look whose stocking

Mostly, I just wanted to use that title. (It may be clear that I am a sucker for a pun.) But now that I’ve come up with the title, it makes me want to reflect a bit on Christmas stockings I have known.

My family was never a religious one, but Christmas traditions were always very important. The tree. The music. The nog. The food. And most importantly, the rituals of Christmas Day. The first of which was the opening of the stockings. (I think I’ll have to write about the actual rituals at some other point. Because I shouldn’t be writing at all right now. I should be excavating the dining room table, which has been buried since the earlier days of the local population boom.)

I mentioned once before that my family (that is my mother, my sister and I) moved to France for a year when I was 9 years old. I don’t think my mother knew exactly how long we’d be staying there when we first packed up our bags and flew the coop, but in any case we didn’t bring the Christmas stockings we’d used in past years with us. Not ready to convert to the French custom of leaving our shoes out for Père Noël to fill, we decided to make some American-style red and white Christmas stockings for our American-style Santa. We got some red felt for the stockings, and a smaller amount of white felt for the trim. Since neither my mother nor my grandmother were particulary adept at (or interested in) sewing, and we didn’t have a sewing machine, to boot, we each were to make our own stocking.

My sister, eleven years old at the time, designed and executed a beautifully proportioned stocking with elegant lines. She neatly assembled it with even stitches and an attractive smooth-edged, white cuff at the top made of two round-cornered rectangles; one on the front, one on the back, so that the stocking could be hung either way. She somehow had found that balance between functionality (a wide leg tapering gently to an ankle opening that was just narrow enough to please the eye without causing a bottleneck for stuffing) and cuteness (a perfectly-shaped sock foot). I think she even discreetly embroidered in her name and the year somewhere.

My grandmother had little patience for the task, and strove to make the least amount of effort possible to make a functional stocking so that she could get on to activities she found more interesting. We each used a long oblong of red felt, folded halfway down the length, and in hers she cut out mere suggestions from the rectangle to indicate the foot and ankle. She left the folded fabric intact at the bottom of the foot, so that she would have less to sew. Hers was the “flat foot” stocking. She left the sides largely straight, too. A simple rectangle of white at the top acted as the trim.

My mother made a somewhat abstracted version of a stocking, with curving swooping lines. It was more expressionist than practical, with an ankle that was a bit narrow for easy stuffing. It was not too carefully sewn, and it too had a small amount of fold left at the bottom of the foot for reduced stitching needs. It boasted a neat but fairly minimal white cuff at the top.

My own stocking was perhaps not a bad effort for a nine-year-old. However, I ran out of time, and didn’t manage to finish it in time for bedtime Christmas Eve. I don’t remember why it wasn’t done, but I can guess. I expect there was some waffling over the design, and too much time spent trying to get the stitches small and just right. I’m sure there was also some procrastination, and probably some distraction that pulled me away to other things. The end result was a fairly cute (if not elegant) stocking with rounded lines, a wide leg to fit lots of stuff, and a tiny foot that was probably the result of a mistake in cutting the felt. And at the top, because I ran out of time and hadn’t yet worked out my plans for the white felt, I quickly affixed (with a couple of loose stiches) a rectangle of paper towel to stand in for the trim.

The plan was to finish it later. But as you may be able to guess, I never actually finished it. Christmas Day came, and there was too much going on to be bothered with sewing. It ended up getting packed up as it was, paper towel trim and all. The next time we unpacked it for Christmas, I don’t remember what kept me from adding the white felt. But in the end, I became sentimental about my stocking as it was when I made it, and no longer wanted to finish it.

I don’t have that stocking any more. It got lost many years and many moves later. I remember my mother emerging from her struggles digging through boxes and trunks, some Christmastime down the road. She very cheerfully proclaimed: “I’ve found two stockings and a Santa hat!” Translation: two of the stockings have been lost. My mother can get extra cheerful when it’s time to share bad news.

The next Christmas, I got a new stocking. My not-yet-mother-in-law knit me a red, green and white striped stocking, complete with my name and the year I was born stitched on, as has been the tradition in my husband’s family. (I was very touched by her way of welcoming me to the family.) John has his stocking, knit by his aunt or grandmother many years ago. And now Phoebe has her own hand-knit stocking (made by John’s mother, of course) which we’ll be filling for the first time tonight.

5 thoughts on “look whose stocking

  1. I really loved this entry. My own stocking, knit by mother is hanging on the mantel of the house I grew up in. Actually this would probably make a great blog entry ( with an additional tag to your blog) this is fun…

  2. Hi Alejna —

    Am glad you’re a sucker for a pun. Otherwise this entry that I’m responding to might not have been written and, like ericalee wrote above, it’s a particularly good ‘un! :)

  3. My grandmother Emily went through a great many phases in her very long life, of which knitting was only one. Since my siblings were all born within five years of each other, and said births happened to have been during her knitting phase, they each got stockings. That’s the origin of the tradition in my family, but by the time I was born, she was so over that. So my aunt, feeling sorry for me because I was not going to have a stocking, knit one for me that was twice as big as any of my siblings’.

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