A Florentine Muff - Anéa Arnesen

When I first started looking for references of 16th century muffs, I came a cross a lot - much more than I expected. I had an idea of this being a typical Victorian item, but after I saw Bella's lovely couched version last year I started looking into the matter. And found a lot. 
In period depictions they seem to belong to the late 16th century. But in written sources they appear at least from the mid 16th century. In Florence they were called "manichino", in Venice "manizza", both reflecting that they were meant to be worn on/by the "mani", the hands.

Moda a Firenze reports that duchess Eleonora di Toledo had a muff made in January 1550. It was made of purplish violet (pavonazzo) velvet lined with miniver; probably a white, unspotted ermine fur. This muff was complete with ribbon (fornito di nastro), which probably was to carry it around the neck (Landini 2004: 169).

The next Duchess of Florence, Giovanna of Austria, is listed with a muff in amaranth velvet, Amaranth is also a purple shade, but a lot more pink (Landini 2004: 169).

A third written source - with illustration - is Cesare Vecellio's costume book from ca. 1595. He has depicted an elder and modest Venetian woman, and she is carrying a muff. It's described as an item for winter. It's suggested black velvet "or some other fine fabric" was common, and that it was lined with marten or sable fur. It was not sewn as a tube, rather as a square, and the ends were closed with buttons of "oriental crystal or gold". These buttons were fastened with loops rather than button holes, as was common for clothes (Landini 2004: 168).

As much of my Italian wardrobe is Florentine, I wanted to take a Florentine route for the muff. Not that I think the regional differences would be big, as these were probably produced en masse and sold all over the Italic peninsula. But as long as there were sources on Florentine versions, I would attempt to make something similar. So I dug in my stash, and to my great delight I found a large scrap of fine velveteen in a dark purple shade. it's the same as I used for the sleeves of the pink Bronzino dress years ago.

Because this was a quick challenge, I used a brocade placemat as a basis, as it had the perfect size and would add some shape to the velveteen. I cut the velveteen into a square a bit bigger than the placemat, folded in and pinned down the sides, and whipstitched it in place.

There are no descriptions as to eventual decorations on Eleonora's purple 1550 muff. Maybe there would be if the decorations were worth mentioning, maybe it went without saying. But the depictions from 1595 both shows trims. The Venetian muff Vecellio described has what appears to be a band going around all four sides of the muff, and it is closed in one end with buttons and loops. Fur lining is visible. The other one, "in French style", shows a muff with three vertical bands of gold towards a black fabric. It's impossible to say if this muff has an opening or is sewn as a tube, but fur lining is visible at each end, parallel with the gold bands, like the Venetian counterpart.

The decorations on my muff is ' frankensteined' somewhere in between these. Two vertical gold bands are set parallel with the openings for the sleeves, like the Venetian one, but there are no horizontal bands. It does, however, have buttons and loops, like the Venetian one. The broad gold ribbon I used has been in my stash for years. I never found a good project for it until now. But I cut off some of the gold behind the zig-zag pattern (there were two individual layers), and it made the trim so much cooler! It was quite massive before I removed some of it. But mostly I'm just so happy I finally found a good project for this trim. I like it a lot, but I've tried to use it probably 6 times without success.
I hoped to find a scrap piece of fur somewhere, so I searched thrift stores and fur coat sellers in hope of a treasure. But without luck. So I ended up buying a piece of synthetic fur. Originally I planned to use white fur, as that's what Eleonora di Toledo's purple muff allegedly had. But the synthetic white furs looked horrid, so I went for a nice black one instead, hopefully close to the sable fur used in Venice. And in the long run that might be a better choice, in terms of cleaning.

The synthetic black fur was cut just a bit bigger than the main shape of the muff, and the sides were folded in and stitched down. This gives the outer edge of the muff a nice fur trim. Once the fur was in place I started focusing on the closing. I had already decided on buttons and loops, but how should the loops look?

I browsed through Moda a Firenze, and when I came to the 1549 portrait of Eleonora and her son Francesco I zoomed in on the frog fastening on her zimarra (overdress). At first I thought they were braided and liked the idea a lot. A closer look revealed it was merely two twisted threads, with black and gold, being put side by side to form a sort of "arrow" pattern. But I liked the idea of braiding, so I went for that. Basically, a gold cord was folded three times, one end being a bit longer to form the actual loop. The rest was braided and tucked down, leaving the ends fringy as in the Eleonora portrait.

I found some pretty awesome gold/velvet buttons with a Greek cross in my favourite sewing shop. They were large, so I only needed four of them. A time saver. The buttons and frogs were stitched in place so the muff overlaps just a bit. In effect, when worn, it doesn't overlap, but I don't get a chilly gap either.

Eventually I might add a string of fur or velvet to allow the muff to hang around the neck, as the Eleonora one is reported to have. But as of now I call the project finished. I took some pictures with the muff and my Venetian dress. The dark purple combined with gold and black is a rich combination, and I'm very happy with the result!

Everything was hand stitched, mainly because I enjoy it, but also because it was easier to work with the fur by hand than with a sewing machine.



© 2001 - 2011 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.