a Knitted Stocking Pattern
By Donna Flood Kenton

In the second year of Queen Elizabeth, 1560, her silk woman, Mistress Montague, presented Her Majesty with a pair of black knit silk stockings for a new yearís gift; the which, after a few days of wearing, pleased Her Highness to well that she sent for Mistress Montague and asked her where she had them, and if she could help her to any more; who answered, saying:

"I made them very carefully of purpose only for Your Majesty; and seeing these please you so well, I will presently get more in hand."

"Do so," quoth the Queen, "for indeed I like silk stockings so well, because they are pleasant, fine and delicate, that henceforth I will wear no more cloth stockings."

And from that time unto her death the Queen never wore any more cloth hose, only silk stockings.

Edmund Howes in The annals or general chronicles of England, 1615.

As charming as this tale may be, it's unlikely that the event ever happened. The story was recorded forty years after the fact by someone who was not present.

However, it has been duly recorded that Queen Elizabeth did own, and enjoy, several pair of silk stockings. Her preference for them was so well known that for New Year 1561, she received at least three pair of silk stockings as gifts from commoners.

Knitting was well established in the Channel Islands by the time Elizabeth took the throne in 1558. In particular, the island of Jersey had achieved acclaim for their knitted wool hose, called "Jersey stocks." It was noted that on February 8, 1586, Mary, Queen of Scots, wore a white pair of Jersey hose covered by a pair of sea-blue socks with silver clocks. Although knitted woolen stockings were commonplace by then, the occasion was not. It was her execution.

Menís short trunks made a fitted stocking very popular. Both urban and rural areas organized knitting schools as a way of relieving poverty and keeping people out of mischief. By the end of her reign, a great variety of stockings knit from English wool were being exported to Germany, France, Italy, Holland, and Spain.

Stockings have changed very little. Other than developing different techniques for working heels or toes, the style and method of Elizabethís stocking is echoed in the Gunnister stockings (from a mid-17th century Scottish site) and those of the 19th century. If you understand the basics of knitting, you should be able to create your own knitted stockings, using whatever size needles and yarn you like. Thereís nothing more complicated than knit, purl, increase, and decrease. It takes a bit of time and patience, and occasionally, trial and error.

Anatomy of a Stocking

While the idea of making a stocking might seem daunting, separating it into parts makes it easier to understand.

WELTING: A sturdy section at the top of the stocking. In the earliest stockings, this was a band of woven fabric to which the knitted stocking was attached. The simplest welting is 12 to 16 rows of garter stitch, and is more common in the earlier stockings. By 1838, a knit 3-purl 3 rib was common, as was any variation of that (knit 4-purl 4; knit 5-purl 3). Basketweave (k 3, p3 for 3 rows; then p 3, k 3 for 3 rows) was also used.

CENTER BACK PANEL This marked your place while knitting. If ribbed, it could offer additional ease. The simplest version is a single purl stitch down the center. More elaborate versions include:

Six stitch panels:

Five stitch panel:

CLOCKS: These optional design features are located at the ankles, either on both sides, or just the outside. They can be knitted in, as in the Gunnister stockings (mid-1600ís), and would be fairly simple in design. When embroidered, they could be quite complex.

THIGH, KNEE, CALF, ANKLE, HEEL, INSTEP, FOOT , TOE: As you might suspect, these correspond to the appropriate parts of the leg and foot.


The stockings featured here imitate the design of the Gunnister. There are three separate clocks:

  1. a moss stitch diamond,
  2. a garter stitch inverted triangle, and
  3. a knit 1, purl 1 ribbing at the sides of the ankle.

The Gunnister stockings, although dated from the mid 1600ís, are very much like the stockings of the late 1800ís or the 1500's. The following description is from The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland -- Publication of the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, 1951-52.

The knitted stockings measure 23 inches from the top to under the heel. The length of the foot is about 11 inches, the circumference of the top 9 inches. The feet of both stockings are worn away, and have been replaced by other material. There are holes at the knees, some roughly mended. The woolen yarn is heavy, spun S, 2-ply. It is dark brown in colour, a mixture of various shades of brown fibres, including some black. The spinning and knitting are very even.

The work is done on four needles, 7 1/2 stitches and 10 rows per inch. 114 stitches are cast on at the top, and 7 rows of garter stitch follow. The remainder of the stocking is worked in stocking stitch, except for the clocks at the ankle and a panel down the back.

One stocking has the foot replaced by the leg of another stocking. The wool is almost identical to that of the whole stocking but the yarn is fine, 2-ply Z, 10 stitches and 15 rows to the inch. It is worked in stocking stitch on 4 needles except on the top, which is worked below the casting-on with 1 plain row, 1 purl row, 4 rows of rib of 1 plain stitch, 1 purl stitch, 1 plain row, 1 purl row and down the back of the stocking where 2 lines of a single purl stitch is separated by 2 plain stitches. 18 inches of the length of the stocking remains. 6 3/4 inches below the top the decreases start, and increases and decreases for the calf can be seen. There is no foot to the stocking, and there are holes in the leg. It is roughly sewn four layers thick on to the bottom of the whole stocking by 3 strands of thick S spun yarn.

The foot of the other stocking has been replaced by a very coarse rep, folded double. What is probably the warp is a dark brown lightly spun 3-ply S yarn, the weft a heavier, light brown 2-ply Z yarn. The count is 6 x 17. It is roughly sewn on to the stocking by a 2-ply thread with stitches 2 inches apart.

