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January 11, 2016



An interesting article about something that I was totally unaware of. It did remind me, though, of the way Welsh women used to use a large square shawl to wrap themselves and their babies, indeed, as my Mother would have carried me.



I would think it’s definitely related, in the need for convenience, and its simple ingenuity! I find that having to deal with shawl ends around the house, certainly in the kitchen, is a problem, so the sontag seems a perfect solution. The Welsh carry-wrap, especially the hands-free one, is much the same idea.

Thanks for the link – I did a little more research and found this page with photos of the manufacturing process for the shawls, which is in itself interesting --


I like the thought of granddad taking the baby out on Sundays, to give the parents a little time off.

I used a sling with my girls, and loved it – it was not only convenient but comfortable.

Mary Lou

So interesting. But I must confess when I saw the title I thought it was related to genealogy and you were related to Susan Sontag... Mette doesn't blog any longer but has Danish variations on this type of garment http://knitforwardsunderstandbackwards.blogspot.com/2010/07/shawl-1845.html


Your sontag article has some lovely images - are they yours?


Elizabeth, I'm not quite sure what you mean. Do I own the photographs? alas, no. Have I scoured the internet for hours looking for historical images of mid-Victorian clothing called in (modern) descriptions a "sontag" in hopes of showing that there is more than one way of knitting (or crocheting) a sontag, and hoping also to define what exactly is (or isn't) a sontag? yes!

TL Schmidt

The instruction for a knitted Bosom Friend is found on page 20 of the publication
"Knitting, Netting, & Crochet Work", by Elizabeth Jackson, published 1845, London.


The book that the previous commenter refers to can be found here --



I'm Spanish. Here we have three types of clothing that are kin to the Sontag. The first one would be the Dengue, has the same shape and is tied around the body in the same way. The oldest one to be found dates back from XV century. Then there would be the Toca, which would have more of a squared back, and cover the breasts, but didn't cross in the front. The last one would be the Parlamenta, which was sort of a capelette and is clearly a XIX century fashion. All of this could have been knitted (in the ancient Greek style of knitting, with short kneedles with crochet and knit points), or boiled afterwards, then embelished with ribbons, velvet, embroideries and cristal embroideries.
Many of those pictures, given the poor fitting of the garments, look to me as a proposal of the photograph to let the ladies look more in fashion. Photographers used to have garments to lend their clients for the photo, and some of this seem the case (unfitted, poorly worn, etc...).


This knitted fashion trends were in the middle of the 'folk' discovery of the upper classes. They usually push garments, recipes and even habits of the rural people into the Burgess and upper classes. Since everything would have pass through the ignorant eye of the magazines and the 'discoverers' many stuff would arrive distorted and lacking the original purpose to the final clients of the magazines.
Just keep that in mind and proceed with caution when searching through magazines and books of the era. Best regards.


Sigourney, it's always interesting to hear from someone who knows their stuff, especially one from another culture who can give a different perspective.

I think, perhaps most importantly, that the definition of a "sontag" was never really clarified even in the 1860s, and the lines have been blurred even more since then! In my mind, a triangular (or folded into a triangle) shawl that has its ends wrapped around the waist and tied at the back is just a shawl, one that the wearer has decided to tie around her waist (for extra warmth, for practicality, etc.). It's hardly surprising that many cultures do this -- e.g. the Shetland hap, the Scandinavian bindesjal -- as most working women would not want the ends of their shawl dragging in their dinners, getting caught in machinery, catching on fire, etc. etc.!

For me, a true sontag is the type of shawl that does not simply have the ends tied together but has *some kind of specific method of securing the ends* -- tasselled cords, say, or buttons as in the 1860 Godey’s pattern -- *and* is specifically shaped to fit around the wearer’s neck, either in a V- or U-shape.

I couldn't find online images of the toca or the parlamenta, but I did find one of a dengue -- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joaqu%C3%ADn_Sorolla_-_Asturiana.jpg. This looks to me more related to the hap and bindesjal, as it doesn't appear to be shaped around the neck, but please let me know if that isn't the case!

Clearly, though, the sontag (in my definition!) is related to the tied shawl of multiple cultures.

I have, by the way, heard that photographers sometimes supplied garments for their subjects to wear, but have always assumed that those photographers were recording what they felt were cultural markers and traditions, and/or specifically photographing for the tourist industry, as these Welsh women were photographed -- https://mathomhouse.typepad.com/bluestocking/2015/05/welsh-women-knitting.html. But note that these Welshwomen were not being photographed for their own families, but probably getting paid for sitting. I have the feeling that any woman who had enough disposable income to follow fashions would tend not to want to be photographed for posterity wearing a) someone else's clothes, or b) something that didn't fit properly!

Jo Ann

Nice article and pictures. I wonder if some of the short sonntags (made of wool) have shrunk when washed and the ladies wore them anyway. Many things were scarce in those days and what people had was kept for a long time, mended or used as they were.


Jo Ann, I would expect that most women who washed their own clothes would know how to wash wool, since many of their own clothes and those of their menfolk would be made of wool -- though it is certainly possible that some of these sontags have shrunk! It might be also that the fashion for short bolero-type jackets (like this modern re-creation https://antiquesewist.blogspot.com/2016/05/1860s-bolero-zouave-jacket-with.html) influenced the shortness of a woman's sontag.

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