I am getting ready to cast on the 24th pattern in Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843, First Series) which is for a pair of Long Sleeves to Wear Under A Dress. The name of the pattern made me curious as the sleeves seem to be stand alone sleeves and not attached to the actual dress. Was this a fashion of the day? For practical purposes? An extra layer of warmth in the cold and drafty Victorian home? I decided to turn to the internet and see what I could find out about this article of clothing.
First up, it seems that these were also called undersleeves (sleeves worn under a dress), manchettes (French for cuff/wristband), or engageantes. According to the Dictionary of Costume and Fashion: Historic and Modern (Mary Brooks, Picken), engageantes were a more fancy version of undersleeves:
Sleeve trimming consisting of deep double ruffles or puffings of self-material, sheer lace, or muslin; usually concentrated at elbow, sometimes hanging to wrist. Also, hanging under-sleeve with lace cuffs. Fashionable part of woman’s costume during late 17th century. p.117
Undersleeves were popular for a number of practical reasons beyond fashion:
- Undersleeves could be easily changed to meet rapidly changing fashions
- Replacing the undersleeves was far less expensive than replacing a dress
- The undersleeves could be detached from dresses for easy washing
- The dress itself did not need to be washed as often
- The sleeves could be easily pinned or tacked to the dress
- Heavier materials could be used in winter as a warm layer
To get a feel for how these undersleeves might have looked in full 1800s costume, I took a look through Pinterest and found some lovely old photographs of women wearing what appear to be knitted undersleeves. My Pinterest page can be found here.
My next step is to read through the pattern carefully, choose my yarn and needles and give it a try!
Please feel free to share this blog post with anyone who you feel might be interested. Comments and input are always welcome!