If you’ve been reading much of this blog, you know I’m super interested in American history. As I get older, I am becoming more and more interested in Missouri-specific history. Part of what I have been learning about recently is the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was blazed by Captain William Blecknell in September of 1821 when he left Franklin, Missouri for New Mexico. Travelers on the trail left Missouri and headed west through Kansas and Colorado before turning south to Santa Fe. The trail was traveled until the 1880s and it was a huge part of westward expansion.
What I decided to do was recreate an item that could have been available in the 1830s to travelers starting out on the trail in Missouri. These muffatees were made from an 1836 pattern using locally grown and spun wool that I dyed with native plants that I collected on my farm here in Missouri.
Oh, you want more details? Well, since you asked, let’s dive in.
With this project, I wanted to create something that could have actually been on the Santa Fe Trail. I started with research. I searched for references to wool in Missouri newspapers and the earliest mention of Merino sheep was in 1809 in St. Louis.
So, I sourced some Rambouillet Merino wool from a sheep farm in southeastern Missouri, Mesta Meadows. The wool looked amazing, but I have yet to teach myself how to spin (though I do have a drop spindle). Fortunately, a mill local to the wool source, Zeigler Woolen Mill, spun some skeins of Mesta Meadows’ wool and I obtained 2 skeins.
Now I had plenty of undyed wool, but the white color would have shown all the dirt and grime a traveler would encounter along the trail. I needed to dye the wool. Time for more research.
I found a fantastic article describing how to dye wool with poke berries. Our farm is crawling with pokeweed. The plants and berries are toxic to humans, though you can make a “poke sallet” from the leaves if you boil and strain, boil and strain, boil and strain to remove the toxins. Since I am too lazy to prepare poke sallet, I have never had a use for pokeweek, until now!
I waited for the poke berries to ripen and collected as many as I could to make my dye. I followed the directions in the article, but my first attempt was a fail – the juice got too hot and turned brown. Fortunately, attempt #2 was a success.
But one color is boring, right? I wanted to add a second color of yarn. I had previously used black walnuts to make ink, so I thought I could try using black walnut to make a dye for wool. I wasn’t able to find any references to walnut being used for dye in the 1830s in Missouri, however, anyone who has picked a few walnuts from the ground knows that the staining capabilities of the walnut are obvious. Black walnuts were used as a dye in ancient Rome. There is evidence that Native Americans used black walnut as a dye as well. Surely, Missourians in the 1830s were using black walnut to dye wool.
So, I collected a few walnuts and let them soak in water for about a week. I then boiled and strained the liquid, added the yarn, and got a gorgeous brown color.
After getting my yarn ready, the next step was deciding on a pattern. I wanted to use an authentic pattern to create my muffatees. I found an amazing pattern in the 1836 Workwoman’s Guide by a Lady.
I cast on 30 stitches of brown using size 6 needles, knit 1 row (stockinette), added the pink and knit one row and purled the second row. Then I repeated ( knit 2 rows, change color, knit 1 row, purl 1 row) until it fit my wrist, which was 13 brown stripes and 13 pink stripes. I seamed the cast on and cast off edges together, leaving room for my thumb.
I think the results are gorgeous! And, these muffatees were made using products available in the 1830s, so something like this could have actually been on the Santa Fe Trail.