I am happy to say that I have managed to overcome some of my procrastination and I am ready to settle down and try to knit up some muffs, in the style of gentlewomen of the 1840s. The next two patterns in Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843) are for knitted muffs and this might bring to mind a few questions (at least it did for me!)
First of all, what is a muff? A muff was a style of handwarmer, an accessory popular with both men and women in the 1600s and 1700s. By the 1800s, only by women made use of muffs and they fell out of fashion by the mid-1800s. Like a purse, muffs were used to store small things. Women also made use of muff warmers (small hot water bottles) to keep their hands warmer.
Second, what did muffs look like? The fashions changed over the several hundred years when these accessories were popular and muffs ranged in size. Essentially a muff is an open tube with holes at both hands for putting the hands in. Muffs were made with fabric, fur, feathers (peacock, swan;s down) and knitted fabrics. They were often elaborately decorated with lace and ribbons. The benefit of a fabric covered muff is that you could change the cover to match your outfit.
In the fashion plates below are examples of some fancy muffs, made with ermine, that would have been the leading edge of fashion in December 1843 (from the Claremont Colleges Digital Library – Fashion Plate Collection):
Fur was very expensive and having a fur muff was a status symbol that many people could not afford, certainly not every day. Perhaps this is why Miss Lambert suggests knitting one to look like fur (sable).
Are there any images out there of a knitted muff (c.1843)? I was able to find an image of one of the two patterns that I will be trying out in Miss Lambert’s 1842 book entitled, The Handbook of Needlework (p.210):
I also found some images of crocheted muffs from the era in the book entitled Gems of Knitting and Crochet, by Mrs. Savage (1847, image plate):
Of course, there is not much use for a muff in the modern world, at least here in Canada where our winters are very cold and we need our hands for driving, shovelling snow, checking our phones etc. Although perhaps this would be an excellent accessory for around a campfire on a cold evening or watching a football game. Regardless, I am looking forward to seeing how these patterns turn out!