Monday, November 25, 2013

Liberty Cuffs

Over the summer I was fortunate to acquire several Navy dress blue uniforms.  All are from the Vietnam War era, specifically the USS Towers, and in great condition.  I was excited to have a pair of the pants to wear this winter.  I already have a pair of WWII wool Army slacks, and they are amazing!  Made of wool.  Why wouldn't they be amazing?  But as I looked over the jumpers more closely (the Navy tops), I was excited to find gorgeous embroidered patches inside! 
King Neptune and seahorses

These embellishments are known as "liberty cuffs" date back to the 1890s.  Originally they were had hand-stitched on silk by Asian tailors; later they were mass produced.  The patches were available in numerous designs including dragons, mermaids, ships and various animals. 

a pair of cuffs I removed from a worn jumper

The long rectangular patches or embroidered ribbons were sewn inside the cuffs of the jumper.  When the sailors were on shore leave, or "liberty," they rolled their cuffs up to show off the designs.  This was against regulations and seen as an act of defiance.  But when back on ship, with the cuffs buttoned down, their uniforms appeared standard issue.

sailor from late 1950s
Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1966)

My jumper also has an embroidered patch on the inside of the back yoke.

the inside back yoke

If I turn the jumper inside out, you can see how the entire back yoke area is lined and trimmed in a matching King Neptune ribbon. 

the inside front yoke

The inside of the front is also lined.  A small zippered pocket is on the upper chest.

"the Seafarer since 1909"
I find these patches fascinating.  Perhaps because they are at the same time discreet, yet rebellious.  If you are interested in more information, check out the Navy Collector.  Retired Petty Officer, Dan Smith, has an extensive photo collection of liberty cuffs.  Needless to say, this jumper is a keeper, and the historian in me can't bear to splice it down the middle like I did with my baseball jumper.  But I may have to start "hiding" small embellishments inside my sewing projects from now on...


  1. oh wow!
    you know i love sailor tops - but this is the burner! not often rebellion shows so beautiful results...
    thank you for sharing :-)

  2. I have never heard of these Liberty Patches, very interesting. I like the fact that they were kept discreet & yet very rebellious. Thanks for sharing.
    Christine in Tucson


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