Cesare Vecellio's costume woodcuts in Clothing of the Renaissance World.
Thames and Hudson, London, 2008.
& Technique: According to Vecellio, these were made from
black velvet or other black silk fabric, lined with sable or marten, and closed with buttons of gold
or crystal. Other than that, nothing was known to me about the possible
construction of muffs in period, so I had to conjecture.
Dimensions: Approx two hand's-lengths from opening to opening,
approx 1 and a quarter hand's lengths wide when closed.
(muslin) for backing velveteen
cord for embroidery: woven metallic outer with cotton core
recycled from a damaged jacket
(burlap) for backing fur and giving extra body
cord for button loops
5 gold metal and imitation half-pearl
A Venetian Muff, c1590
[Please note that I used real fur
(albeit recycled), so if that bothers you please read no further]
"At that time of the year [winter] they also wear a muff lined
with fur, which protects their hands against the cold. These furs are
marten or sable, and the muff is of black velvet or some other silk
fabric, fastened shut with buttons of oriental crystal or gold."
[Cesare Vecellio, trans M. Rosenthal,
Clothing of the Renaissance World.
Thames and Hudson, London, 2008]
A long time
ago my first book purchase towards my new costuming obsession
- Dover Publications' Vecellio's Renaissance Costume Book - was to
kindle a desire to make a Venetian muff. For one reason or another, I'd
never gotten around to making one, although I did begin looking for a
cheap source of real fur I could recycle. It wasn't until after I'd read
the new translation of the text (that had originally accompanied the
woodcuts and which Dover had stripped from the book) in Clothing
of the Renaissance World
that I decided the time
had come to stop thinking about it and start doing!
looking at the close-up of the muff from the Vecellio woodcut and
wondering what exactly was being depicted by the criss-cross pattern on
the edges, I pictured it as gold cord couching, and I like that idea so
I went with it. I had all
the materials to hand, all that was needed was to decide on the design
for the embroidery. Even though the original design depicted was geometric, I wanted something
a little less so.
I went browsing through my facsimile
copy of Giovanni
Ostaus' book of designs for lace and embroidery "La Vera Perfezione del
Disegno per Punti e Ricami" (1561), and found a design I felt
would work well.
From plate xxvii
deciding on the embroidery design I had to work out the dimensions of
the muff, which was nothing more than simple guesswork. Looking at the
woodcut for clues, I decided the muff was long enough to put two hands
in up to the wrist with fingertips slightly overlapping, and about one a
quarter hand lengths (from wrist to fingertips) wide when closed. Using
these approximate dimensions and allowing extra for seams and a possible
overlapping closure (I had not yet decided whether the closure would
overlap or abut), I cut out a rectangle from velveteen, one
from calico (muslin), and one from hessian (burlap).
step was to draw a grid onto the velveteen with tailor's chalk,
similarly to the grid shown above, to suit the dimensions of the fabric.
was then basting-stitched to the wrong side of the velveteen at the centre
points (both width- and length-ways) and along all edges, and
attached to my embroidery frame.
embroidery took me several nights of work, but it was very satisfying.
The first side took me a little longer than the second, mostly because
I mistakenly thought it would be easier to have eight needles working
on all eight lines of the design at once. Yeah, how could that not
work, right? I was worried about keeping the interlacing pattern
right, and thought I'd make mistakes if I did it one line at a time. I
was right - I did make a couple of mistakes working the second side
one line at a time - but it was far less confusing than trying to
manage eight needles at once. Halfway through the first side I was
also having a hard time following my tailor's chalk outline due to
wearing some of it off by accidentally brushing against it with my
hands or sleeves.
embroidery on the other side went faster. I was able to be more
watchful of not
touching the tailor's chalk, and working with just the one needle. I
did need to stop and refer to the original design to remind myself of
which line went under and which went over, but other than that it was
much less confusing the second time around.
embroidery was finished and the velveteen taken off the frame, I
folded in the seam allowances, ironed them down and stitched them to
the calico backing of the velveteen to secure them. I used a hem
stitch by hand to ensure the stitching is not visible from the right
side. The velveteen was then set aside to work on the fur.
to utilise one lower edge of the back of the jacket, but in hindsight
it would have been better to cut the finished edge off as it was
definitely bulkier than the other three sides. Still, since the fur is
inside and not on show, it's not a big issue.
the fur I laid it fur side down on my worktable and marked the section
I needed to cut from it with pen. It was cut from the jacket with an
X-Acto knife. This minimises on loss of fur, which also means less
gets up your nose! Even so, I should really have used a mask, but I
couldn't find one. By that stage I was really keen to get on with it
and didn't want to stop to try to find something that would work or
wait to buy one. I decided to just do my best to not breathe it in.
I cut a
section of fur the same size as the velveteen and hessian. This fur is
so soft! Wickedly soft. Mmmmm... Oh. Where was I? Oh yes. What I still
needed to do was to decide - abutted closure, or overlapped? In the
woodcut it looks like an abutted closure, with the buttons and button
loops right on the edges of the opening, but that would leave a gap.
Wouldn't that let in the cold? Wouldn't that be counter-productive? I
thought so, and so I decided to overlap, which was probably a little
more work than doing an abutted closure would have been.
decision was made, I worked out that I would need to leave the
overlapping end free of fur to avoid the muff being too bulky in one
area. One short and two long edges of the fur and hessian sections
were folded over (and ironed in the case of the hessian), laid wrong
side to wrong side, and whip-stitched together to create one layer. On
the other short side (the closure overlap end), the selvedge of the
hessian section and cut edge of the fur were whip-stitched
result was two sections to be sewn together: the velveteen/calico
layer and the fur/hessian layer. Once again I whip-stitched the layers
together on the three thicker sides, leaving the thinner side free.
This is the where the button loops would go, the knotted ends to be
hidden under the fur.
some gold rayon cord I had lying around to use for button loops. One
by one, the ends were knotted, the loops sewn in place so that the top
of the loop lies just beyond the edge of the muff, then a button sewn
down on the corresponding edge for precise placement. The original
shows six buttons, but I only had five. Close enough.
the buttons and loops were in place I neatened the hessian/cut fur
edge with bias tape and stitched it down over the loops. The result is
a nice neat finish, and one sexy muff. Happy as I am with it, I would
have been happier still if I'd been able to find a sable or marten fur
item to recycle for period accuracy, and for its solid-coloured fur
(unlike the mottled rabbit). But as I said, the fur is mostly not
seen, and this muff, despite the embroidery, was just the trial run
for the much fancier muff I will make some day, when the right fur
one interesting use for a opened-up muff is that it will make a great
lap warmer for when my hands are busy.