A warm covering for receiving the hands, usually made of fur or dressed skins. — Webster, 1882
[Reverend Alden] put the cord of the muff around her neck, and her hands went inside the silky muff. – On the Banks of Plum Creek
For years, I would look at that fur coat hanging in my closet and dream of cutting it up and making it into a muff (yes, for me) and a nice assortment of tippet, cape, and muff Christmas ornaments. One week, I took the plunge and finally did the cutting – tactfully waiting until my husband was at work, of course (he had given me the fur coat I never wore) – and I had a friend show me how to sew fur, since I never had and I think that fear was probably part of what was holding me back.
In the Little House books, you’ll find a muff mentioned in On the Banks of Plum Creek. Nellie wears a fur cape to church, Laura wants one, and lo-and-behold if one isn’t hanging on the Christmas tree for her that year. And with a matching muff! Reverend Alden puts the cord of the muff around Laura’s neck and her hands go inside the silky muff. It comes far up her wrists and hides the shortness of her coat sleeves. Nellie stares, while “Laura walks by with her hands snuggled deep in the soft muff. Her cape was prettier than Nellie’s, and Nellie had no muff.” (Chapter 31, “Surprise”)
A muff is no more than rectangle of fur, sewed into a tube and open at both ends. It should be sized large enough so that both hands, gloved, can fit into it comfortably, and wide enough so that the hands may be overlapped or clasped together and both wrists are still protected. Line the muff with a silky piece of material that has been cut an inch or so narrower than the fur, allowing the fur to “fold under” into the muff itself. In order to keep the muff handy when your hands aren’t in it, attach a cord or ribbon so that it goes from one side, around the neck, and attaches at the other side. The muff should hang from the neck at a spot near the waist that allows for comfortable placement of the hands. Usually, only a child’s muff has an attached cord.
In the handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, though, it’s neither a muff nor cape that Laura receives that Christmas, but a tippet:
People had given each other presents of things that were needed. There was a washboard on that tree: and new shoes and boots and mittens and calico for dresses and shirts, besides dolls and handsleds. Some church in the east had sent a barrel of toys and clothing to our Sunday school and my present from this barrel was a little fur collar or tippet, to keep my throat warm. I was so pleased I could hardly speak and just managed to say ‘Thank You’ to Rev. Alden when Ma told me to.
The top picture has nothing to do with Little House, unless you consider the fact that years later, the girl in the photo (Maud Hart) cooked a chicken for Rose Wilder Lane while they were both living in New York City. Or that maybe, just maybe, Lovelace had Rose in mind when she created the character of Mrs. Main-Whittaker for one of her Betsy-Tacy books. But when I first saw the picture of Gennie Masters and her fur muff (shown at right), I immediately thought of the picture of Maud with hers, which was taken at around the same time. It took me a while to make the Laura connection, and suddenly I realized that it was time to be making some furs of my own.
muff (BPC 31), see also hay, ash withe
ear muff / ear-muff (FB 3, 6, 20, 26; TLW 11)
nose-muff (FB 20)