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.
He was born into a family of industrialists, but he became renowned for art, landscapes, and capturing an idea of ‘The North.’
Lawren Harris was born in 1885 in Brantford, Ontario; he is of the same Harris Family of Massey-Harris (later Massey Ferguson), which at one time was the largest agricultural equipment maker in the British Empire. Harris received a good education, studying at the University of Toronto, and later in Berlin. All this time, he developed an interest in art. In the early 1910s, he befriended JEH MacDonald and Tom Thomson; in less than a decade, Harris and MacDonald would be two members of the noted Group of Seven. That Thomson was a member of the Group of Seven is a common misconception as Thomson died in 1917 before the official formation. His influence upon those painters cannot be understated, as he was passionate about the ‘great outdoors’ and about capturing the Canadian landscape on canvas. After their first show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1920, the Group of Seven began identifying themselves as being in the ‘landscape school of art.’
Throughout the 1920s, Harris and MacDonald, along with Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, and Arthur Lismer (and later A.J. Casson and Edwin Holgate) would commit the Canadian landscape to canvas like no other artists previously. Pieces created by these artists are held at major art galleries throughout the country and abroad, with major collections housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, and the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg, ON.
In the early 1930s, the group felt it was no longer necessary to exhibit as a formal group, and the individual artists continued with their work to great success. Harris moved to New Hampshire and later New Mexico before moving to Vancouver, BC in 1940, where he would remain until his death in 1970; he is buried on the grounds of the McMichael Art Gallery.
As long as I have known about art and was old enough to recognize and appreciate major works, I have known about the Group of Seven. The mystery of Tom Thomson’s death fascinated me with every trip to Algonquin; their artwork is a favourite when seen in galleries; their pieces and themes were explored as I took my Canadian Studies degree. The artwork by Lawren Harris has always stood out to me, the stark colours he uses, the forms, the simplicity yet complexities (yes, I know that is very contradictory!) in his landscapes. When I learned of a touring exhibition featuring Harris’s artwork, I could hardly wait for it to make its way to Toronto; to learn that the exhibition was curated by Steve Martin, yes the banjo playing comedian Steve Martin, it added to the excitement for the show.
In mid-July, on one of the hottest days thus far of the summer, I made my way to the Art Gallery of Ontario. The exhibit is different from what toured in the US, expanded to include a Toronto theme, exploring an area called ‘The Ward,’ where Harris spend his formative years. The Ward, formally the St. John’s Ward, is a neighbourhood bound by College Street, Queen Street, Yonge Street, and University Avenue; today, the Eaton Centre, Toronto City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square and other prominent shops and buildings are found here, but in the 1910s when Harris called it home, it was an impoverished area where recent immigrants would commonly settle. Divided into three themes, the first and third explored the Ward, first looking at its history, utilizing Harris’ works contrasting with photography from the time, and the third featured contemporary artists examining the changes to the Ward both geographically and socially. The second theme explored the ‘Idea of North’ and Harris’ iconic works which capture the Canadian landscape.
It is difficult to imagine the centre of Toronto from another time, as the Eaton Centre and City Hall are so dominant in that space, but Harris’ depictions from the Ward helped bring this time and place to life, using bright colours, or dull when appropriate, and the use of figures help put the viewer in the scene.
I was especially struck by the following image, which again was new to me before this exhibit. Haven’t we all been this poor soul at one time or another?
As I moved through the exhibition, it dawned on me why I’m so drawn to Harris and his art: not only are the forms, shapes, and landscapes he captures, but I am so very drawn to the colours he uses. Blues, greys, teals, purples, whites. His striking colour use is very impactful. The knitter in me kept walking around the space just imagining skeins of yarn dyed with the colours of Lake and Mountains.
My iPhone photographs do not do justice to seeing the paintings in person. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, or are planning a visit before September 18, make the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Idea of North a must-visit.
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 wood.
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 wood, 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.
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)
Every so often, my job requires that I dress like a Victorian. When I first started, fresh out of museum studies and thrilled to be employed, I remember a slight feeling of embarrassment and nervousness the first time I donned the costume. I think it was mostly my own insecurities and anxieties working their way out, but after time and NUMEROUS occasions, I’m quite comfortable in my ‘pioneer’ dress and am quite happy to wear it as the time sees fit.
The dress I wear was made by me, under Grandma’s careful supervision, over two years ago, and recently, I’ve been adding to my accessories through various historic knitting patterns. I completed by Sontag last Spring, and my Sortie Cap was a very fast knit over a weekend last summer. Since the holiday knitting season ended, I’ve been slowly working away at another historic pattern which will keep my arms very warm, as I’ve been knitting myself a pair of undersleeves.
I’m still working on undersleeve #2, and I’ll share the project, photos, and my own edits and notes in a future post, but I thought for today, I’d share a little history on this accessory, because until I started working in the Museum field, I had never heard of undersleeves before. The name seems straight forward, but what is the history of this accessory?
