In one of my favourite knitting books ‘Knitting in the Nordic Tradition’ there is a reference to a way of knitting socks, with one sock hidden inside the other, that Leo Tolstoy wove into part of the story in War and Peace. The reference in my beloved knitting book claims that knowledge of how to do this is lost to posterity. For years I believed this, until I read an article by Kory Stamper at, in which she teaches a way of accomplishing this amazing feat using a double knitting method.

Last week my sister taught a ‘War and Peace Socks’ workshop at the Huddersfield branch of the Knitting and Crochet Guild. Typically, she had done lots of research and testing beforehand, so she included interesting facts about the history of this way of knitting socks, having found that it was described in the world’s first ever knitting book ‘Die Kunst Zu Stricken’ by Johann Friedrich Netto, which was first published in 1800. (You can find a scan of an original copy here.) The book describes working with the purl side of the outer sock to the outside, and the purl side of the inner sock to the inside, ie with right sides facing each other. Marie had worked out that this really is the easiest arrangement for working socks using double knitting techniques, as it minimises the necessity for passing yarns back and forth between the needles, so this is how we set up the mini socks for the workshop. Here are mine, just before working the toes:

Marie had also worked out that German short row heels and toes are the most practicable heel and toe construction methods for double knitted socks, because they don’t involve working together neighbouring stitches. Clever! The toe is worked using the instep stitches, then the toe stitches are grafted to the foot stitches. Before grafting I divided my socks onto two sets of needles so that I could work each graft separately. For those who want to join the toe stitches to the foot stitches before separating the socks, Marie had worked out that it is easiest to whipstitch the toe and foot stitches together. Of course, Anna Makarovna’s socks would have had open toes with cast/bound off stitches that needed seaming after separating the socks, because Kitchener grafts had not been invented at this point in history.

So, the secrets of how to knit socks this way are not entirely lost to history, and my lovely sister has led me closer to an understanding of how it was actually done, with lots of fascinating knitting-related historical  facts.


4 thoughts on “War And Peace Socks – A Historical Cunundrum!

  1. Delighted to see that you have knit a pair! Can hardly see the inner sock on your in progress pic, perfectly replicating the “secret process known only to herself Anna Makarovna”!

  2. I’m quite familiar with Netto’s book but can’t see anything in the chapter about knitting two nested socks on the same needles suggesting that the one of them is worked purlside out. He describes the technique as conventional double knitting, with alternate stitches belonging to each sock respectively. What have I overlooked? (He does describe Portuguese knitting in another context. Might that be it?)

    1. Our understanding of the book’s content comes from Richard Rutt’s ‘History of Knitting’. So maybe he was in error about this aspect of the socks? We don’t have access to a translation, so can’t check.

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