Bata Shoe Museum Opens New Exhibition – Socks: Between You and Your Shoes

The Bata Shoe Museum is pleased to announce the opening of its newest exhibition Socks: Between You and Your Shoes, a fascinating trek around the world exploring the history of one of the least researched items of dress – hosiery.

Conceived by Senior Museum Curator, Elizabeth Semmelhack, the exhibition features approximately 40 rare pieces, including a sock dating back to the thirteenth century made of human hair, as well as a replica of the footwear and sock once worn by the Otzi man 5,300 years ago. Says Ms. Semmelhack,”For thousands of years, people around the world have sought to separate themselves from their shoes with all manner of socks. Some are humble, some are splendid but all were created to make us more comfortable as we walk through life”.

Knitted socks are very familiar to us today, but historically-speaking they are relatively new. Knitting first developed in the Middle or Near East between 500 and 1200 C.E. One of the earliest surviving examples of knitting is, in fact, a 900 year old sock excavated in Egypt where it seems that knitting was primarily used to make socks and stockings. Knitting slowly spread up into Spain and then across Europe. By the 17th century knit socks were a staple in many people’s wardrobes.

Although knitted socks may be one of the most familiar types of socks, in many places around the world socks have been made of material that has been sewn together. The Ancient Romans wore socks made from sewn wool cloth, the Uzbek’s of Western Asia traditionally wore boot socks of sewn leather and today in Japan many people still wear crisp cotton tabi with their zori.

With so many feet in the world it shouldn’t be surprising that sock-making was one of the first skills to be mechanized. In the late 16th century, Englishman William Lee invented the stocking frame, a machine that allowed socks to be knit at faster speeds than hand-knitting. Over the centuries, refinements were made to his concept and today all kinds of socks, from thick sports socks to whisper-thin hose are factory fabricated.

Important highlights in the exhibition include linen socks worn by King Charles I during first half of the 17th century, Napoleon Bonaparte’s socks worn by him during his exile on St. Helena, exquisite pale pink silk stockings worn by Queen Victoria during her reign and teeny, tiny hand-knitted socks made by talented knitter Althea Crome who created all of the clothing worn by Coraline, the figurine in Tim Burton’s 2009 stop-motion film by the same name.
Visually colourful and whimsical, this exhibition will appeal to the fashion-conscious, the scholarly, the curious, and all who appreciate fine craftsmanship. Socks: Between You and Your Shoes will be on view until April 2011.

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