How to SEW a late 18th century (or 19th century) silk MUFF - Tutorial

How to create a reproduction late 18th century (or19th century) silk muff - muff cover & muff 'pillow' insides, mine made with 100% white goose down!
Reproduction embroidered silk dupioni 18th (or 19th) century muff
by TheLadyDetalle
Basically an 18th century silk muff like the reproduction brown & white silk taffeta one below (the first one I ever made, in early 2012, pictured) is made up of two pieces: 1) a muff cover (a tube shaped fashion fabric outside muff cover) that goes over 2) a muff pillow or muff insides (a rectangular shaped muff pillow that is filled with goose down, feathers, down alternative, wool, etc.).
Example silk taffeta muff by TheLadyDetalle
First, the HISTORY: I've long been intrigued by 18th & 19th century muffs, or hand warmers: a fashion accessory, whose purpose was also for keeping hands warm, were very popular throughout history. I've seen extant examples or portrait painting examples as early as the 14th & 15th centuries, but muffs were very popular during the Colonial & Regency periods of the late 18th (1770's-1790's) and early 19th (1800-1820's) centuries, and regained popularity again during the late 19th century (Victorian) era, and again earlier this century, in the 1920's-1950's.

Here is an extant example:
                                         Silk muff cover 1785-1810, Museum of Fine Arts Boston. 

And a link to my Pinterest board for Muffs of all types and period (up through Edwardian).

Muffs came in many different shapes & sizes, made of all different kinds of material, including fur, peacock feathers, goose feathers, wool, silk satin & silk taffeta, etc. The warm insides were comprised of wool, goose & duck down, feathers, and other material that would warm the hands (and was readily available during these eras). This particular muff is based on widely seen extant examples from the late 18th & early 19th centuries, comprised of silk taffeta, silk satin ribbon and 100% white goose down, for wonderful hand warming!

I first became enthralled by the idea of 100% white goose down,when I came across extant examples of muffs from museums, that contained down or a down feather blend. Then I found an extant example of late 19th century muff in an antique store: the black silk taffeta was shot, and peeping through was a lovely, luxurious white & grey goose down & feather blend! I was hooked from there!

Down is actually the soft cluster that comes from underneath a goose, and contains no hard quills like feathers do. I spent ages searching until I found a reputable down supplier, spent time vetting the company & talking to them to learn about down, and then off I went on my first down adventure!
Luxurious 100% white goose down
Now, the HOW TO, first up MUFF COVER:

You'll need one piece of fashion fabric for the outside, muff cover, 16" X 20" ~ I suggest a high quality silk taffeta (if you have a thin silk taffeta, you may want to double the fabric together in two layers), but you can also use silk dupioni, silk satin, silk velvet, cotton velvet, wool, cotton, etc.

You'll also need about 1 1/2-2 yards of ribbon, anywhere from 1/2"-1 1/2" wide (I use 1" silk satin) for the two side ties, and if you want to trim the muff, you'll need additional ribbon (or self fabric) for that, approximately 3 yards of ribbon for pleated trim that goes around the muff cover 2 times.

You'll need two pieces of non-fashion fabric for the inside, muff pillow, 12" X 20" ~ I suggest a fine, very tight weave natural fabric with some satin/sheen, like a fine pima cotton or sateen. Note that down or feathers will push through the fabric if the weave is too loose, so getting a very tight weave fabric is very important.

1) With the muff cover fashion fabric, find the wrong side of the fabric and fold over the ends of the 2 short sides two times each, first 1/4" then 1/2" creating a finished hem. Iron, then sew hem in place (hand or machine).

 2) Once the short side hem is in place, fold over the ends of the 2 long sides, two times each, first 1/4" then 1/2", creating a finished hem channel (where you will run your ribbon SIDE ties through later). Iron, then sew the hem channel in place, making sure to stitch along the TOP edge of the hem channel only: be sure to sew as close to the edge as possible, to leave plenty of room in the hem channel for your ribbon later. 

3) Insert a 28-30" long ribbon tie into one of the hem channels, pulling through until it comes out both sides about 3-4". Repeat for the second side. Tip*: I like to add an extra inch or two to the ribbon ties, so that I can pull them through quickly and easily with a round-ball-end bodkin (or alternately, you can use a safety pin and work it through by hand), so that when the ribbon is through, you can simply snip off the end or any uneven bits to 'finish' the ribbon SIDE ties.
Silk muff in progress - laying out the ribbon trim
4) Optional trim: if you plan to trim your muff cover, now is the best time! For the white, pleated trim above: starting about 4" from the hem channel edge, pleat & sew on silk ribbon, going from one side to the other, following the hem channels. Repeat for the opposite side.

5) Match right sides together of short sides, and sew a seam, being sure to catch all trim ends and the like INSIDE your finished seam. I suggest a 3/8-1/2" seam.  Iron seam open and turn muff cover inside out.

6) Creating the finished muff: Insert muff pillow insides, drawing up one side using the two ribbon ties, until a big enough opening for your hand to go in and out smoothly, then tie a bow with the ribbon ends. Repeat for the opposite side. Voila, a completed 18th century reproduction silk muff!

The finished muff should be approximately 8 1/2" X 13" for the muff cover (tube shape) and approximately 11" by 19" for the muff pillow insides.


The muff insides are basically a pillow made of tight weave fabric, then filled with 100% white goose down, down alternative, cotton batting, wool, feathers, etc.
Luxurious 100% white goose down pillow by TheLadyDetalle
1) Measure and cut two 12” X 20” piece of cotton (high quality, tight weave pima cotton is ideal)

2) Place the two wrong sides facing together and pin all edges, leaving a 3-4 inch opening. 

3) Sew a ½” seam allowance along the whole side

4) Clip corners to remove excess fabric, but leave seam intact – turn inside out and push corners out, creating a pillow to fill.

5) Fill pillow thru the 3-4” opening with white goose down, goose down/feather blend, polyester fill or bamboo/polyester blend until sufficiently filled, light to medium firmness not stuffed (remember the pillow will be folded up on itself, so will end up being plenty ‘full.’

6) Pin 3-4” opening closed, folding back finished edges to create a finished edge.  Roll up pillow and test inside muff cover for thickness (do this BEFORE sewing together the opening, in case you need to add more stuffing or take some out). 

7) Sew 3-4” opening closed.  Optional – match 12” sides together, right sides together and sew ¼” or less seam allowance, to create a cylindrical pillow.  Note: this is not necessary to complete the muff insides, but is optional.  Insert muff insides into silk taffeta muff cover.  
Luxurious 100% white goose down muff insides!
Here's the link to my Etsy store 'TheLadyDetalle', if you are interested in purchasing finished muff pillows insides filled with 100% white goose down, down alternative, finished silk muffs, and more! (These are mainly out of stock now, but I will have a few again in the future).

I also have a muff pattern instructions available (digital download or physical pattern) available in my Etsy store. My muff pattern includes a portrait muff style design!

I hope you enjoyed this little blog 'tutorial' on how to make your own 18th (or 19th) century reproduction muffs!!
TheLadyDetalle with late 18th century reproduction muff and hooded cape
This tutorial is also the muff class I taught at Dress U in Philadelphia in 2012 & again in 2013! Re-vamped into a Portrait Muff workshop class at Costume College 2017! Happy Sewing!

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