Modern Dress Design – Harriet Pepin (1942)

Large format, hardback book measuring 11″ tall x 8″ wide x 1″ thick. Green boards (1945 reprint of 1942 original), 253 pages.

I have an increasingly extensive library of vintage sewing and needlework books and confess that this has to be just about the best I have seen.

Not only is it beautifully presented but unlike Mme Trois Fontaines’ Dress Design and Margaret Ralston’s Dress Cutting (who both cover a similar era and similar subject matter) Pepin goes one step further and gives a proper discussion to the matters of proportion and good design and encourages experiment and the development of a well-trained eye.

Pepin is also extremely comprehensive – more so than Fontaines and Ralston. She is similar in content to Natalie Bray except that she gives more consideration to the process of good design and the illustrations are, to my eye at least, more pleasing and easy to interpret. Unlike Bray, Pepin is also contained in a single volume.

The front bodice draft is a very simple, single-dart pattern which is easily adapted and lends itself very well to experimentation.

The chapter headings are:
1) Pattern Designing
2) Slopers
3) Hip Length Patterns
4) Sleeve Patterns
5) Adapting Patterns
6) Capes, Ties, Neckwear and Scarves
7) Collars
8) Skirts
9) Slacks, Shorts, Culottes and Bathing Suits
10) Lingerie
11) Coats
12) Children’s Clothing

I had to wait a long time to find a hard copy for a reasonable price but would certainly recommend this book to anyone wanting to study not just pattern cutting but clothes design as a whole.

Darned Jeans Pocket using Singer 201k

The first job for today was to finish what I first started last night; darning the splits in my husband’s jeans. Both the back pockets had pulled away the fabric onto which they were stitched and all four top corners needed to be reinforced and the missing threads darned over.

The particular challenges with this sort of mending relate to the different densities and thicknesses of the fabric layers. Sewing in close alongside the pocket edge is difficult as the foot is naturally deflected by the vertical edge of the pocket piece and when sewing back and forth across the top of the pocket corner the foot is required to rise up and over the ramp in both forwards and reverse. I could have minimised the deflection issue by using my new ‘Slim Jim’ foot but because of the need to ride up and over different thicknesses I chose the normal presser foot as it is hinged. I minimised the deflection by loosening off the presser foot pressure.

The job was performed on my usual machine, the electric, 1939 Singer 201k and a size 12 needle. The needle ought to have been a 14 or a 16 for this sort of fabric but as I presently have only 10s and 12s I simply went slowly over the thicker sections, occasionally just ‘handing’ it for a couple of stitches where it crossed the thread bars and had no trouble. The thread in both bobbin and upper was a cone of core-spun overlocker thread which I always use for these jobs as it is a good match for faded denim. Because of the need for cones to feed off vertically I run the thread from a large, industrial-type thread stand bought from Barnyarns.

Low Shank “Slim Jim” Sewing Machine Foot

A very exciting day for me today as Helen Howes has one again come up with the goods and provided me with something I have wanted for ages; a ‘Slim Jim’ presser foot. Although I knew, by definition, that it was a slender foot with equally-matched limbs it was still a pleasant surprise when I saw how dainty it actually is in the flesh and for this reason alone I have included a photograph which shows it next to the normal, hinged foot from my Singer 201k so that the two may be compared.

I have long wanted one as I often use the edge of the presser foot as a sewing guide and it is useful to have both prongs equal in width so that the foot will be a true guide in either direction.

The first thing I have tried it out on is baby run-and-fell seams and tiny, parallel pin tucks (see photograph). I predominantly sew baby clothes am working at a particularly small and dainty scale and having a foot which allows me to get right up close without the edge of the foot hitting and being distorted by the previous line of pintucking means I can make my pintucks smaller and closer than ever which I am particularly pleased about.

The only downside is one that can easily be remedied; because the foot is so tiny it makes much less contact with the feed dogs than feet which are wider and longer but this is easily rectified by simply tightening down the presser foot tension to compensate.

A Lined Shirt (from “Pattern Making by Paper Folding” by Miss F. Heath, 1910)

A Lined Shirt.

The measurement required: – The size round the neck of the intended wearer. The collar is one-and-one-sixth of the neck. All the other measurements are derived from it. The body of the shirt is made in one long piece three-and-three-quarter times the collar length, folded nearly in half, the front being only one-quarter of a collar length shorter than the back. The width of it is one-and-a-half the collar length. Where the fold comes is the top of the shirt.

To Cut The Pattern.
As the back and the front of the body of the shirt are alike at the top, in making the pattern it is only necessary to cut the back-half. Take a piece of paper two collar lengths long, and one-and-a-half the collar length wide; fold it into four each way. Keep it folded in half lengthwise, and curve out the arm-hole from one-third of a division across the top, to the point of the first division downwards. Keep the piece you have curved out.

To Cut The Sleeves.
Take a piece of paper once-and-a-quarter the collar-length long, and two collar lengths wide. Fold it lengthwise into eight. Open it out, and then fold and cut a diagonal line through the two middle divisions. Take one of the pieces and fold it down the middle, as shown by the dots, by making the straight side lie on the sloped side. That will leave a single piece of the paper at either end which must be cut off. A small piece must be sloped off the bottom to prevent too sharp a point, and the top must be shaped. Use the piece you cut out of the armhole as a guide for that, as the top of the sleeve and the armhole must be alike.

To Cut The Neck.
The neck should not be cut until the shirt is partly made. A pattern the exact size of the piece required to be cut away can be made by cutting out a circle, the diameter of which is one-third of the collar before the turnings are allowed for, and then flattened a little (rather more than is shown in the diagram) at the top and bottom, and marking a line across it about one-eighth from the top. The following directions for making up the shirt are given, because they will simplify the work of teaching a large class. They have been found useful in the London Board Schools, as a great many shirts of this pattern are made every year for the Industrial Schools.

