My design is based on a Victorian baby’s Bootee pattern from a book I found in the National Museums Scotland library, where I work: Scrivenor, M. Elliot. Collection of Knitting and Crochet Receipts. John Paton, Son and Co., Alloa, 1896. It has a lovely cover:
This is the Frontispiece:
We have other Victorian knitting books in the library, but what particularly struck me about this book was the photos. It was wonderful to see the kind of clothing you would expect to see in a Victorian period drama, and realise it was possible to make them from these patterns. This Child’s Hood feels like it just stepped out of a Charles Dickens novel:
I thought it would be great to have a go at knitting or crocheting something from the book, and I loved the stitch pattern in this Baby’s Boot:
So I gave it a go. Using 2mm double pointed needles and some Drops Lace yarn I had by from making a shawl. I only made one, and this is what it turned out like:
Very sweet. The stitch pattern was remarkably easy to knit, and was based on a rib stitch pattern. I immediately thought it would make a lovely ladies’ sock pattern. However, I had a lot of problems working the crochet edging on the sock to the instructions, it just came out too tight and the scallops looked too gathered compared to the original photo. The photo above shows my second attempt at the edging, I had to adapt the instructions to make it look similar to the original, but still it was a tight and inflexible cuff. I knew I was going to have to try something else for the sock cuff.
There were quite a few adaptations that needed to be made, as a baby’s bootee has different functions to a ladies’ sock. The original had moss stitch over the sole and toes, fine for a baby’s foot, which would not touch the ground, but a bit lumpy for an adult to walk on; so I changed the sole and toes to smooth stocking stitch, but retained the moss stitch for the side gussets:
I thought a reinforced heel would be more practical for an adult sock, but chose pheasant’s eye stitch as it had a similar feel to the original moss stitch. I liked the ribbon around the ankle in the original pattern, but moved it to the cuff, where it could be seen for decorative effect on an adult sock. I used a thicker yarn, 4ply sock yarn, as lace weight would not wear well for adult socks.
As the original cuff had been problematical in crochet, I experimented with a combination of knit stitch patterns to create a similar effect. The cuff edging stitches are based on the Victorian cabbage patch edge stitch, which uses staggered cluster stitches to create the effect. To help the cuff edge remain stretchy I used a provisional cast on, which removed a firm cast on edge. The cuff edging is then knitted up from the provisional stitches after the rest of the sock has been knitted.
I was inspired by the original book to choose red yarn for the socks. Most of the patterns in the book specified what colour yarn was used, probably because the book was produced by a yarn manufacturer. Looking through the patterns I was surprised to find that red was often used for underwear, like these Knickerbocker Drawers:
I just loved the idea that respectable looking Victorian ladies and gentlemen could be keeping their nether regions warm by clothing them in a saucy red colour! Babieswear was more muted though, this is the start of the pattern for the bootee I knitted:
The original book has been reprinted and is now available to buy online. Perhaps you will be inspired to knit some red knickerbockers for yourselves…
Or have a go at my Victorian inspiration from the book – Evangelina is available in S,M,L ladies sizes directly from Knitty or through Ravelry. I hope you enjoy knitting and wearing it.
While I was away in Venice my friend took a couple more photos of Evangelina, as I felt I needed more summery photos as it was going in the Spring/Summer issue, (it was originally intended for the Winter issue). Here are the photos:
Can you see me wincing with the cold?!
Thanks to Lara Armitage and S.Miller for the use of their photos.