One of our favourite local used-book shops is closing. It has been in business for at least 35 years, specializing in old and rare books. The proprietors are retiring, and over the winter have been selling off stock at variously discounted prices. A dangerous place to visit, for those of us with an interest in any king of history! Tomorrow is their last day in business, so we had to make one last trip over there, partly to bring home the one box of books that had been set aside by The Man, and partly so I could view the little bookcase that had been unearthed from beneath a pile of books in the shop’s basement bathroom. Well, one thing led to another (if one buys more books, then one must purchase the bookcase necessary to house them, right?) So we did! We came home with three boxes of books, and the cute little bookcase, which is one of those small, collapsible ones from around the turn of the last century. This one is in a bent-wood style, and is too delicate to hold massive tomes, but will look right at home in the second-floor hallway, next to the wire dress-maker’s manikin (from about the same era). It may end up holding books on vintage fashion, as well as four of today’s acquisitions-old books on sewing.
The oldest of today’s books is Home Course in Dressmaking and Ladies Tailoring, American System, published by The American College of Dressmaking, Kansas City, Mo. 1908. The original price of $5.00 included “Accompanying Drafts, Curved Rulers and Tailors’ Square”. Various drafts are included as pages in the book, but the “large printed drafts, small curved rulers and tailor’s square” which “are essential to an intelligent application of the American System” were no longer included in today’s price of $22.50. Nonetheless, the book contains a wealth of interesting information, especially for those interested in period fashion. Topics include ‘Taking measurements’, ‘Drafting front, back and sleeves’, ‘Different styles of sleeves’, ‘Drafting five, nine and fifteen-gore skirts’, and even a chapter on ‘Infants, Little girl’s and Little boy’s clothing’, and one which includes ‘Boys’ pants’, ‘Russian blouse jacket’, ‘Sailor collar’, and ‘Norfolk jacket’. Chapter XXIV gives instructions on ‘Fitting up a Dressmaking Shop, and ‘How to Construct a form for one’s own use’. The last chapter (XXV) is devoted to cleaning fabrics. including velvet, cashmere and kid gloves. There are some ‘half-tone’ photographs, which illustrate various techniques for gathering, button-holes, pockets, etc.
The next oldest book is The New Dressmaker, published by The Butterick Publishing Company, 3rd Edition, Copyright 1921. This book describes ‘The necessary Equipment for Dressmaking’, how to measure for and choose a pattern, buy materials, and ‘How to Alter Patterns for Figures that vary from the Average’. There are instructions on linings, facings, fastenings, pockets, collars, ‘trimmings’ (including lace insertions, ruffles and embroidery), and remodeling, mending, cleaning & pressing. It is geared to producing ‘Clothes for Ladies, Misses, Girls, Children, Infants, Men & Boys (men & boys have the entire last chapter, No. 36, to themselves).
Color and Line in Dress, by Laurene Hempstead, Revised Edition, was published in New York, by Prentice-Hall, Inc. in 1938. It endeavors to illustrate how “basic principles of color and line… in clothing design and …selection… may enhance the appearance of the wearer”. Chapters include advice, illustrated by sketches (by Sara Whitney Olds), on hair-styles, jewellery (necklaces, earrings, brooches) necklines, hats, analysis of Individual Colouring and colours (warm, cool & intermediate), and colours becoming to these categories, and also colours to ‘vitalize women with gray or white hair’. ‘Silhouettes & Sizes are covered, including ‘optical illusions’, ‘texture and color’, footwear, designing clothing to make figure flaws less evident (large hips, large bust, large upper arm, round shoulders, eg.), and ‘line in relation to mood and character’. Part III is dedicated to ‘Ages of Women’, with chapters on ‘Children’s Clothes’, ‘The Miss in Her ‘Teens’, ‘The Young Woman’, ‘The Middle Years’, and’ The Elderly Woman’
The newest book Tailoring by Allyne Bane (Associate Professor of Home Economics, Ohio University) was published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. in 1958. This book ‘is written for the woman who is making a first suit or coat’. It was intended ‘as a supplement to the instruction sheet’ that comes with your pattern. Chapters include Equipment and Supplies, Selection and Preparation of Fabrics, Interfacing and Interlining, Selection, Measurement and Alteration of the Pattern, The Muslin Test Copy, Cutting, Pressing, Principles of Tailoring for Skirts, Jackets and Coats, illustrated with lots of line-drawings.
These books should give me a fairly good view of clothing sewing, at least in North America, over the better part of the last century. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes, and how. These books would all pre-date the home-sewer’s zig-zag machine, and also the use of knit and stretch fabrics.
Now I know what I will be doing on those nights when I wake up at 2:00am and can’t go back to sleep. Good thing I have my ‘Itty-Bitty Book Light’!