When I started these socks a year ago, I referred to them as my “Lady of Bath” socks, at least in part because these are a much brighter red than I would usually use. (I do have other red socks because I faithfully wore them on game days when I was teaching—school colors.) Someone posted a comment on Ravelry asking why I used that term, so here’s the rest of the answer.
The Lady or Wife of Bath is one of the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Her tale falls into the category of raunchy enough to be entertaining but not so graphic that it can’t be widely printed for “polite” consumption by students.
The Wife herself is a rather interesting character. As a member of the emerging middle class of Chaucer’s day, she is richer than most, perhaps because she has profited from numerous marriages and because she herself is a highly skilled weaver. The description in the Prologue tells us, “In making cloth she showed so great a bent/ She bettered those of Ypres and of Ghent.”
Perhaps because of her skill with weaving and textiles, her Sunday garments are of the highest fashion and quality. Her headdress or “coverchief” was so elaborate that the narrator describes it as weighing “a good ten pound.” Her Sunday hose “were of the finest scarlet-red.”
However, Dear Reader, in case you are envisioning some nifty red knitted stockings, a historical note from the experts is necessary. This information comes from the University of Michigan’s site:
It is very well known that in medieval times, red hosen were strongly associated with the nobility. They were also sometimes worn by folk of lower status in the hopes of feigning their social rank. The Wife of Bath is not truly a member of the nobility by birth, but her income allows her to dress as a one of the upper class.
Often the mistake is made that her hosen are red in color, but it is crucial to interpretation that they are specified as being scarlet. Scarlet refers to "escarlate," a particular kind of woolen fabric which was exceedingly expensive and of very high quality. Thus, scarlet refers less to the color than the fabric which the hosen were made out of. The process to produce this material was elaborate, involving many cycles of the fabric being napped and shorn. The end result was fabric which was extremely silky. Only cloths which went through this specific process were considered scarlet, making it very costly to obtain. Scarlet cloth could then be died (sic) any color, though red dye was commonly used. The superiority of the Wife's hosen are further articulated with the detail that they are "yteyd"straight, meaning that the back seam was sewn straight (Hodges).
Notice the references to cloth and to the straight seams which remind us that knitted hosiery would not be used for many years after Chaucer.
Now, your challenge for the week is to introduce any of the above information into a normal conversation without having anyone look at you strangely.
And here are my red socks, which are indeed definitely RED, but knitted and seamless, and I will not wear them “gartered tight” since they are stretchy and don’t have to be held up that way. While they may not be made from escarlate, they are made from Wollmeise Sockenwolle Twin, which is pretty much the knitting equivalent, I should think. And they are lace. (Sheri’s Lace, a Sockbug pattern. It is listed on Ravelry, but the link doesn’t work. I think there are archives through the Wayback Machine. Check her other Ravelry patterns.)
Thank you Sooner Be Knitting for this wonderful yarn, which I won as a prize on your blog last year. The put up of the yarn was generous enough that I have some left for a small stealth project.
And, in keeping with the WOB’s Sunday usage, I plan to wear these on Wednesday to Bible Study with black pants and a red thermal sweatshirt. I will forgo the rest of the outfit--in these parts, “headdress” still refers to something with beads and eagle feathers and would probably not be politically correct—as well as actually illegal--and gimme caps don’t weigh nearly enough!