Monday, 25 March 2013

Striped Muff, Finished

The muff is done. I decided to go ahead and use the grey hat, it's condition wasn't quite as bad as I had previously thought, even though it did look pretty creepy on the inside.
The grey hat, inside out.
Those black marks really made the inside look gross, but some of them were shaped like numbers, so they were just ink. The hide had a really scruffy texture and was thinner in some places than others, maybe whoever scraped it did a bad job, the brown hat's hide was much nicer and thicker. There was mold in the hat, but only a tiny little bit, it was easy to remove and the fur doesn't smell musty at all. I think the creepy ink marks scared me into thinking the mold was more serious than it actually was.

Speaking of the hats themselves, they are much better as a muff, both of them were way too small for my big head. I found the grey one in a cupboard in my Grandparents house, in a hatbox marked "Vivian Gibson- Hat" I think It was from the 60's. The brown hat was from a building with lots of stuff in it that my other Grandmother took me to years ago, apparently there had been a church sale and there were a lot of leftover things that they wanted to get rid of.
I cut both hats into 6 cm wide strips, they were impossible to get straight since the hats were curved. I cut them (very carefully so as not to cut all the way through the hide and damage the hairs) with an exacto knife. Then I arranged them on a table, trying to make them into a rectangle that was a little over twice as long as it was wide, with the fur pointing in the same direction, and trying to match the length and colour of the hairs. It seemed to be mostly successful.
A puzzle made of fur.
Once the placement of the fur pieces was figured out I started piecing them together.
A lot of the pieces had pointy ends so I had to cut a lot of tiny little triangles to make them all fit together.
One of many small triangles of fur.
I whipstitched all the fur pieces together. I also waxed my thread for the first time ever, which made the sewing easier.
Once the stripes were mostly put together, I started trimming them down to 2 inches wide with the help of a quilting square.
The stripes before trimming. See all the notches and bumps and wobbles?
I cut more little bits of fur to finish filling in the gaps and then sewed all the stripes together. Their edges were almost straight.
The outside of the muff skin, before the ends were added. The colour matching didn't go so well, especially with the brown.

I then sewed the two ends of the rectangle together, there was a lot more cutting and piecing. This was the first time I've ever made something out of fur and I must say, it's not a particularly friendly material to work with. Cutting is a very sneezeful business, the little bits of fuzz fly everywhere, I kept the vacuum cleaner right next to the table the entire time I was working on the muff.
The least fun part of muff construction. That white thing on the left is a piece of fusible interfacing to strengthen a particularly weak piece of grey material.
Then I attached the ends. The brown hat had a bit of a brim so there was a big strip of fur that curved in a very convenient way for muff ends.
The hat brim, cut in half.
The two halves were almost big enough to attach to the ends of the muff skin. I only had to add one small trapezoid of fur to each.
For the lining I cut a rectangle of black flannel 19" by 28". I know that cotton flannel is wrong for 18th century linings, but it's not fair if all the fuzziness is on the outside.
I found a muff workshop post that shows how to put a muff together with a tubular pillow and a separate, removable cover. Since my muff cover is of questionable quality (I tore one of the end pieces putting the pillow in) my pillow tube is permanently attached to the furry outer piece.

I stuffed the muff with a scratchy grey wool. It wasn't a very good fiber for felting or spinning so I thought this would be a good way to use it up. It was a really thin roving, which wasn't a very good form for muff stuffing, so I turned it into batts using Mama's drum carder. (Sorry for not asking permission Mama, but it was really late and the muff was so close to being done but I wasn't going to wake you up. I was extra careful to not bend any of the teeth.)
Roving being turned into batts. The batts are the pile of fluff on the left, the roving is the stuff on the right that looks like a brain.
I sewed the 28" sides of the flannel together(the only seam in the muff that's machine sewn) and wrapped the batts around one half of it. The wool had greatly increased in volume, which made this part very difficult to do. I scrunched the huge mass of wool down with one hand and folded the other half of the flannel tube over it with the other.
The stuffed tube. There will be a seam at this end, but it's just folded over on the other end.
I tucked in the ends of the flannel and whipstiched the pillow closed. Then I scrunched up again and stuffed it into the muff cover. The curved hat brim end pieces folded in very nicely over the pillow ends. They are whipstiched on too. This particular place was very awkward to sew stuff to so these stitches are rather large and crude. But big, unsightly interior finishing stitches are very accurate for 18th century.
Big, crude stitches. At least they aren't in a location where they will be seen.
Here is the finished muff.
See? The fur hides the lousy stitching.
The wool is so puffy that you can hardly see through the muff tube. It's sort of like a fuzzy blood pressure cuff.
The finished muff sitting on a table.
This is what the muff looks like when someone is holding it. I'm not wearing 18th century clothes in these pictures because the only other clothes I have from that era is underwear, and nobody carries a muff when they're in their underwear.
Me looking quite startled.

