A number of months ago, I completed my Woolen Undersleeves. The pattern is from 1862 from Godey’s Ladies Book, and like with other historical patterns, I had to muddle my way through the historic lingo when creating my own undersleeves. I created these undersleeves to wear with my historic costume for work, knowing they would come in handy during any outreach I have to do in the cold weather.
This weekend, I had my first opportunity to use the undersleeves. My co-workers and amazing volunteers and I got dressed in our Victorian finest and marched in our local Santa Claus Parade. After a very warm Friday, the temperatures dipped on Saturday, much more appropriate for Christmas weather. Undersleeves were a necessity.
I am very happy to report that I was able to 5+ kilometres in the chilly weather, and thanks to my woolen undersleeves, I was very toasty warm. I can happily report, the undersleeves were a success.
The pattern I used was from Godey’s Ladies Book, 1862
For the modern interpretation of the pattern, please read my original post.
Remember that time I knit a wrap from an 1860s pattern? It was called a Sontag. Sontag, you say? What a strange name! Well, I looked into the history of this garment here. And this is my finished Sontag:
Sontag, front view
Sontag, from the side
Sontag, from the back
Well, my needles have been busy for the past few weeks, making a Sontag for a co-worker. The beauty of making a project a second time, especially if that second time is a commission, is that you have the chance to improve upon what you did the first time around. I’m very happy with my Sontag and it has kept me warm when I’ve needed a few extra layers with my costume for work, but I also knew there were things I would change if I was to ever make it again. This is my chance.
Firstly, the basket weave. The Sontag’s fabric is a 5×5 basket weave made up of alternating knits and purls, increasing one stitch at the beginning of each row, or, as Godey directs:
Cast on thirty-five stitches, knit five stitches forwards and five backwards, thus forming the blocks; knit five lines in this way, widening one stitch at the commencement of each line. Knit the second row of blocks alternate with the first.
Don’t you love 19th century patterns.
When I knit this the first time, I worked my increases the same as the stitches before it, like so:
The basket weave looks off by the sides of the wrap. Only when you’re really looking at it can you see, and perhaps it’s me being picky, but this has always been something I would change about my Sontag. For Sontag 2, I did.
Look at those new stitches, worked opposite to the ones beside them, continuing with the established basket weave pattern. Much happier.
When making the Sontag, the back is made first, and then the fronts, one side at a time. Again, the pattern wasn’t overly clear on how to go about the decreases:
…Knit up one front, narrowing one stitch on the inside every fourth line for six blocks; narrow every other line for the next six blocks; then narrow every line till you come to a point.
Clear as mud, right.
When I made my the first time, I narrowed every fourth line for 200 rows. I kept measuring the length of the front against myself, and once I determined it was long enough to wrap around me, I narrowed every other row until 4 stitches remained, using those 4 stitches to make an i-cord 20″ long. The fronts are certainly long enough, wrapping all the way around to the middle of my back. The way I worked the decreases was another thing I would change if I was to make another Sontag, so change I did.
This time, I decreased every 4 row for 120 rows, then decreased every other row until only 4 stitches remain, and again made a 20″ i-cord using those stitches. Measuring against myself again, this time the fronts come to their ‘point’ around my sides, which I think will make a more attractive wrap.
Front number 1 is done, and I’m 5 rows into the second front. I’ll have this completed in the next few weeks, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to revisit this pattern and improve upon what I’ve done.
Want to make your own Sontag? Awesome! Check out the pattern on Ravelry! Or, here’s a copy of the pattern from the January 1860 Godey’s Ladies Book.
A few months back, I found this pattern in Godey’s Ladies Book, and I knew that woolen undersleeves were just the thing my Victorian costume needed, especially since in March, we have a table at a local maple syrup festival, which means talking to people dressed in 1860s fashion, in the cold. Because, Canada.
It was a few months between pattern discovery and casting on because of holiday knitting. I was DETERMINED to finish my dad’s sweater and all the other wonderful gifts before starting new selfish knitting. Once I got going with the undersleeves, they were a fast project with a lot of garter stitch, a great mindless project to work on.
The pattern reads:
Materials: A large pair of boxwood knitting needles, one-quarter of a pound of white and six ounces of a pretty share of violet single Berlin wool.
