Monday, March 31, 2014

Knit Garters, 1862

I lost my elastic garters again last week; undoubtedly they'll reappear in some unlikely locale next autumn. Meanwhile, I made some simple replacements (cut elastic to fit comfortably around the calf; stitch ends together) and started thinking about upgrading to a more period option.

My usual on-line haunts (MFAMetHistoric New England) showed a number of lovely specimens from the 18th and early 19th centuries, ranging from ribbons to elaborate woven and embroidered bands.

I eventually settled on this design from Godey's (June, 1862).*  I selected it because the loop at one end makes it look easier to tie than the earlier designs, which are, after all, single flat pieces.  I picked my smallest practical needles, size 2**, and some fine 'baby weight'/zephyr/scotch fingering weight wool out of my stash. It's triple ply, and just a little larger (c.200 yd/oz) than the wool I use for Berlin work.

Godey's 1862 directions for a "New Style of Garter".The first part is nice and straightforward: Cast on 6 in the first color (I used pale pink), and knit plain, ie garter stitch, for 45 rows:Loop of garter on two knitting needles.

Next, the end is picked up, forming the loop and putting a total of 12 stitches on the needle.  The second color (white) is added, and one row of twelve stitches is knit.  The next row is all purled; continue knitting one row and purling the next (stockinette) until 6 rows are complete. During this, I wove in the loose ends (from changing the color) because I didn't want to deal with them flapping about:

To get the "ribbed" effect, the next six rows are reversed (purl the first, knit the second, etc.); this continues for 33 such sets of 6 rows each.  Finally, the first color is reintroduced.  Knit plain (garter stitch) one row of 12 stitches; then decrease at the end of each row: 11, 10, 10 (this row not decreased), 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

 The first color is re-introduced for the point of the garter.

When there was only 1 stitch left, I set the knitting aside to make the tassels.  Using a plastic card as the base, I wrapped the pink yarn around the it short-wise twelve times, and then brought a separate piece of yarn under the hank at one end, and tied it with a square knot.  Next, I took one of the long, trailing ends and wrapped it several times around the knot, fastening it with two small half-hitches and letting the tail fall into the tassel:
Tassel knotted at the top.

Then, the card was removed, and the other trailing end knotted around the yarn-cluster, slightly below the first knot.  This strand was subsequently wrapped around the knot, making a the tassel 'head', and finished as was the first wrapped strand.  The bottom loops were then cut and made even:
Uncut tassel.
 Cut and un-cut tassels.

To attach the tassel, I threaded the top 'cord' through the loop of the final knit stitch, knotted the loose ends of the cord and knitting yarn together, trimmed the edges.  Here's the final garter, modeled by a convenient potted plant:
Completed knit garter with loop and tassel.

I was surprised at how stretchy the finished garter is.  I suppose I shouldn't have been.  In addition to the 'stretch' of the knitting itself, the ribs created by the alternating patches of stockinette allow for a lot of expansion, making it a fairly 'one size fits just about everyone' article.  By knitting a sample piece to test the stretch-gauge, it would be very easy to adapt the pattern to very large or very small legs.

*Apparently, every progressive re-enactor of the early 1860s has tried this pattern at some point in time.
**After commencing, I read on the Sewing Academy that size 1 or 0 needles may be more appropriate.  I'll try these next time on a size 1.  I think they work fine on the 2's, but could look slightly daintier on 1's.

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