The Method

Now that you understand all of its parts, itís a simple matter to construct the stocking. The basic procedure is as follows:
  1. Cast on enough stitches to fit snugly around your thigh. Work in a sturdy welting for an inch or two.
  2. Start the center back panel and knit even for another few inches. Continue the center back panel until you reach the heel.
  3. Decrease stitches over the next few rows until you reach the knee. Knit even for a few rows.
  4. Increases stitches over the next few rows until you reach the calf. Knit even for a few inches.
  5. Decrease stitches over the next several rows until you reach the ankle. When you near the ankle, start clocks (optional).
  6. Knit even until you have reached the required length for the leg of the stocking.
  7. Using half the number of stitches, work heel. Pick up stitches along one side of heel, add instep stitches, and pick up stitches on other side of heel.
  8. Work instep, decreasing as needed to the width of the foot. Knit even until you reach the toe.
  9. Decrease at the toe, and finish with grafting stitch or other method.

Determining Size

The method of making stockings is the same, whether theyíre for a man, woman, or child. The only variable is size figuring out how many stitches each section needs, and how often to decrease (or increase). This is largely math, but also includes a certain amount of trial and error.

First, you need a sample swatch using your chosen yarn and needles. From your swatch, determine the number stitches and rows per inch you knit. This is the relaxed gauge.

Next, give your sample a good stretch. Notice how much give it has, whether it has a lot of stretch or is fairly dense. This is important in determining how many stitches you need for each section. Although you may knit 8 stitches per inch, if your knitting has a lot of stretch, you may find that results in a sagging stocking. In practice, you may only need only 6 stitches per inch. Note the stretched gauge.

Measure around your thigh. Using the number of stitches in the stretched gauge, determine how many stitches that would require from your sample swatch. Cast on and knit the welting, trying it on for fit. Modify as necessary.

From here, itís a matter of increasing and decreasing, as needed, to make the stocking fit the leg. Youíll need to take measurements and fit as necessary. The exact number of stitches per inch isnít important in the end result. Itís only a starting place.

Should you choose to guesstimate fit, The Workwomanís Guide (1838) offers the following proportions:


Ascertain the proper breadth of the stocking.
From the top to the bend of the knee is one square, or the length of the breadth.
From the bend of the knee to the beginning of the calf is one square or breadth.
From the beginning to the end of the calf, is one square or breadth.
For the small of the leg, one square or breadth; for the heel, half a square; for the narrowing on each side of the instep, one quarter of a square; from the heel to the narrowing of the toe, one and a half square; for the narrowing, a quarter of a square.
Observe, that the squares always relate to the breadth of the stocking, at the time the next square is begun.

This same "guide" also says: "It is difficult to make very correct scales for different sized knit stockings, as so much depends on the quality of the worsted and of the pins, as also on the knitter."

Decreasing and Increasing

There are two methods of increasing or decreasing the number of stitches youíre using. The less common method is simply to decrease the full number of stitches at once, evenly placed around the leg, but all in the same row. This tends to work best with less muscular legs.

The more common method involves decreasing two stitches per row (one on either side of the center back panel) at regular intervals until the required size is reached. Trial and error has proven to me that working this decrease every third row is just about ideal. Decreasing every second row gives you a sharp 45 degree decrease. Decreasing every fourth row might be advisable for long legs, or less muscular legs.

A Sample Pattern

Sometimes the easiest way to make a pattern is to take a known pattern and modify it to fit the new dimensions. Below is the pattern I used for these stockings. I used about 10 ounces of a light sport weight yarn on size 2 needles.
  1. Cast on 110 stitches. I cast on over two needles, just to make sure that the cast-on is loose enough to be comfortable.
  2. Work welting: 6 ridges (12 rows) of garter stitch. Start center back panel (one purl stitch). Knit even for 26 rows.
  3. Start the decreases to knee. Decrease two stitches every third row, six times. NOTE: For a neat appearance, donít decrease immediately beside the center back panel. Keep one knit stitch before and after the panel.
  4. At the knee, knit 9 rows plain.
  5. Increase to Calf: Increase 2 stitches every third row 5 times. At the calf, knit 36 rows plain.
  6. Decrease to Ankle: Decrease 2 stitches every third row 23 times. Start clocks at the 13th decrease.
  7. At the 23rd decrease, you should be near the ankle, and almost the right length. The third clock is a k1, p1 rib over the inner and outer ankle bones (6 purl ribs), not over the entire ankle. Knit even in this pattern for 12 rows, to complete length.
    NOTE: From here, you can use your favorite sock pattern. Folk Socks, by Nancy Bush offers a great variety of techniques along with historical information. What follows is a typical early period heel, which I have not used.
  8. Heel: Divide the stitches in two. Put half the stitches aside for the instep. Work back and forth in stockinette stitch over the other stitches for the heel flap. It should reach under your heel, almost to the middle of your foot. Decrease every 4th or 5th stitch in the next row, and bind off. Fold the heel flap in half, and graft or sew it up.
  9. Pick up stitches evenly along the heel rows, across the instep, and down the other side of the heel. Knit plain for two rows, then start decreasing for the foot.
  10. Foot: Decrease 2 stitches (one on each side of the instep) every other row until you reach the desired width for the foot. Knit even to length, then work the toe.
  11. Toe: Count the number of stitches on your needles and divide by two, for the top and bottom half of the toe. For each half, you will knit 1, knit 2 together, knit even to last 2 stitches, knit 2 together, knit 1. Work next row even. Repeat these two rows 10 times (or as needed). Cut the yarn, leaving a 15 inch tail. Graft or sew a neat seam with the remaining stitches.

Garters: Cast on 8 stitches and knit until the piece is long enough to reach around your leg and tie. Make two.


I hope this is clear to everyone. If not, feel free to email me at donna@dabbler.com and I'll see if I can help you out.
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Copyright (c) Donna Flood Kenton, 1997. All rights reserved.