I did the thing again guys… I found a historic pattern on Ravelry and made it. This time, I made a Sortie Cap.
Compared to the challenges the Sontag presented, this Sortie Cap was such a quick knit. I started it on a Friday night (wild and crazy life I lead, I know), and finished it later on Saturday. In a nutshell, you knit 9 alternating rows of stockinette and reverse stockinette, then, before you cast off, you drop (yes drop) every alternate stitch, so when you cast off, you are casting off half the stitches. Work the dropped stitches to the cast on edge, and you are left with an open and gauzy finished object. I was simply amazed at how the piece grew in length after dropping the stitches. I need to get better at photographing my work in progress because a before and after photo would have been great to insert here…
After initially completing it with i-cords to tie in the back, I removed them and replaced them with ribbon, like the pattern called for. I’m rather happy with how the piece turned out, even though it is a little large for my head. That’s okay. Bobby pins will keep it in place while I’m wearing it.
The pattern came from another Godey’s magazine, this time it dates to 1858. Many thanks goes to koshka-the-cat.com for sharing this pattern, along with her notes on knitting it. While I knew that it came from the right time period, I wanted to know more about the history of this accessory.
I started with my good friend Google and searched for ‘Sortie.’ It comes from the French for ‘exit.’ In military terms, a ‘sortie’ is a sudden deployment of a unit, usually for a specific mission. The cap was intended to be worn by a woman; I highly doubt there is a military association with this accessory. So I searched for other examples of ‘sortie’ clothing.
November 1855’s Godey’s featured an illustration of a Party Hood (or a Sortie de Bas), along with a knitting pattern on making the item.
In 1861, Godey’s again makes reference to a sortie de bas, or opera hood, and later in the year, they wrote about evening party etiquette, saying,
When your guests take leave of you, it will be in the drawing-room, and let that farewell be final. Do not accompany them to them to the dressing-room, and never stop them in the hall for a last word. Many ladies do not like to display their sortie du soirée before a crowded room, and you will be keeping their escort waiting. Say farewell in the parlour, and do not repeat it.
In the 1864 edition of Godey’s, there was a column on “Chitchat on Fashions for February”, where they described “A beautiful sortie de bal,” saying it was “of a new cloth, white lamb’s back, with a silken surface that seems to be covered with fine soutache. The shape is an improved burnouse, rounded in front, and laid in deep plaits behind. It is trimmed with a fringe of white chenille and gilt.”
While the common search result for ‘sortie’ is a military action, I believe that the sortie cap, and the sortie du bas, have their etymology in the French root – meaning to go out or an exit. A sortie cap is a cap that would be worn on an outing.
The cap it rather reminiscent of the fanchon bonnet, fashionable after the 1860s, although it represents a rather simplistic version. The mid-1800s saw the size of bonnets decrease, and the sortie cap fits in with this fashion.
My Sortie Cap made its debut at an event for work Friday night. The heavens opened up and it ended up pouring as the evening went on, but the event was a success and so was my latest accessory!