Accessorizing for Williamsburg: An 18th Century Fur Muff

On my list of things to make for our March trip to Williamsburg was a fur muff to keep the hands warm, in case of chilly weather.

Mrs. Wilbraham Bootle, 1781 by George Romney, oil on Canvas, National Gallery of Scotland

I was itching to try making a muff, as I already had all the necessary materials in my stash – vintage salvaged sable fur, satin for the lining, the guts of a hundred dog toys (polyfill).

Sable fur rescued from a vintage coat that was in pretty bad condition – I seamed several piece together, which is a lot harder than it looks – you can see my vertical seam, which is rather obvious.

I read through Leimomi’s post about her fur muff, and Katherine’s tutorials on making a muff base and cover, then decided to try to make a base with the fur as a cover, after seeing Jen’s version made this way.

Here’s my muff base, made out of stash satin. I didn’t really have enough polyfill to fill it up, and I ended up going a different direction with the construction, but this worked great as a mockup.

The problem was that I was using real fur salvaged from a vintage coat, and it didn’t want to fold and bend the way faux fur does. I couldn’t conceive a way, too, to cleanly attach a gathering channel to the fur.

So I went with a second method informed by Katherine’s tutorial.  After piecing together a large enough piece of the vintage fur, I stitched one side to the lining material, and also attached a narrow strip to the other side, seen here:

The construction is the same as in Katherine’s tutorial, but I’ve created the yardage from two materials – one will be the outside and one the inside of the muff.

The strip is what I would be whip-stitching the lining to, once I’d pulled it through the fur-tube, as stitching it to the hide itself would have been difficult and put a lot of stress on the skin, probably tearing through it.

With this piece, I then followed Katherine’s directions, stitching it together length-wise, then pulling the lining through the middle of the fur, stuffing it with polyfill, and tediously turning the edge of the lining and facing strip, and whipping those together.

The tube, before pulling the satin through the fur, and stuffing it

Though some steps were tricky, all in all I made the thing in about two hours, and it works a treat.  I may open the end up and add some more stuffing (you’ll need more than you think), but other wise it’s finished, and I have one more accessory for Williamsburg done. ๐Ÿ™‚

The last little bit was to add a bow cut out of ivory taffeta. It’s not necessary, but I liked the look of it, and it also reminds me which way to hold the muff, so the fur runs downwards, and my less-than-stellar seaming is hidden-ish.

That’s it! It was quick and fairly easy, with good results. You can make muffs out of wool, satin, fur, faux fur, really whatever you like, and decorate them in a gazillion different ways. They work across periods, too, and really do keep the hands warm. It’s a nice project for an evening, or a get-together with friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

21 Comments

  • Unknown

    January 24, 2014 at 12:13 AM

    it looks wonderful! I found with mine that tacking a loop of cord or ribbon to the inside is useful… so you have something to hold onto… much more graceful than trying to grab at it without one.

    Reply
  • Unknown

    January 24, 2014 at 5:17 AM

    So pretty! Are any types of fur more accurate for an 18th century muff? My grandparents raise mink and my sweet grandma has whole boxes of fur she has saved over the years and told me I could take some! I have always wanted a fur muff to accessorize with but want to make sure it would be period accurate.

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      January 24, 2014 at 6:07 AM

      That is a good question and would be really interesting to research. Any kind of fur that could be wild-caught in 18th century Europe would have been used – so mink, martin, fox, rabbit, wolf, etc. The beaver trade was buoyant coming from America, but those would have been quite exotic and expensive I think.

      Reply
  • fixitfaerie

    January 24, 2014 at 5:36 AM

    It turned out so pretty. I've worked with old fur, when it is stiff, and hard to work with I use a leather softener. But you did a wonderful job on yours, and it will keep your hands toasty. I also like the cape in the picture above, is it the shorter version you shared with us?

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      January 24, 2014 at 6:05 AM

      I agree, some very old leathers get really brittle. Neatsfoot oil works to soften it up. I was lucky in that this fur was still flexible enough, though some parts of the coat, like the collar, had stiffened too much.

      The cloak in the painting I think is a large mantle of some sort.

      Reply
  • AuntieNan

    January 24, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    You might want to put in a tiny pocket, on the body side of the muff. It looks great, and I for one am very much in favor of recycling old garments!
    Stay warm–it's not only cold here, back East, its DAMP!
    Auntie Nan

    Reply
  • unicornemporium

    January 24, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    It looks beautiful with the sable! Nice colors! I just made one out of an old white rabbit fur coat, lined with a camel colored wool – Very cozy! The only problem is when its laying around, everyone mistakes it for our Himalayan cat, LOL!

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      January 26, 2014 at 9:00 PM

      Lol! Nice upcycle, though – a friend of mine has a rabbit fur muff made to look like ermine. It's looovely. I like that there are a lot of old rabbit fur coats out there waiting to be rescued.

      Reply
  • Luvin' Ewe

    January 25, 2014 at 9:30 PM

    I love the sable muff, it's just beautiful!
    If you want to hide that " very obvious seam" take a darning needle or a fine gauge knitting needle, and gently pull the ends of the fur out of the seam. Then with a gentle brushing, the seam should become invisible.

    I'm so jealous, I wish I could afford to go to Williamsburg too! I hope you have a lot of fun.

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      January 26, 2014 at 9:01 PM

      I picked as much fur out of the seam as I could. I'll continue to work on it. It doesn't hide it completely – I used a straight horizontal seam, where the original furrier used a zig-zag, and now I can see why, it blends much better. Next time!

      Reply
  • Vincent Briggs

    January 26, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    It's lovely! All the little stripes are delightful.
    Don't worry about the seams, they are not too obvious. The fur muff that I pieced together is WAY more patchy looking.

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      January 28, 2014 at 11:07 PM

      Thanks for the links to your blog, Hertz. I've added you to my blogroll, and look forward to following your projects ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
    • Hertzwerk Freiburg

      January 29, 2014 at 6:01 PM

      Hi Lauren, thank you for following me! I am looking for forward to seeing you warming winter accessoires in action!
      Love from Germany
      Kris

      Reply
  • Marilynsmith

    March 4, 2015 at 4:15 AM

    Nice Blog! Good information about history of 18th Century Fur Muff. Hand muffs were made of very precious and luxurious fur. If we get back to the England of the 19th century, we would witness aristocrat women prinking themselves with silk wraps trimmed with fox fur surrounds and fitting fur hand muffs to them.Know more about details.

    Reply

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