What in the World is an Under-Sleeve?

Interweave owns the rights to a number of 19th-century needlework books and pamphlets, and let me tell you—they are FASCINATING. And sometimes comical, sometimes puzzling, to the modern crafter. I’ve been reading excerpts from Peterson’s Magazine, dated 1862, and there are some gems here. Interweave published a number of knitting patterns from Peterson’s in the ebook Piecework Presents: 12 Knitting Patterns from 1862. This collection reproduces the content of the original publication exactly; you’ll find black-and-white illustrations of the finished projects, and knitting instructions—but no explanation of what the item is! I guess women in the 1860’s knew what a sontag and an under-shawl were and roughly what size they would turn out when they knitted them.

One project in this ebook that made me laugh out loud is this Knitted Under-Sleeve:

under sleeve

What is this thing? It looks like a questionable shell-fish part. When and why and how would you wear it? The pattern says: “This warm and pretty article is composed of two kinds of wool, and is knitted to form 2 small and 1 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’s basically a Victorian-era armwarmer? With puffed sections? It’s the phrase “under-sleeve” that throws me…would you wear this big puffed “elastic” thing UNDER YOUR NORMAL SLEEVES? Is the puffed shape intended to mimic the puffed sleeves of sewn dresses at the time? Here’s an illustration of American dresses from the Civil War era; perhaps you could fit a knitted under-sleeve into one of these big puffy sleeves?

“Gossip” from Godey’s magazine, 1860

“Gossip” from Godey’s magazine, 1860

I’ve marked this page in my Peterson’s for further research—I am curious about the use of under-sleeves. If you know anything about this “pretty and warm article,” do let me know in the comments! You can download your own bit of quirky knitting history today—get your own copy of 12 Knitting Patterns from 1862 and enjoy the mysteries of handknits from nearly 160 years ago!

Knit weird,
Lisa


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