Stocking, a close-fitting garment for the foot and leg, usually knit or woven. From paintings found at Pompeii, as also from notices in some of the Latin classics, it appears that stockings were known to the Romans in the latter days of the republic and under the empire; but they formed no part of the ordinary costume. Fascioe, bandages wound round the leg from the ankle to the knee, were sometimes worn by persons in delicate health, or as a protection to the legs when walking through briers, as in hunting, on the march, etc. The art of knitting stockings is usually said to have originated in Scotland in the early part of the 16th century. In the times of Elizabeth it was an important industry in England, and the queen's government refused letters patent to William Lee, the inventor of the stocking frame (1589), on the ground that the machine-made goods would drive the home-made out of the markets and ruin the workpeople. Lee took his machine to France, and established a factory at Rouen, where he employed a number of his own countrymen. Political troubles soon drove him out of Rouen, and he died on the way to England. His brother introduced the manufacture into Nottinghamshire, which has ever since been famous for its production of stockings.
Stocking frames were introduced into the United States in the 18th century at Philadelphia and Germantown, Pa., New York city, and several places in the middle and eastern states. The adaptation of the Lee machine to power was first accomplished by Timothy Bailey of Albany in 1831; and the first machine thus run was at Cohoes, N. Y., in 1832. The old Lee invention was a square frame, producing a straight strip, which was cut off in proper lengths, and seamed together to form the stocking. But a great improvement upon this, the origin of which is unknown, was the circular loom in which a continuous circular web is knit of any length, which is cut up and formed into the shape of a stocking. Several others have since been devised in the United States for manufacturing purposes, as also for family use. - The various knitting machines, which are too numerous to be mentioned in detail in this article, produce what is called the stocking stitch or chain work, consisting of loops formed in succession upon a single thread, each one locked by that which follows it.
These machines may be distinguished by the different kinds of needles they employ, and also by the manner in which these are arranged: whether on a straight horizontal line, all pointing the same way, as in the common stocking loom, or around an open horizontal circle, all pointing toward the centre. The latter are known as the rotary round machines. Every needle is hooked at the end, so as to hold the thread laid across it that is to form the next loop, while the loop previously formed on the same needle slips back on the shank as the needle is pushed forward, and with its return runs over the hook and off the e,nd. The contrivance by which this is effected distinguishes the several needles. In the straight frames the work is done first across the needles in turn in one direction and then back in the other, and so on; but in the rotary round machines the revolution carries the needles constantly round in the same direction, each one taking up the thread in turn, and so rapidly that the movements cannot be clearly perceived. The one class of machines produces a fiat web, and the other a tubular one, each of which hangs from the needles and is drawn down as it lengthens by means of a weight.
The number of stitches or loops which each machine can form in a minute varies with the gauge of the needles or the distance apart at which they are set. The machines constructed for family use, and worked by a treadle or crank like a sewing machine, make about half as many stitches as the factory machines. In the factory three or four machines are easily tended by one boy. Ribbed work is performed in the same machines by bringing in play a set of vertical needles, so arranged as to work in connection with the horizontal and produce the additional stitches required. As the needles are set to a particular gauge, they necessarily produce the same number of stitches to the inch; and the only variations practicable in the work are in using yarns or threads of different degrees of fineness, and in altering the tension so as to make the work closer or more open. - The shaping of the web to fit the foot is a matter of no little ingenuity. The flat web is either knit in long strips of sufficient width to make when turned over several stockings which are cut out from these; or the web is at once knit upon the machine in the shape required for making a stocking when the parts are properly folded over. In the latter the wider part, when turned over and fastened, forms the leg of the stocking.
Two narrow strips at the base of this part, turned under and joined together, form the heel; while a central strip twice the length of the foot, being turned over at the toe, forms the top and bottom of the foot, and is neatly united to the heel and around its edges by knitting or seaming. In forming the foot to the cylindrical webs, a slit is made above the heel half across the web, which admits of the part designed for the foot being curved out at the instep. The loops along the edges of the cut are then taken up on hand needles, and the space for the heel is filled out by hand knitting. In the same manner the too is completed; and thus the stocking is finished without a seam. - Notwithstanding the large number of machines employed in knitting, stockings are still largely produced by the old method of hand knitting, which admits of the use of a harder and firmer yarn than that adapted to the machines; and even where the machine work is produced in large mills employing steam power, the hand looms are also in extensive use, many of them in the houses of the operatives. In the factories the knitting machines are also made to produce many other articles of apparel, as undershirts, drawers, comforters, scarfs, opera hoods, talmas, nubias, gloves, mits, etc.
The total production of this class of goods (hosiery) in the United States in 1870 amounted to $19,871,254; number of hands employed, 14,105. Nearly the whole amount was produced in the following states: New York, $5,528,742; Pennsylvania, $5,306,73S; Massachusetts, $3,213,481; New Hampshire, $1,757,445; Connecticut, $1,251,742; New Jersey, $568,900; Vermont, $551,129; and Rhode Island, $137,000.