Me with flour on my shirt.
And now, Complaints! There are several problems with this muff. The most obvious one is the colour variation. This muff has very clearly been cobbled together out of lots of odd bits of fur and it takes away from the effect of the stripes.
Frankenstein's muff.
Another problem is that only most of the hairs point in the same direction, some of them are at a slight angle, but some pieces are going entirely the wrong way. Because the hat brim fur was pointing in the same direction all the way around the hat, and because of the shape of the muff ends, only one of them has fur that is facing the right way. I guess that's what you get for trying to make rectangular muff covers out of dome shaped pieces of fur. I'll have to keep an eye out for bigger, flatter fur things at thrift stores.
But the biggest problem is the shape. This was supposed to be a 1780s muff, and 1780s muffs are supposed to be square. like this one.

Gallerie des modes, 1781. (source)
  Mine is really, really rectangular. I think I cut the stripes too wide. On the other hand, if I had made the stripes narrower and the muff more square, it probably wouldn't fit both hands as nicely as it does. I used up almost all the fur, so there wasn't any way to make it bigger.
All the scraps that were left over. Maybe I can make pom poms out of them.
It's rectangularness isn't so bad. It'll work great for the 19th century, and for some of the decades that come before the 1780s. I did manage to find one 1780s fashion plate with a muff that didn't look square.
French fashion plate from 1787. (source)
 The muff on the right doesn't look square to me, although I'm not entirely certain, since it's on an angle. Not everyone would have had up to date muffs all the time anyways, I'm sure plenty of people were walking around with 1770s shaped muffs in the 1780s. I don't know if they had stripes though. The earliest image of a vertically striped fur muff I can find is from 1784.


The challenge: #6, Stripes.

Fabric: A rectangle of black flannel 19" by 28", from Mama's stash.

Pattern: Guesswork and a quilting square.

Year: 1780s, or very early 90s, at least that's what I was going for.

Notions: An unknown amount of scratchy grey wool, from the stash. Two old fur hats, their origins are listed earlier in this post. One small scrap of fusible interfacing, also from the stash.

How historically accurate is it? Well, the fur and wool are real, the overall construction is probably decent, and it's mostly hand sewn. Other than that I don't think it's very accurate. See Complaints, above.

Hours to complete: Approximately 20

First worn: March 25th/13. Can you use the term "wear" with muffs, or do you say "carry"?

Total cost: $0


  1. I think you need better fur to begin with. Should keep on the look out for some old fur coats at Value Village, or perhaps we could advertise on kijiji for them. Fur is not that popular around here now, so people may be more willing to get rid of their fur coats. If they wear them around now then they run the risk of being spray painted by animal welfare activists.

    1. Having a whole fur coat to cut up and make things out of would be awesome. I don't recall seeing any in Fredericton, but I did see a rack of them at a flea market in New York. We should go look for stuff in thrift stores more often. Janice got a whole lot of fur given to her when she did her rat project, so you're probably right about people with unwanted fur coats.

  2. Wow! My hat is off to you! I've worked with fur before and I am so impressed. It is hard and you did a magnificent job. I know you see all the imperfections and limitations, but trust me, it looks amazing.

    1. Thank you! Did you sew your fur by hand, or by machine? I think machine would probably be more difficult.
      I still like the muff, even though the Frankensteined look was disappointing. It was a good learning experience.

