Whenever I start a Victorian Translation project I always like to do some research beforehand and I thought that I would share that process with you. It is the sort of thing that I find interesting when other people share. I consider this to be a research paper and have included links to my sources where ever possible so that you can use them too if you are reearching the same area of interest.
To start off with I have some questions that I ask myself.
Who wore these?
How did they wear them?
Why did they wear them?
What material ?
This blog post is going to be about the Shaded Crochet Cuffs that I translated and made. But these steps apply to anything that I might be researching.
The first thing that I did was search for photos of existing crochet cuffs from the period. In case you are unfamiliar the Victorian period was 1837 – 1901. In this case I happened to find some nice examples from the Victoria and Albert museum collection.
This one interesting because it appears to be joined in the round.
This one is interesting to me because it is an example of how the cuff did not need to be straight at the edge.
This pair is also very interesting as they look like they could have been tied on to the wrist. However this is just a guess, what do you think?
While I was searching for “cuff” I saw a picture of cufflinks from the Victorian Era, so I investigated the possibility that women used cufflinks since a lot of the cuffs did not have any obvious closures left.
I really struggled to find reference to women using cufflinks. I only found two sources which I was not sure of the integrity of the source and they did not link to any other sources to back up where they got their information from.
Only offer of women’s cuff links, no citation
I also enlarged the photos that I had got from the museum to check if there were any obvious holes that a cufflink would go through. While I did not see anything obvious this was inconclusive since the lacy nature of the crochet cuffs means that they might not have been a specific cufflink hole. The lack of historical sources coupled together with the size of the cuffs, we will get to more detail about this in a bit, suggesting to me that cufflinks were probably not used.
Since I didn’t think that cufflinks were used for the cuffs and because a lot of the examples did not have buttons I started to entertain the idea that they might have been sewn onto garments. This idea is supported by the existing dresses we have which have lace cuffs still attached, and by the under sleeves which have lace still attached and also because of the length of the lace cuffs which do not have button closures.
Were they sewn onto garments?
Undersleeves are also known as Engageantes. The following is from Wiki:
Engageantes are false sleeves worn with women’s clothing. They were worn during the 18th and 19th centuries, with a brief revival in the 20th century.
In the 18th century, engageantes took the form of ruffles or flounces of linen, cotton, or lace, tacked to the elbow-length sleeves then fashionable.
In the mid-19th century, the term engageante was used for separate false sleeves, usually with fullness gathered tight at the wrist, worn under the open bell-shaped “pagoda” sleeves of day dresses. The fashion reappeared briefly just after the turn of the 20th century.
I also found Victorian instructions on how to wash lace:
“TO WASH LACE – The following method of washing lace, lace collars, and crochet collars will be found excellent; while it does not subject the articles to so much wear and tear. Cover a glass bottle with calico or linen, and then tack the lace upon it ; rub it with soap, and cover it with calico. Boil it thus for twenty minutes in soft water; let all dry together, and the lace will be found ready for use. If a long piece of lace is to be washed, it must be wound round and round the bottle, the edge of each round a little above (or below) the last : a few stitches at the beginning and end will be enough to keep it firm. A collar requires more tacking to keep it firm.” (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951000731058a&view=1up&seq=302The Englishwoman’s domestic magazine. v.3 (1854-55) page 286)
The importance of this is that the parts of the dress which are most likely to get dirty can be removed to either be washed or to be replaced without washing or replacing the whole dress. The more the dress was washed the faster it would deteriorate. Remember too that Victorian women wore a lot of undergarments that could be washed far more easily. This is different from the 21st Century where most of our dresses would touch our skin directly and therefore absorb oils and sweat. This strengthens my oppinion that the cuffs which did not have closures could very well have been sewn or tacked onto existing garments.
There are a couple of examples of cuffs which have closures and so perhaps these were worn separately.
Now we get to the sizes. Most of the samples that I could get measurements of were quite wide, around 21cm, just over 8 “. This could be because they were to be worn further up the arm than the wrist, or it could be that it was ruffled as it was tacked onto the garment to give it more body. But this is just conjecture.
18” x 5” – Pair of crochet cuffs, Ireland, 1850-1853.
21cm x 5.5cm – Pair of bobbin lace cuffs, Bedfordshire, England, 1860-1870
21.6cm x 6.6cm – Collar and Cuffs 1840-1870 (made)
The colours that survive in the VnA collection seem to be mostly white/cream but these are detached cuffs or cuffs still on undersleeves which were part of an undergarment. If the cuff was sewn to the dress sleeve itself it may have been made in the colour to match, this idea is supported by the pattern I have which describes them as made in shaded wool.
In the end for the pattern translation I decided to go with a seperate cuff with button closures. I did this for two reasons, although the pattern does not suggest buttons it does recommend 40 stitches. This would make quite a narrow cuff so it is plausible that it could be closed with buttons. The other reason was purely practical in that I did not have a garment onto which I wanted to tack the cuff so buttons suited me better. However as with a lot of the Victorian patterns I have read, the crafter is probably expected to adjust the pattern to suit her needs and there is no reason why someone could not use my translation but add more stitches to the beginning chain to make it wider and then tack the finished article to their garment!
The following is an exerpt from my pattern:
From my research, Penelope, is a brand of crochet hook produced by the company H. (1)Walker. It was a steel crochet hook (sometimes called crochet needle during this period) embedded in a bone handle. A size 2 seems to correspond with a 1.8mm crochet hook.(2) As I currently only have a size 1.75mm crochet hook and not a 1.8mm I used that instead.
As you can see there is no yarn specified for this pattern. First I attempted to use a contemporary (modern day) yarn that requires a 1.75mm hook. However chaining 40 would have produced something that was far too small. While I was aware that I might need to adjust the foundation chain to match myself I also know that I do not have big wrists so it shouldn’t have been too far off. I changed to using a 4ply sock yarn that was on the thin end. This produced something which was only a little bit too small for me so I finished the sample and I used it to measure. Shaded wool can either refer to wool that has been dyed or it can also be used to refer to wool that has an ombre effect of one colour that goes from light to dark.
Following the pattern exactly produced something that was 12cm (4.72”) wide at the base and I wanted it to be 17cm (6.69”)wide. As I said before this cuff could have been tacked onto an existing garment and so maybe 12 cm would suffice, but I wanted to add buttons and so I needed some overlap. I have written the pattern below to crochet up to 18cm (7.08”)and it does have some stretch as it is made with wool.
Working the pattern; Typical crochet instructions from the 1900’s instruct you not to turn the work but to always work with the work facing the same way.(3) This means that you will need to cut and rejoin the work. I experimented with doing it both ways and I think that you will find little visual difference for this specific pattern if you choose to turn the work as we usually do in the 21st century. This pattern is written for you to turn.
(1) Riego de la Branchardiere, Mlle. 1867. The Abergeldie winter book, 29. London : Simpkin, Marshall and co.
(2) As of 1 March 2021, https://www.antiquepatternlibrary.org/html/warm/vhooks.htm
(3) 1843. Knitting, Netting and Crochet, 20. London: H. G. Clarke and co., 66 old Bailey
I hope that you enjoyed seeing some of the research that goes into translating Victorian Patterns. If you enjoyed it please let me know so that I know to keep sharing.If you have any questions, or suggestions, or want to contact me about your research please don’t hesitate to message.