Warm Weather and Woolen Under Flannels 25





Laura was none too happy about having to wear her red flannel underwear to school; the weather was warm and pleasant and the underwear made her itch so badly that she thought she would be driven to distraction. Ma explained that it was the time of the year for flannels and if she didn’t wear them she might catch a cold. Crossly, Laura made her way to school where she squirmed uncomfortably because she must not scratch.

Laura’s flannel underwear was a relatively new and revolutionary piece of clothing inspired by the Victorian Dress Reform Movement. Victorian Dress Reform sought to replace the heavy and restricting clothing that had plagued women for centuries with clothing that was comfortable, modest,

and hygienic. While feminists, fighting for equal rights, saw this as a perfectly sensible request, opponents claimed that such reforms were immoral, unfeminine an downright scandalous. Loose clothing was a sign of loose morals. The Bloomer Suit, one of the most well known alternative fashions put forth by the movement, was a voluminous pair of trousers worn under a light skirt. It was scorned by religious and political leaders because drawing attention to a woman’s legs led to immoral behavior and weakened family values. Although strict Victorian dress codes hampered any reforms to women’s fashion, it was able to make some headway in reforming women’s undergarments which could be modified without exposing the wearer to social ridicule.

The “Emancipation Union Under Flannel” was first marketed in 1868 in Utica, New York as a form fitting one piece alternative to a corset, chemise, and drawers. It’s practical and comfortable design was so popular that it was soon adopted by men, who preferred to refer to them simply as union suits.Originally, under flannels were made out of soft red or cream colored cotton flannel. In 1878, Gustave Jaeger published his book “Health and Culture” in which he claimed that cotton was unhygienic and only clothing made from animal hair, such as wool, promoted health. Wool let the skin breathe and and helped to keep the body warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. He promoted the use of knit fabrics for undergarments because its suppleness made it more agreeable to the skin. Soon thereafter, under flannels made almost exclusively from knit fabric and became extremely popular.

Laura’s flannels were definitely keeping her warmer, but the wool was far from agreeable to her skin. She suffered miserably through her school day until the weather suddenly turned. Within moments, the warm weather gave way to a full blown blizzard and Laura found herself suddenly grateful for her red flannels as she made her way home with Carrie in the raging wind and snow.

It may be the last week of April here, but it is snowing here in Northern Minnesota.  Makes me want to make another Union Suit!  Leave a comment below to be entered in a random drawing to win that Union Suit.  Be sure to let me know what size you’d like in your comment… and what you find cozy on a cold day.



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25 thoughts on “Warm Weather and Woolen Under Flannels

  • Sophie T

    This new pattern is so cute! I would love to enter the giveaway for an 18″ AG doll! I wouldn’t wear an union suit when it’s cold, but flannel pj’s or polar fleece sweater are always a go… so it’s not so far from a union suit. My daughter loves to sleep in one piece pj’s and it reminds me of those old union suits! 🙂

  • Monique Venne

    What I find cozy on a cold winter day–snuggling in my flannel zip-up sack with a cup of hot tea and some cookies, and a purring cat on my lap! My American Girl doll would enjoy being warm as well in a Union Suit, which can be thought of as a walking version of my flannel sack!

  • Julia

    Snuggling up to my snoring husband on the couch in front of the fireplace wearing my robe, fuzzy socks, having a good book to read and a mug of something hot to drink. It gets even better when my cat comes padding in to fill my lap with a purring counterpoint to the hub’s snoring!

  • RuthAnn Schultz

    We are so privileged to live in more comfortable clothes without being labeled “loose”. I’d like the AG size if you pick me! Thanks for this darling pattern. My father wore white union suits in the winter!

  • Dorisanne W. Osborn

    I grew up wearing union suits and Dr. Denton’s and my dolls (AG or 16″) would love to wear them too.

  • Janet Smith

    I love the pattern and enjoy the history lesson. I always learn something in your newsletters! My AG Kit would love a pair of these!

  • Carol M.

    I wouldn’t like to have to wear a union suit made of wool, but then I’m in NC while Laura was in the Plains where it was really cold ALL winter long. I suppose the wool felt good when it was below zero weather! The 18″ size would be great, should my name be drawn….Thank you!

  • Vicki Coco

    I just wanted to thank you for your patterns and also for including the history along with them. I have just re-read all the little house books after reading your inspiration for the Long Winter coat. Thanks again for all you do and for your inspiration. I am a looking forward to using your patterns.
    My granddaughter just received a hearts to hearts doll, so if I win please send one for her.

