush and dense, and wear EXCEPTIONALLY well
compared to the same yarn knit at looser "modern" gauges.

-------
Sources -
1870 - "Treasures in Needlework" by Warren & Pullan
1892 - "Knitting Essentials" (repro of "Art of Knitting")
1880s-1 - "Weldon's Practical Knitter #2"
1880s-2 - "Weldon's Practical Stocking Knitter #1
1880s-3 - "Weldon's Practical Stocking Knitter #2
1882 - "Dictionary of Needlework" by Caulfield and Saward
1884 - Dorcas Magazine
http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~trombley/dorcas/patterns.html
1886 - Lady's Book of Knitting
http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~trombley/ladys/patterns.html



Hope this helps,

Kim Salazar, Yarn Review Shepherd and Needlework History Dilettante
kbsalazar at mediaone.net
http://www.wiseneedle.com





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