In 2011 I decided that I wanted to make the girls Christmas stockings. I went out to John Lewis (naturally), and bought myself some felt, some red fabric, some green fabric, striped red, striped green, red gingham, green gingham, and I went home and went to town. I found this lovely tutorial and away I went.
At least…. at first look, they were great. I loved how they matched each other. I loved the letters (I do love a bit of lettering). What you can’t see here is how Rosa’s one is lined with green gingham, and India’s with red gingham, and I loved that, too.
And yet. And yet. This lovely matching pairiness was perhaps to be their death knell. For what did I do? I had another baby. And even as I looked at the two lines on the pregnancy test (ok, maybe not that early) I realised that any stocking I ever made for any subsequent baby would ALWAYS look like an add-on to this pair. Which would lead, inexorably, to feelings of displacement and inadequacy, and probably a lifetime of unhappiness and psychoanalysis. Or something. In addition, there were a few little problems I wasn’t happy with. I didn’t realise when making my first that I would need – well, duh – to TURN OVER the cuff. I made the main body of my stocking too short, thinking the cuff would be an addition to the height. A rookie mistake. So India’s stocking has a proper turned over cuff, and Rosa’s cuff just sits, slightly foolishly and superfluously, atop the stocking itself.
And once you look at them even more carefully, the problems don’t stop there. I didn’t add the ribbons when I sewed them together. Why? I do not know. I thought I would sew them on afterwards, so they are slightly messily stitched on at the end rather than smoothly being part of the seam. The spacing on the letters on Rosa’s is maybe not ideal. And most importantly, is the fact that was pointed out by my insightful but direct mother-in-law the first time she saw them. “Aren’t they a bit small?” she asked. “NO.” I snapped back. Realising, even as I opened my mouth to be defensive that of course the answer was really, “Yes.” Although the proportions look ok here, once Father Christmas has filled them with presents, they become all skinny and over-stuffed, like little pepperamis.
Which is a long way of saying that I realised I would have to make more stockings. And now I have finished them. And it is impossible to describe how pleased I am with them.
So the first thing was obviously to learn from my previous mistakes. I decided these ones would be bigger. And the pattern I drew would take account of the seam allowances and the cuff. Ahem. My original design drew pretty heavily on the stocking that my mother made for me when I was a little girl, with ‘RACHEL’ written on the front in felt letters. But I am here to tell you that calling my third child ‘Persephone’ ruled out putting the girls’ whole names on their stockings. I think sewing on ‘India’ was about my limit. So I decided to go for the letters of their names.
I wanted a lovely, serifed, dignified sort of a capital letter, and decided pretty early on that I would hand-stitch around the edge of each letter in backstitch. What I wanted was that contrast between the exacting, geometric qualities of the letter, and the faintly homespun, hand-drawing qualities of the stitch and the outline. Turns out that the line between quaintly homespun, and ramblingly wobbly is a fine one, as half an hour spent unpicking and resewing the long line on the left of my capital ‘R’ will attest. But I got there. And I love them. Once I’d done the outlines, I was wondering about a white running stitch along the middle of the letters. Then as I was retrieving my white embroidery thread, I spotted my trusty gingham ribbon, and realised that it was destiny. A line of gingham ribbon, hand-sewn down each long-line, with green buttons, and they were done.
But of course before that I had traversed the difficulty that was deciding on my fabrics. I had thought of a kind of Scandinavian vibe, so was imagining linen stockings with red and green Scandi type fabric cuffs. But when I got to the fabric shop, I found myself as ever looking at the linen and finding it a bit… creased and rumpled looking. I love the idea of linen, but when faced with the crumpled reality I can rarely convince myself to hand over any cash. So I threw myself on the mercy of the assistant, who recommended this stuff: a buff-coloured woollen kind of fleece fabric. It’s lovely. Snuggly and neutral and almost teddy-bear-like. I paired it with some wadding, and it was perfect.
This picture gives you a sense of the snuggle factor involved. Because the woollen fabric is quite thick, I only used wadding on the front of the stocking, and kept the cuff to just the cotton patterned fabric. This was definitely the right decision, since the hardest bit of this lovely pattern is the bit where you sew the seam between the main body of the stocking and the cuff. At certain points I couldn’t even count how many layers of material my poor sewing machine was going through at once.
I bought the beautiful dark red spotted lining material from the same helpful local fabric shop as my outer, but decided to go online for the cuffs. This was harder than I thought, since what I wanted was three different patterns, different enough to make the stockings different, but similar enough that the whole thing wouldn’t look garish and ridiculous. Of course the ever-lovely fabric rehab came to my rescue. I lingered for a while over white and red fabric with snowflakes, or little stylised horses…. but went in the end for three different designs which all had both red and green in them. Trees for my sophisticated eldest, mittens for my middle cheeky monkey, and snowflakes for my winter baby. Perfect.
After I’d very nearly almost finished them, the very clever teacher at my local sewing class suggested that I should create a polka dot trim around the top. It’s hard to describe but easy to do, you kind of just gently tug up the lining, until it’s in an even line around the top, then iron it in place, and sew – gently and carefully! – around the seam. It created a kind of mock-piping look.
Along with the bells that I sewed on – ahem – only after I’d started photographing them, the trim at the top was the perfect finishing touch. I have decided that when it comes to making stuff, I am basically all about the embellishment. The bells are so perfect it is almost painful to look at them. And naturally the girls LOVE jingling them.
In fact, the girls love their stockings full stop. I wanted to make them beautiful stockings. Big enough for a chocolate orange to fit inside (the dimensions of a chocolate orange being the internationally recognised scale of stocking measurement), but not so big that Father Christmas might bankrupt himself trying to get that crinkly, stuffed, lumpen feel that is so important first thing on Christmas morning. I wanted the stockings to be robust enough that they will last for their entire childhood and well beyond because, believe me, I am NOT making them more stockings. I am done with the stockings. Enough. I wanted stockings practical enough to survive- let’s be honest – being worn and tramped around the house in festive games, yet stylish enough to be hung up together in the front room as part of our decorations.
I started planning these in about May, knowing that beginning sewing in September was the only way I could make sure of finishing them before Christmas. And they are done. It would not be possible to be more pleased with them. I hope you like them, too.