“Old Mrs. Rabbit was a widow; she earned her living by knitting rabbit-wool mittens and muffatees.”
[Beatrix Potter ~ The Tale of Benjamin Bunny]
What the heck ARE muffatees???? Well, in the days before central heating, keeping warm in winter was a major challenge. We think we know about dressing in layers, but most of us don’t have to resort to wearing coats and hats and gloves indoors. But heavy layering was necessary. Working with your hands in mittens is clumsy at best. The solution? Wear muffatees.
Muffatees are tube-like, fingerless mitts that cover wrist and hand up to the middle of the fingers, usually with an opening along the side for the thumb. The simplest, and possibly earliest form was comprised of the cuff or leg of a worn-out stocking, minus the foot. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, many pairs were sewn from warm cloth, or simply knitted of wool in plain or fancy patterns.
References to muffatees can be found in many sources from this time period. Ensign Rous, of the Duke of Wellington’s Foot Guard, wrote home in September, 1813, requesting that the ladies of the family knit some muffatees for his fellow officers. The Manual of British Rural Sports (1856) recommends that hunters wear muffatees along with warm gloves when out in the field. And in London’s court at the Old Bailey (1757), one Catherine Nowland was accused of attempting highway robbery while wearing her muffatees (she was acquitted.)
For those wishing to knit their own pair of handwarmers, authentic vintage patterns can be found in The Workwoman’s Guide (1836), available at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, or at some on-line book sellers.
It’s sometimes said that everything old is new again. That’s true about muffatees as well. While Christmas shopping , I came across a display in a trendy shop showing muffatees paired with and worn atop matching gloves. Very chic!