This warm and pretty article is comprised of two kinds of wool, and is knitted to form two small and one large puff. It is nearly entirely made of plain knitting, and is therefore quickly done. It is best when knitted loosely, to give it a very elastic appearance. It is worked in the following manner, and is commenced from the bottom by casting on 36 stitches in white wool, and knitting twelve rows. The violet wool is then joined on and 24 rows knitted with this color. After these are completed the commencement of the work should be taken up upon the needle to form the first puff. The white wool must then be joined on and 2 rows worked, the first knitting two stitches together to fasten the puff. Two rows of violet and 1 of white, and 23 rows of violet are then worked. After the bank is worked the second puff is commenced in the same manner as the first, with the white wool. This puff is also fastened like the other, and 2 rows of violet, 2 of white, and 1 of violet worked for the band. For the third puff, which is the largest, 40 rows must be worked with the violet wool, and in the first row 24 stitches must be made, so that at the end of the row there are 60 stitches on the needle. This increase is made by knitting 2 stitches into 1 stitch at intervals along the row. After the 40 rows are completed, join on the white wool and knit 1 row, taking 2 stitches together, and so decreasing the number till there are only 30 stitches left on the needle. The top of the sleeve is then knitted to form ribs, which is done by knitting 1 stitch plain and 1 stitch purl alternatively to the end of the row. After knitting 24 rows in the same manner the sleeve will be the required size; it should then be cast off and sewn together on the wrong side, with some of the same colored wool. The colors may be altered to any the worker may like, such as pink, scarlet, blue, or green.
What a set of directions!
I followed the instructions to the best that I could understand them. It started very easy with casting on and knitting plain. I was thrown for a complete loop, however, when it said: “After these are completed the commencement of the work should be taken up upon the needle to form the first puff. The white wool must then be joined on and 2 rows worked, the first knitting two stitches together to fasten the puff.” What in the what?
Here’s how I interpreted this – I picked up stitches along the cast on edge, and knit two together across the row.
And for the second puff, “commenced in the same manner as the first,” I picked up stitches on the wrong side and knit two together across the row.
The first two puffs and how to construct them was really the only challenging part of this project. The rest of if, increasing, plain knitting, decreasing, ribbing, was all very straight forward. I did make my own adjustment for the top arm band, however. Before each puff, there is a lovely striping of the white and purple, which doesn’t seem to have continued for the top band. The pattern says to switch to white and nowhere does it say to switch back. So for consistency and to match with the rest of the undersleeve, I knit two rows of white, two of violet, two of white, then the remainder in violet, so to match the rest of the undersleeve’s patterning.
When I started making these, I had no idea we were going to be enjoying such a mild Spring. Previously at this outdoor maple syrup festival, we had to wear layers on top of layers and hope that the mercury didn’t dip too low, so warm woolen undersleeves would have been a perfect addition for this event. The temperature for this past Saturday was in the teens (Celsius, because, remember, Canada), a perfect early Spring day. The woolen undersleeves weren’t required, but they are the perfect addition to my Victorian costume for when the weather gets cold again.
Update – May 2020 – please note, it calls for ‘Berlin Wool,’ which, according to Colleen Formby, is like a fingering/sock weight in today’s knitting terms. I used Cascade 220, a worsted weight. I could not imagine a fingering weight undersleeve fitting around my upper arms made with only casting on 36 stitches, without the needles being very big to accommodate! My recommendation of yarn or needles may not be the most historically accurate, but they fit and are WARM!
Here is my written interpretation of this pattern, including my modern needles and yarn used.
Yarn: Cascade 220, white and Cascade 220 Heather Purple Brown (but really, you can use any worsted weight in whichever colours float your boat)7
Needles: 4.5mm (Size 7US)
Cast on 36 stitches
Knit 12 rows (garter), using white
Switch to the Purple Yarn; Knit 24 rows (garter)
Next Row, with white yarn, pick up stitches along cast on edge, one at a time, and knit picked up stitch with a stitch on the needle (k2tog = 1 c/o st and 1 live st) – knit across needle in this manner (36 stitches on needle)
Next Row – knit across with white
Knit 2 rows, garter, in purple
Knit 2 rows, garter, in white
Knit 24 rows, garter, in purple
Knit 12 rows, garter, in white
Knit 24 rows, garter, in purple
Next row, with white yarn, pick up stitches along the 1st row of white which was knit for puff 2, from the wrong side, one at a time, and knit picked up stitch with a stitch on the needle (k2tog = 1 picked up stitch and 1 live stitch) – knit in this manner across the needle (36 stitches on needle)
Next row (WS) – knit across in white, garter
Knit 2 rows, garter, in purple
Knit 2 rows, garter, in white
With purple, *KF&B, K1* across needle (54 stitches)
Next row, KF&B 3 times, knit to last three stitches, KF&B 3 times (60 sts)
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.
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!
