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.
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)
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