The golden yellow silk stocking

The historical silk stocking I knitted two years ago was dyed last summer by the Refashioning the Renaissance research team. I had a chance to photograph the stocking last week, so here is the last update on my huge knitting project of two years back.

The fustic dye (maclura tinctoria, keltapuu in Finnish) gave a beautifully intense dark yellow colour. It brought to mind some of the first 17th century stockings I remember seeing, particularly a pair that belonged to king Karl X Gustav of Sweden.

The stockings of king Karl X Gustav of Sweden, dated 1654, from the Stockholm Livsrustkammaren collections. Photo from Fashioning the Early Modern research pages.

Now that I look at the pictures of the king’s stockings, which date to the exact same decade as the Turku samples, I realize that the two pairs are made with an almost identical “pattern”. The main difference is the shaping of the sole. In the Swedish socks the sole is straight without any increases towards the toe, whereas the Turku stocking has a widening sole to compensate for all the decreases on the sides. The foot part appears to be quite a bit longer too to accommodate a man’s larger foot. The clocks (the decorations at the ankle) of the Swedish stockings depict the three crowns, tre kronor, the symbol of the Swedish monarchy for the last 700 years.

The sole of the Turku stocking starts with just 5 stitches and widens towards the foot.

The historical stocking we were replicating in our participatory research team was an amazingly well survived pair from the 1650’s, that has been found in a tomb of the Turku Cathedral. Tests show that back in the 1650’s their now faded colour had been black, one of the most prestigious colours of fashion at the time. I saw the original stockings in an exhibition at the Turku Castle in the spring 2019. Having already enrolled as a volunteer to knit a copy, the tiny meticulously executed stitches seemed pretty daunting! You can read about my 260 hours’ knitting experience from a guest article I wrote for the Refashioning the Renaissance blog and these previous posts.

My stocking was first washed and then dyed at the Aalto University lab by the research team. Photo © Refashioning the Renaissance

The research team tested many recipes of dyes from the same historical period. Out of the several silk stockings and many woolen ones that our knitting team produced, two were dyed a fabulous black like the original pair. Others were dyed in beautiful colours such as pink, red, blue and green.

The dyes and samples that were tested by the research group. Photo from the Reconstructing Everyday Fashion, 1550-1650 exhibition.
Finally the stocking was stretched onto a specially built wooden blocker to take it’s form.

Naturally I never had the chance to touch the over 350 year old Turku museum treasures, so I cannot compare to them, but handling the dyed stocking made me think that it wasn’t quite as silky and supple as the little swatches I had made. My version was knitted with a double thickness of yarn, which makes it sturdier than the other silk stockings from our group, and also affects the touch. The fustic dye probably altered the feel of the stocking too, although my guess is that it would have softened in use. Nonetheless the result is very satisfying. The stocking looks fabulous, resembles it’s role models in all but it’s colour and I’m sure that it would have been quite fit for even a king.

After some exhibitions at the Aalto University last autumn, the output of the Refashioning the Renaissance researchers has been stored along with all the stockings knitted by the volunteers. I’m hoping that there will still be plenty of occasions for my golden yellow stocking to come out of it’s little plastic bag to be wondered at by history (and knitting) enthusiasts!

A huge thank you to our principal investigator professor Paula Hohti and the rest of the Refashioning team for this fascinating adventure!

Update 24.4.2022 the free pattern for the stockings has been published and can be downloaded from the Refashioning the Renaissance project page here. There is also a new Ravelry page for the stockings.

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2 thoughts on “The golden yellow silk stocking”

  1. Such an interesting project to participate in, congratulations! The yellow dye is glorious – your stocking is absolutely fit for a king, and deserves to come out of it’s storage bag to be studied and admired!

    Liked by 1 person

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