Caveat: I've knitted one pair of period stockings, working on my second pair now, in between working on other projects. These are notes I've made while researching the subject.
Gauge, or Stitches per inch:
You will want to knit a swatch to figure out your final gauge. Knit a circular swatch rather than a flat swatch if you are knitting in the round; most people purl at a slightly different gauge, which will throw off your calculations. It may be advisable to knit a pair of modern socks with the needles and yarn you intend to use for your period stockings to make sure your measurements will give you a good fit.
I ultimately want to knit my stockings using yarn that I have spun, but I may order some yarn for my first pair of period stockings. Knitters on the Historic Knitting list recommend various sport weight or lace weight yarns (two ply, not singles). It will probably be easier to knit your first pair of stockings in wool rather than linen, silk or cotton, since wool has more give and is easier to knit. A pair of stockings may take anywhere from about 8 to14 oz. of wool yarn, depending on gauge and the size of the stockings, but ordering extra yarn is always a good idea. This page has tips on calculating yardage. You can also use a McMorran Balance to calculate the yardage of your homespun yarn.
William Booth, Draper is selling yarns that correspond to period descriptions; Brown Sheep's Nature Spun fingering or sport weight yarn (available from The Mannings and Halcyon Yarn) is also a good choice. Baby Ull is a good Superwash (i.e. washable wool) yarn. There are numerous other sport or fingering-weight yarns that would also work for period stockings.
Through 1730, stocking colors usually complemented the color of the suit or dress; after that date, white stockings were generally worn with formal dress. At the very end of the century (1790s) very fancy striped stockings become fashionable; with the exception of a possible example worn by a sailor in a mid-18th c. illustration, striped stockings don't seem to have been common before the end of the 18th century. Ribbed stockings, however, were worn. The ribs were vertical, measuring 3/4" wide (Farrell, p. 31).
There is no documentation behind the rumor that red, green, or yellow stockings denote anything unsavory about the wearer. In fact, there are both green and red stockings with provenance tying them to women of good reputation.
Stockings were patched, had the feet replaced, redyed, etc. to extend their lives (Dunleavy p. 88)
You may want to order two pairs of needles in each size, so that you can knit both stockings simultaneously. A few winters ago, I knitted one stocking down to the ankle, then lost my notes on how many rows / increases / decreases I'd made, so rather than waste the yarn, I ripped out all the work and will have to start over.
I knit in the round on five needles (four needles plus the one active needle), since I find it easier to do the math when dividing by four rather than three.
Some knitters recommend removing 10% from your calculations to account for stretch; others recommend measuring your swatch while it's moderately stretched.
Various designs for the tops of 18th century stockings include:
The welt at the top of the stocking helps keep the top of the stocking from rolling and serves to keep the stocking from slipping down below the garter.
Early 19th century stockings shown in Rural Pennsylvania Clothing have k2, p2 ribbing at the top instead of rows of garter stitch.
This observation on the garter stitch band is courtesy of Colleen Humphreys (thanks, Colleen!), who has examined several extant examples:
Cut-and-sewn hose (which don't fit as closely as knitted stockings) were still worn by some in the lower classes into the early 19th century, at which point machine-knitted stockings became cheap enough that cut-and-sewn hose were displaced.
Gussets and Clocks:
On common stockings, the heel-flap-and-gusset style shown here seems to be fairly common. This gives you a short gusset to the ankle; the longer gussets seen in some 18th c. artwork may be a feature of machine-knitted stockings.
Purl-stitch clocks (Gunnister stockings, Pulliam p. 31) and embroidered clocks were used; a common method was called "plating", in which the design was added using an additional color knitted into the fabric of the stocking. This can be imitated by embroidering the stockings with a duplicate stitch following the shape of the knit stitches.. A rose-and-crown motif was one of the more common designs. When the gore is a different color from the rest of the stocking, the embroidered clocks usually match the color of the gore. Some surviving silk stockings also have clocks embroidered in gold or silver thread.
Clock designs from "Neues Nah und Strictbuch fur das schone Geschlecht" (New Needlework and Knitting Book for the fair sex), 1784. See Farrell, p. 38, for these and other designs.
Some of the stockings from Rural Pennsylvania Clothing have a k1, sl 1 ribbed heel. These stockings are all early 19th century, and I'm not sure if this kind of ribbing is a feature of early 19th century knitting, or whether it's an earlier feature of Pennsylvania Dutch knitting. Two of the stockings shown in the book have the heel turned as mentioned above, while others have a more modern heel turning.
Links to other useful stocking sites:
Thanks to Katheleen Manneke for pointing me to various examples of period knitting, and various others for pointing out errors and typos.
These were sent to me by Jane Atkinson (nice work, Jane!):
Here's a pair I knitted (with a modern heel, per request):
Copyright Notice: The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.
Copyright 2003, M. E. Riley