Three pairs of knit stockings with beadwork and crochet, Elizabeth Pauline Ebert, Menomonee Falls, Waukesha County, 1878-1879

(Private Collection, from the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database )

Elizabeth Pauline Ebert's knit stockings

Elizabeth Pauline Ebert of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, knit these three pairs of stockings between 1878 and 1879. Like many residents of the state in the second half of the 19th century, she immigrated to Wisconsin from Germany, and these stockings were handed down to her granddaughter, who passed them on to their current owner, who has kindly allowed us to include them in the exhibition.

Elizabeth’s knit stockings are a reflection of her fine knitting skills: her stitches are precise and even, a sign of a competent knitter. In addition, she includes technically difficult lacework and beading on each stocking, clearly demonstrating her knitting ability. While I wasn’t able to identify the lace patterns on the stockings with the red or green beading at the time of this post, the blue socks use feather and fan or Old Shale stitch, one which remains popular today. The choice to include both her initials and the year in the intricate bead work show a sense of ownership and pride in her work. A story that was passed down to her granddaughter is that she knit these stockings to be beautiful in her new home in the United States.

Detail of Old Shale lacework

Like many of the objects showcased in this exhibit, Elizabeth’s stockings are a reflection of the increased interest in fancywork and decorating everyday objects among many middle class women in the late nineteenth century. Elizabeth knit her socks at a point when socks and stockings were available commercially but when many women were still making them at home both for pleasure and economy. Elizabeth created a luxurious version of a practical and ubiquitous garment, and in doing so created objects that were important enough to be saved and passed along to her descendants and finally to their new owner.

Socks like Elizabeth’s are still a popular project for many knitters, and often include everything from lace to beadwork to new construction techniques. The socks below are ones I knit in March 2009 using a toe up method instead of starting with the cuff as Elizabeth did for her stockings. While they different in both construction and materials, the impulse to make something beautiful is the same. I used Regia Color, a self-striping wool/nylon sock yarn, something that would have been unheard of in 1878 when Elizabeth knit her socks. Because of the color of the yarn itself, I knit most of the sock in stockinette except the cuff (not shown in the image). While my socks looks almost nothing like Elizabeth’s, I knit them for pleasure  just as Elizabeth did over 130 years ago.

toe up socks

Sources

Nancy Bush Knitting Vintage Socks: New Twists on Classic Patterns Interweave Press. 2005.

–Posted by Rebecca Keyel

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