The Ubiquitous Cuff

Cuff 1820
Sample of a cuff from an 1820 sewing manual.

The little wristband  appears in English, European, and American school samplers throughout the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century. Girls were first taught the basic stitches and expected to master each one. But of course the purpose of learning stitches is to make something!

Cuff IH
Illustration of a pattern for a sample cuff, 1850.

When they were accomplished in running, stitching, and seaming,  the time had come to assemble parts of a garment. This was often how they learned to stroke and gather tiny pleats into a band – each side gathered and the pleats attached separately on both sides. The ends of the band were seamed (overcast) with very tiny stitches. What could be more suitable than a little cuff? It only required a scrap of fabric and was easy to handle.

This method of inserting and fixing the sleeve in the band is also a clue when examining a garment to determine its age (or whether it’s a good reproduction!). I’ve noticed that almost all early pieces of plain sewing use this method for cuffs, collars, and waistbands, anything gathered and set into a band.

After the sewing machine became common later in the century, construction methods adapted to its use. Even though some plain work was still taught using the old method, the new way became standard – to the point where today we rarely know any other.

Another sample of a cuff from a mid-19th century manual – see how tiny the stitches are!

Roasted Gussets

Baby Shirt Original
Baby shirt of linen, early 19th century, with the tiniest of stitches – and gussets!

Is there anything more trying than trying to remember how to insert a gusset? So many ways! The fabric and the placement of this little triangle may incline us toward one method or another, but for someone as construction-challenged as I am, it means once again pulling out a sample to go by – or some instructions.

We’ve all heard the story of the roast that was cut before roasting because “Mother always did it that way.”  Perhaps the point (no pun intended) may be applied to gussets in this case as well. We know that some garments required gussets for fit and ease of movement, particularly those of a “square-cut” pattern. They were very effective and often quite beautifully executed.

Gusset Tiny
This gusset is so tiny it could almost sit on the dime and swing its legs!

Well here is an example of roasted gussets: have you ever seen anything so tiny, so exquisitely worked – and so unnecessary?  I ask you, what use were these lovely little bits of linen to the baby’s comfort? None at all, I daresay. But shirts and shifts had gussets, so there they are. Oh my goodness, what inspiration for a clumsy novice like me! And as you can see below, I was willing to try. Unfortunately my efforts didn’t quite measure up. At least the baby will never notice!

Baby Shirt Copy
Baby shirt of muslin, early 21st century by yours truly, with an attempt at the tiniest of stitches – and gussets!
Gusset Copy
I didn’t even have the courage to use the same style gusset. Maybe next time….