Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Pair of White Wool Embroidered 18th Century Mitts

 In 3 weeks I will be a married woman. Woah, this engagement thing has flown by fast! My wedding dress is finished and ready to wear. The bridesmaids dresses are done. My mom's dress is done. This week I'll make the flower girls' dresses and the ring bearer's vest and then all the wedding clothes will be done. After 4 months of craziness, it's wild to realize this season is drawing to a close, and just about everything is actually ready for this wedding I've been planning and dreaming of.

Now, my past 4 months of sewing have been almost entirely wedding focused, with an occasional quick project thrown in here and there. At the beginning of this year, prior to my fiancé proposing, I had grand plans for all the historical projects I would complete in 2021. I began the year as I intended to continue, by picking a project off my long, long, list and making it happen. I started small, thinking I would work up to the bigger projects on my list, just wanting to complete something quick to kick off 2021. Thus, I spent a week hand sewing a pair of mitts for myself. 

The idea for these mitts came about last summer when I was planning my "Felicity Work Dress". On the cover of the 6th Felicity book Changes for Felicity, Felicity is wearing her work dress (which I based my dress off of), her red cloak, and a pair of white mitts. Of these garments, I only managed to make myself the dress by my self-imposed October deadline, but I did intend to get around to the other two eventually.

The cloak is a rather large project which will involve me dying a bunch of tan wool from my stash red with madder. This is intimidating to me. I'll do it eventually, it just hasn't happened yet. The mitts on the other hand, would be quite simple. Grab a piece of white worsted wool and sew the mitts according to the instructions in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. No dying large, bulky, quantities of wool with natural dye required. (That said, if anyone does have advice on how to evenly dye large bulky quantities of wool, I'm listening!)

Simple. That was the plan for the mitts. Then. . . Facebook happened?? I read multiple threads in the 18th c Facebook group all about how woven wool mitts weren't historically accurate. There are extant examples of woven silk, cotton, and linen mitts, of leather mitts, and of knitted wool mitts. Rumor has it however, that woven worsted wool mitts, like those I was planning on making, did not actually exist in the time period and are a modern costumers invention. Uh-hu. Yep. That's what they say. Well, this train of thought definitely postponed my mitts project by a couple months. 

I didn't want to be horribly historically inaccurate. Maybe I shouldn't use wool. Maybe I should use leather. Leather, however, sounded like a pain to sew. Maybe I should use silk. What silk? The only white silk I had in my stash was the 8 yards I was saving for my wedding dress, and I didn't want to cut into that yet. (Yes, I bought my wedding dress fabric months before my fiancé proposed, but more on that in wedding dress posts I'll be sharing this summer) Also, silk mitts didn't seem quite right to go with a "work dress". Linen perhaps? That didn't seem warm enough for winter wear, and Changes for Felicity is set in the middle of winter. Cotton? Same issue as linen. Perhaps I should knit some wool mitts? Yeah, no. That wasn't happening. 

Thus, the Facebook threads derailed my mitts plans for a little bit. Research is good and all, but sometimes too much research can scare one out of doing a project entirely for fear of doing it wrong. And that is not great.

Fast forward a couple months, and I watched the Dixie DIY video at the end of December where she sewed herself a pair of mitts. Wool mitts. Watching this video, I decided my hesitations were silly. I wanted a pair of white mitts. I had white worsted wool in my stash. Even if it wasn't completely historically accurate, it would suit my purposes just fine.

I used the pattern from The American Duchess Guide and cut out my mitts on January 4th. 

I pulled out some silk taffeta scraps, left over from the dress I made my mom for my brother's wedding, to cut out the point linings for my mitts. 

I had a hard time picking what color silk scraps to use for my points, until I came across this pair of white leather mitts with green points on Pinterest. Even if my materials are a bit questionable from an accuracy stand point, at least my color combination is good!

Then, I pulled up the Penny River Costumes 18th Century Mitts video, referenced by Dixie DIY,  and followed along with it to make my mitts.

First, I sewed the thumbs. I may have made them a bit long. Oops.

Next I hemmed the tops of the mitts themselves and sewed the silk points linings in place.

Then I set the thumbs.

And sewed those in place.

Once that was done, I had a chance to practice my embroidery skills!

I did a feather stitch around the base of the thumb, then one line of feather stitches down the back of the glove and two lines of stem stitches, influenced by some extant examples of embroidered mitts I found on Pinterest.

All the embroidery was done in Gutterman silk thread. 

I just happened to have a spool in my stash which matched the silk I used for the points perfectly!

Embroidery done, it was onto the finishing touches!

The bottom edge was hemmed, then I fit the mitts to my hands and arms.

I sewed up the seam with a back stitch then felled the seam allowance. 

After snatching bits of hand sewing time throughout the week, on January 10th, barely a week after I began them, my mitts were finished!

My first completed sewing project of 2021!

And, so far, these are my only completed historical project of 2021.

However, I'm sure that will change!

After the Wedding!

Meanwhile, here are the Historical Sew Monthly details for these fantastic wool mitts!

What the item is: 18th Century Mitts

The Challenge: Small is Beautiful - these are a pretty small item that I focused on making beautiful with some simple embroidery. They’ll be a great addition to several different ensembles!

Material: worsted wool outer, silk taffeta for facing the points

Pattern: American Duchess Guide to 18th century dressmaking, altered to better fit my hands.

Year: possible for any time in the 18th century, but mostly the second half of the century.

Notions: cotton thread for construction, silk thread for embroidery.

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is good, the materials are plausible, but there is no documentation for woven wool mitts rather than knitted mitts. Cotton thread is not accurate. The construction is good, all hand sewn with what I know of period stitches. They would be recognizable in the era. I’ll say 80%

Hours to complete: About one week of hand sewing, not sure on the hours - whatever I could squeeze in between making sure the kid was getting his virtual school done
First worn: Not yet 🙂

Total cost: All the materials were left over from other projects, so essentially $0! The wool was gifted to me from someone de-stashing, the silk left over from a dress I made my mom. The only thing I personally paid for was the thread, for previous projects. Great scrap buster project!


  1. Such cuuuute mitts! I've stopped giving credence to the people who INSIST that such-and-such was never made in a certain color/fabric/pattern in the 18thc because, having been deeply researching for 10 years myself, I've found enough mind-blowing extant 'rule-breakers' to know that there's rarely such a thing as 'never.' Obviously there's some dealbreakers such as certain chemical dyes that didn't exist before a certain date, or cotton prints that we can be reasonably certain didn't occur before the 1800s, etc. But outside of that, if a type of item was common, like mitts, and woven wool existed during that time frame, absolutely NOBODY can say 'nobody in the 18thc ever ever made a pair of woven woolen mitts.' We simply don't have enough in the extant record to solidly say, one way or the other. Advertisements are good for knowing what shops were selling, and fashion journals could give hints of what was 'in' at the time, but not a single researcher alive can say that a home seamstress could never have made herself a pair at some point. That fact stands for a LOT of accessories (which don't survive well) and especially lower-class to middling garments which were repurposed and worn to absolute death. I know these historical clothing gatekeepers mean to keep the options narrow so as to not let people run wild with conjecture and then mis-inform the public with their clothing choices, but your mitts are not some vast leap of logic, lol.