School Sock from 1817 by Chris Laning
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School Sock from 1817

Knitting
May 2009
Sport (12 wpi) ?
16 stitches = 2 inches
in Stockinette
US 2 - 2.75 mm
US 0 - 2.0 mm
150 - 300 yards (137 - 274 m)
First, Second (for Man's, see notes)
This pattern is available as a free Ravelry download

This is a modern “translation” of the second-oldest known printed sock pattern. It’s from The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant, a short textbook for grammar schools, first published in 1817 in London. Immediately popular, it was reprinted many times over the next sixty years, both by J. Hatchard (the original publishers) and others. The sock “formula” in these instructions was also copied by other knitting manuals of the time, for instance, the Ladies’ Knitting and Netting Book by “Miss Watts,” published in 1840.

The aim of these instructions is to produce an exact stitch-for-stitch replica of the originals. If you want to compare this redaction with the original source, a facsimile reprint of the first (1817) edition of The Knitting Teacher’s Assistant is available from Robin Stokes. My thanks to her for making this rare booklet available. (And tell her I sent you.)

Typical of early 19th century patterns, sizing is vague. There are instructions for “the first size,” “the second size” and “a man’s size.” I think these correspond -- VERY roughly! -- to an average-sized child’s (aged around 6 to 9, I think), woman’s (size 8) and man’s foot.

My experiments indicate that the first two are knitted in sport weight yarn at about 8 stitches per inch (on something like US size 2 needles), which the original book describes as “coarse wool and large needles” -- and I guess by the standards of the time, they were!

The man’s size, however, is knitted in a different and finer yarn, called “lambswool,” and has a lot more stitches than the other sizes. My experiments suggest light fingering yarn and US size 0 or 00 needles, for a gauge of about 10-11 stitches per inch.

For all of these, you may wind up fiddling with the stitch gauge to get your sock to fit a particular size foot.

You will note that these knitting instructions do not observe many of the modern sock-knitting conventions we take for granted: for instance, you knit one round plain after casting on, before beginning the ribbing at the cuff. The ribbing is also shorter than we are used to in modern socks. Other 19th-century practices used here include marking the center back stitch and working it as a so-called “seam stitch,” which is purled every second round. Decreases are not always mirrored; in the instep decreases the instructions say to K2 tog on both sides, rather than K2 tog on one side and SKP on the other. The toe is closed by a three-needle bind-off.

My contact information is on the pattern if anyone has questions or corrections.