    2. Let me see... I've put rabbit trim on an 1860s hood. I've also replaced worn curly/Persian lamb on two vintage coats: one with a big collar, and one with two cuff bands and a stand-up collar with loops in front. All of that was by hand. I've also sewn with lightweight leather: to make little pouches many years ago (that was by machine, and easy), a couple years ago putting leather binding on 1780s stays, and last fall to line the turn-back points on some 18th century mitts. All but the pouches were by hand.

      The rabbit trim was the easiest, but even with a leather needle it was so hard on my fingers. Same for the mitts and the stays. I love handsewing and I don't think I'm shabby at it, but it was slow and tiring. The Persian lamb was the hardest, because like you I was working with less-than-perfect pieces for replacement. One was rather dry and the pelts were definitely better in some places than others. The big collar on the other was really good quality to start with, so it was sad to replace it with one that wasn't as good; and I couldn't find a replacement that I could get into exactly the right shape.

      I guess I've found working with fur and leather tiring, and/or less than satisfying. I love the rabbit trim on the hood, but it took a lot longer than I thought it would.

    3. I tried to sew leather by hand once before. It was almost impossible to put the needle through. This fur was easy to sew with, it must have been very weak compared to good fur.

    4. That's possible; the dried-out Persian lamb was easy to sew, although I was afraid it would tear. Leather needles make a big difference, by the way. They have triangular points instead of round ones. Joann calls them "glovers needles."

    5. I was afraid the leather would tear too, that's why my stitches were so much bigger than I usually make them.
      Also, I forgot to mention thimbles. I tried to use a thimble for the first time ever while sewing this muff. It was kind of awkward and I didn't use it the whole time. But it did a great job pushing the needle through without damaging my fingertips.
      Thimbles would probably make sewing with any kind of animal skin much easier.

    6. Thimbles make sewing any tough fabric/material a lot easier. And you have more than a dozen of them to choose from! I'm actually kind of surprised that you have not used a thimble up to now. Your grandmother used one most of the time. Even your father has used them several times.

      "Leather" comes in many weights and stiffnesses. At the low end is the kind of thin, weak leather that my old driving gloves are made of (no thimble required), and the kind of stuff that they make horse harnesses out of, which needs an industrial sewing machine to stitch, and even that machine has a hard time with harness stock.

      I've sewn a few kinds of leather in my day, and doing it by hand is usually difficult. The machine you are using (mine) is pretty good for moderate weight leather, if you use the right needle, but even that tough old machine cannot sew heavy weight, stiff leather. Fur, as you noted in your OP, has the additional problem of stitching down the hairs. If you want to stitch really heavy leather, it's almost best to use a hole punch to put in the stitching holes and then sew through them. I have a punch for that, and have used it in the past. But if you have leather that heavy, then you are going to use a pretty heavy waxed cord made from plied thread and put in with a darning needle. In the end, it's all about the material. I think I need to stop now before I get started on a materials rant.

    7. Ooops, I should have written...

      " At the low end is the kind of thin, weak leather that my old driving gloves are made of (no thimble required), and at the other extreme end is the kind of stuff that they make horse harnesses out of"

    8. Trust me, I used my thimble! I can't sew without it now, even on lightweight fabric.

  3. Hi,

    I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring blogger Award.

    Whether or not you chose to carry it forward I atleast wanted to share with you directly the impact you have had on my own creativity. Your work is very incredible!

    Thank you!

    1. Holy crap. This is a surprise! My published posts only outnumber my toes by one.I'm not sure if I'm going carry it forward. I'll have to think about it.
      Thank you!

  4. Your work is outstanding for what you had to work with. Who else would have the patience to do what you did with those hats. I sure hope that you can come up with a nice fur coat in the future. I'll keep my eyes open too for one.

    1. Thank you Mamoo. Fur coats would be very, very nice to cut up and make lots of smaller things out of. I've never liked the look of a big coat completely made of fur. Usually they are too rectangular and bland.
      How much do you think a thrift store fur coat would cost?

  5. There was indeed a lot of work that went into that, from the sound and look of things! I guess the patched look is dissapointing, but it looks good on the photos. Fantastic work, from where I'm sitting. ;-)