    Thanks again, hope you are feeling better!

  • Martha Hanlon

    Oh these are great and a great classic. Bravo! I really like the ingenious tutorial for the button holes. I would like this for 16 or 18 in dolls. Thank you for all of your wonderful patterns!

  • Gloria

    This pattern is adorable!! I think I’d like either AG or AGFAT size if I were to win. Or, if you want to give me a woman’s size, that would make me happy also. I always love your patterns, and newsletters. Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

  • Mary H

    Living in Southern California makes it hard for me to imagine wearing anything made of wool — much less underwear! However, my pioneer doll definitely needs long underwear, and if I win she would like the 18″ doll size.

  • Carolyn Bisbee

    I love the new Union Suit pattern. Can’t wait to make one. As always your patterns are wonderful.

  • Marcy Mahle

    I really love all the history articles you give us about the clothes we wear. Even with heat in our homes, we still get chilly on those extra cold nights. I usually have a blanket throw handy to cuddle in as I do hand sewing or read a fun mystery. I have an American girl doll, A Girl For All Time and a Wellie Wisher so I would love any of those sizes. Thank you for your generosity with your time, knowledge and doll clothes.

  • Candice Lacy

    Wool makes me itch so badly–even reading about Laura makes me itch! I’m glad I live in these times, although I surely love reading about other times as well. If you pick me, my Girl for All Time dolls would love one! Fingers crossed for luck.

  • Elsje

    Delighted to learn that the Emancipation Union Under Flannel or Union suit was originally designed for females. When I first read your posts concerning this outfit I wondered why you were making them for a girl doll and now I know why. What I find cozy on a cold day is reading a good book or working on the latest sewing project with a warming fire close by. Having a Gotz 19″ doll I would be interested in a pattern size that most closely fitted her measurements. Thank you again for the inspiring history lesson

  • Rebecca

    I remember reading that part of the story very well in the Little House books. Loved them as a child (and still do). Enjoy seeing all the patterns for the Little House Era.

  • Georgianne

    Your designs are wonderful. The additional historical information with your patterns is a special treat. My boy doll could use a union suit as welI. I enjoyed your tip for freezer paper to place the buttonholes. I have an embroidery machine and software, so I do my doll buttonholes in the hoop. They are perfect every time.

  • Darlene

    My Grandad wore a union suit 24/7 year round. They were made of thick, cream wool – kept him warm all winter, and cool all summer. It was great for his arthritis, because he never got cold – all major joints being covered 🙂 My Gram sent the worn out ones for recycling to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and received wool blankets in return. I was the lucky recipient to one of those blankets – pink 🙂 It is threadbare now, having had it for many decades, but no holes. It is the softest wool imaginable! So many wonderful memories of my grandparents. My Gram taught me how to sew – she sold Husquvarna sewing machines – different cams for the different stitches. I learned on a treadle. It was fun using her fancy machine. They lived from horse and buggy to long after man on the moon – huge changes in their world. Grandad played the fiddle and the piano by ear, and was a wonderful writer of humorous letters and news – only a grade six education. If he had had the chance, he could have written wonderful books about the Dirty Thirties and all the music that kept people going. Newfoundland and Labrador sent salt cod to the Prairies as there was no food – saved lives. Dishes were kept in the ice box because the dust seeped in everywhere. My grandparents never used chemicals on their farm – never, ever. The pioneers were so brave. They knew about organic, use, reuse, and recycle, before the terms were coined by the world. Thank you for the Union Suit 🙂 The Prairies in Canada and the USA are the same – just an imaginary border.

  • Michele Potter

    Another wonderful pattern and interesting history lesson! When it’s cold, I like to bundle up in warm comfy clothes and knit or sew while I watch tv. Thank you, and my 18″ dolls would love to have a Union Suit to share:)

  • Jocelyn Fawcett

    I love your newsletters! I like to get comfy in some fleece pants and a T-shirt. Add a cup of tea and a book and we are all set. A union suit for an eighteen inch doll would be wonderful.

  • Sewbig

    As always, I love your history lessons. You and Tam did a great job getting the pattern out. This is such a cute pattern. And thanks for posting the freezer paper tutorial. I may have finally gotten over the fear of my buttonhole attachment. As for cozy – the Little House books remind me how fortunate I am to have shelter and food security.