Undersleeves were commonly worn during the mid 1800s, an essential part of any woman’s fashion. They were detachable, which made laundering easier – and laundry was no easy task during the Victorian era. As much as I long for aspects of the past, I am very thankful for my modern washer and dryer. Hot water, harsh soaps, washboards and wringers – no thank you. Typically white or off-white, undersleeves helped to keep body oils off the fabric of dresses, which were commonly made from wool or silk, materials which couldn’t be washed. Undersleeves served to be both purposeful for protecting the fabric as well as decorative.
Many museums have undersleeves in their collection, and quite often they are trimmed with lace or other delicate stitching. When fashions changed, as fashions inevitably do, undersleeves were a simple way to change up the look of a dress rather than with a new dress entirely. The undersleeves would also change seasonally; warm weather would see sleeves made from light-weight white fabrics such as organdy, while cotton and other heavier materials could be used to help stave off the cold. The pattern I am making from Godey’s is for wool undersleeves, clearly intended for cold weather wear.
The styles of these accessories also varied, from those that required pinning to the interior of the dress sleeve, ones which gathered at the wrist and those that were open and loose at the wrist. Not only could the material change for the season, but Peterson’s, another Lady’s publication from the era, discussed how undersleeves could change for wear throughout the day.
White undersleeves for morning wear are made with a deep linin cuff, fastened with three studs, either comprised of precious stones, or of gold. For evening wear, the cuff is made of lace and embroidered insertion; but fullings of any description are now never employed, as the under-sleeve should be as flat as possible.
~Peterson’s Magazine, 1863.
Undersleeves, after a number of decades, fell out of fashion, but one can still find many sewing or knitting patterns for making your own. Coming next week, the Godey’s pattern I followed when knitting my woolen undersleeves, my interpretation of the pattern, and my finished sleeves. Stay tuned!
When researching this post, I referred to a few sources, including:
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through World History, Volume 3, 1801 to Present, edited by Jill Condra; accessed: https://goo.gl/npaeZg
Oshawa Express, ‘Under sleeves, a unique piece of clothing,’ J. Weymark; accessed: http://goo.gl/WYbzxL
Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, Joan L. Severa; accessed: https://goo.gl/gI30oL
Firstly, let me say a huge, big THANK YOU to everyone who has checked out my blog or followed me this week! My friend over at Knitter Nerd said many nice things about me, and now the pressure is on to live up to them! Thanks Polo for sharing my blog and posts, and I wish you so much luck with the Knitter Nerd re-launch! Please make sure you check out her amazing blog, if you haven’t already!
As Polo mentioned, I work at a small community museum in my hometown, and I am a complete history junkie. My love for history has crept its way into my knitting addiction, and I have recreated two patterns found in Godey’s magazine: my Sontag and the Sortie Cap, both patterns dating to the mid-1800s. For special events, I get to dress like a Victorian, and these knits complement my costume very nicely. I’ve perused other Godey’s magazines, that conveniently have been digitized and are available for searching online, and I have other patterns I’d like to make, but I have a feeling they will be a project for me in the new year, you know, after the holiday knits are complete!
My first historic knit came from a pattern not nearly as old as the Godey projects, but the pattern is 100 years old. Simply titled ‘Directions For Making Socks,’ this pattern was found in the Ontario Reformer in 1915, with the intention of promoting making socks for soldiers who were fighting overseas in World War I. After tackling only one pair of socks previously, I decided to make a pair of WWI socks in the spring of 2014.
Word to the wise, when working off directions from 100 years ago, basic knowledge in sock construction is key. Thankfully, I have very helpful friends in the knit circle I attend, and they held my hand when it came to setting up and knitting the gusset, and my grandmother was very helpful when I needed confidence in following the heel turn instructions. Otherwise, it is a very simple sock with a lot of ribbing and plain knitting. The sock was quite an investment in my time, but I think if I was to make another one, it would make up much faster. My knitting has improved and I’m much faster now, but the 12 inch leg truly tried my patience! Knitting the leg along was a test to my dedication of the project!
Above, I keep referring to the singular sock. I finished the first, and second sock syndrome set in… big time. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that for demonstration purposes, the museum only really needed the ONE sock, so its mate never got completed. Thankfully, the dedicated women in the 116th Knitting Society had more fortitude than I. They were a group of women who worked hard and made socks throughout the First World War which in turn were sent overseas, and the local newspaper frequently reported on their progress. As an example, in early December, it was reported that 56 pairs were sent to France.
We also know that the socks were greatly appreciated by the soldiers who received them, as the newspaper once published a letter which was sent to a woman in the 116th Knitting Society, expressing his deep gratitude at receiving the simplest of gifts. The First World War was a hard war. Yes, I know this is not a fair statement as no war is ‘easy,’ but this was one of the first with trench warfare, and trench foot was a very grim reality that soldiers faced. The arrival of new socks, lovingly made by those at home, would likely have been a source of joy and relief in an otherwise grey world.
Once again, many thanks to Polo, and to you readers for stopping by my little blog! I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving (to all of my fellow Canucks), Columbus/Indigenous Peoples’ Day (to those south of the border), or just enjoying your Monday!
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.