Okay, I’m going to say it… for a historian, someone who is passionate about history and the preservation and promotion of history, I thoroughly dislike historic knitting patterns. Maybe this isn’t fair; I’ve worked with exactly two ‘vintage’ patterns, but both have been less than straight forward. Both, however, have given me the chance to do some reading and research into the history of these patterns, and the history geek in me has loved every second of it!
The first pattern I made was a World War I sock, based off a pattern I found in a local newspaper in 1916. It was the second pair of socks I made, and the directions were clearly meant for someone who was not a sock novice. Instructions for the heel flap and the foot gusset were lacking, and I had to rely on common sense and my knitting circle friends for advice! Newspapers from that time period are scarce – hard copies that have been donated the the Archives are what is available as they are not available on microfilm. We are lucky that the papers we have have since been digitized. I was able to read through the papers from the First World War and I loved reading about the 116th Knitting Society who worked hard to send socks overseas to the Canadian troops.
The second pattern I’ve tried is the one I’m working on right now – the Sontag. This pattern was first written in 1860. It is a lovely piece, a wrap/shawl combo meant to provide warmth to the torso without adding extra layers on the arms, leaving them free to work as needed. This piece, also called a Bosom Friend, was likely named for Henriette Sontag, a noted German opera singer who was popular during this time period. The pattern first appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in January 1860, although they do not explain why it has been given the name ‘Sontag.’ The Bosom Friend makes sense, knowing, ahem, what the garment covers and how it crosses over, but why Sontag? Did she wear something similar, or was Godey’s making an inference to Sontag’s anatomy?
So, I got to searching. Archive.org is a fantastic resource with many primary sources available. Simply by searching for Godey’s, I was able to look at this woman’s magazine from the Victorian Era and search within individual issues for Sontag. The first instance of Sontag that I found was in 1852, when discussing the operatic singer who was making appearances in New York. Later in the issue, they made note of the following under fashion:
As was predicted in an earlier number, velvet ribbon has become the favourite style of trimming for all heavier materials, whether formed into cloaks or dresses. We give a beautiful cloak, the sontag, trimmed in this way
From the illustration, this looks nothing like the piece I am currently making.
In 1856, I stumbled across the following passage, written by the editors in response to correspondence they received from readers:
Miss B of Fair Haven – We do not know the material of the title given, but presume it is a style of poplin. Such fancy names are usually invented for country towns. A Broadway or Chestnut Street mantua-maker would but smile if you should ask her to make you a ‘Parodi,’ a ‘Sontag’, or a ‘Eugénie,’ when you meant a certain style of basque. As regards the second inquiry, poplins are never flounced – the material is too heavy.
There were a whole lot of textile references in that quote that I hadn’t heard before. Poplin is a strong fabric; mantua-maker is a historical sewing pattern company; Parodi, well I’m not 100% sure what that is referring to; Eugénie is likely in reference to Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III who would have set standards for popular clothing, much like celebrities today – she greatly popularized a coat known as Eugénie paletot; and, basque, in Victorian fashion, refers to a closely fitted bodice or jacket extending past the waistline over the hips (thank you Wikipedia!).
From the sources I could find online and through Archive.org, it looks like the first knit pattern for a Sontag appeared in 1860, and it is the basket-weave pattern I am working on currently.
In 1861, a second pattern is published which would be more straight forward for a novice knitter, but it does not have the basket-weave fabric that the 1860 pattern produces.
And again, in 1862, they published another image of a Sontag, this time more rectangular than previous and without a pattern to accompany the image.
Godey’s never outwardly states that this style of wrap was named for Henriette Sontag, but she was known to them and was well regarded. It is likely that she wore something similar, it became popular and has been named in her honour.
Once I cast on and started knitting, I am enjoying this project, but the initial start was frustrating. The directions for the basket-weave, as written in 1860, aren’t straight forward, and everyone who has tried to ‘interpret’ the pattern has a different way of explaining the directions. I am a very visual person so to knit something, it is helpful to me if a) I’ve made it before, b) there are clear instructions, or c) there is a video or someone to help explain it to me. I cannot look at the written words and know immediately how the finished piece will look. I’m more of a ‘trial and error’ kind of person – I try to figure it out and if it works, great, but if not, then we frog and start again. After reading 3-4 different interpretations on the construction, I simply said, to hell with it, I’m going to muddle through. And muddle through I did. In hindsight, I would have altered the way I’ve knit the pattern at the sides when increasing, but it won’t bother me so much to want to start over.
The basket-weave is ultimately working up to a lovely fabric, and the deep purple colour of the yarn is making me very happy.