Directions for Making Up.

The Lining.
This should be put on first. Open the shirt flat, and then tack, and afterwards hem on the lining, giving exactly one-half of it to the front, and the other half to the back. Leave unhemmed three-quarters of an inch at the ends, until the seams are finished, in order that they may not be interfered with.

The Side Slits.
The side slits must be the same length as the armhole, measuring the front breadth of the shirt.

The Front.
The opening for the front must be cut about half-an-inch to the left side of the shirt, and must extend half way down the front.

The Front Piece.
This must be carried down from an inch to an inch and a half below the opening.

The Sleeves.
The sleeves must have the straight part to the front of the shirt.

The Sleeve Slits.
The sleeve slits must be half the length of the wrist-band.

The Wrist-Bands.
The wrist-bands must be divided into three, and all the gathers must go into the middle third.

To Cut the Neck.
Fold the front over as it should be if buttoned, and place the neck pattern on it so that the crossway line may meet the top of the shirt, and point A touch the middle of the front. Cut round it, leaving nothing for turnings.

The Gussets.
Gussets must be put in at the top of the sides and sleeve slits.

Technical Studies – A Samples Folder

When I was first at college, studying for my fashion diploma we had to produce a folder of samples. This served both as practice and reference and I have often thought about it and how useful it was for me as a beginner. The subject has occurred quite a lot in conversation so I’ve been prompted to put together a post of suggested practice pieces which might prove useful to anyone wanting to do the same. The important thing is to label everything well and to list the stages involved – either by including examples of each point or by listing the steps taken to reach the finished sample shown.

 

Stitch Samples

You will need: plain cotton lawn, medium-weight cotton, cotton jersey, coarsely woven fabric. All fabric should be plain – patterns make it too hard to see the detail of what you have stitched. Stickers and pen to label the fabric with. Tension should be set at between 4 and 5 unless stated otherwise. Match the thread colour to the fabric as closely as possible.

 

Stitch Length Exercises

Each machine will vary in the range of stitch lengths (mine are old machines and are incremented in 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30 stitches per inch) but for simplicity’s sake I will suggest sewing with 1, 2, 3 and 4mm stitch lengths although you may of course include samples for 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5mm if you wish to do so.

  1. Stitch length exercise – Topstitching:
    1. Fabric – a 20cm square of medium weight cotton folded in half and pressed.
    2. Sew parallel lines down the length of the fabric, each line in a different stitch length.
    3. Observe the finish and which seems to be neatest, which disappear into the fabric weave and which sit above it.
    4. Press them and label them. This may be repeated on as many fabric types as desired.
  2. Stitch length exercise – Seaming:
    1. Fabric – cut a 20cm square of fabric into four equal strips, cut each strip in half and press them. This will give us eight fabric strips 5 x 10cm. We will sew strips together in pairs, using different stitch lengths on each to show how it looks and behaves when pressed open.
    2. Take a pair of the strips and sew them along the longer sides, right sides together, using a 1.5cm seam and the longest possible stitch length. Repeat for the other stitch lengths and press all of the seams open and observe how each looks.
    3. Tug on the fabric either side of the seam and see whether the fabric appears stressed and likely to tear alongside the seamline.
    4. Press and label.

 

Seam Examples

Fabric – cut a 20cm square of fabric into four equal strips, cut each strip in half and press them. This will give us eight fabric strips 5 x 10cm. We will sew strips together in pairs, using different stitch lengths on each to show how it looks and behaves when pressed open.

  1. Open seam, pressed open, raw edges unfinished. Practice with sewing it pinned & also with it basted and compare.
  2. Open seam, pressed open and with raw edges turned under and stitched on both sides.
  3. Open seam, double topstitched.
  4. Open seam, raw edges pinked.
  5. Open seam, raw edges zigzagged.
  6. Open seam, raw edges overlock stitched (if your machine has this stitch).
  7. Open seam, raw edges overlocked (on an overlocker).
  8. Open seam, raw edges overcast (by hand).
  9. Bias bound seam.
  10. Hong Kong finish.
  11. Side-pressed seam – press seam open first, then press both to one side, raw edges unfinished.
  12. Side pressed seam, pinked edges.
  13. Side-pressed seam, overcast (by hand).
  14. Side-pressed seam, raw edges turned inwards then stitched down through all layers (looks like a felled seam).
  15. Corded seam – side pressed seam, topstitched through all layers from RS.
  16. French seam (straight seams only).
  17. Lapped seam.
  18. Felled seam.
  19. Tape bound seam (straight, using seam tape or ribbon).
  20. Bias bound seam (curved).
  21. Crossed seam – practice matching up seam lines where two cross.
  22. Piped seam – practice with and without piping cord.

 

Seaming and Hemming curves:

  1. Seaming a convex curve onto a concave one – will need to notch and snip the seam to get it to lie flat when turned and pressed. Use a tailor’s ham. Good practice for pressing princess seams and yokes.
  2. Seaming a convex curve onto a straight edge – experiment with where to notch and where to snip to get the seam pressed flat (over a tailor’s ham – good practice for pressing princess seams).
  3. Seaming a concave curve onto a straight edge – experiment with where to notch and where to snip to get the seam pressed flat (over a tailor’s ham – good practice for pressing princess seams).
  4. Piping a curved seam (gives strength as well as decoration).
  5. Binding a convex curve.
  6. Binding a concave curve (harder than convex, easiest to finish second side by hand if the curve is tight).
  7. Hemming a convex curve with darts (cotton fabric) & braid or bias binding.
  8. Hemming a convex curve with gathers (wool fabric) & braid or bias binding.
  9. Hemming a concave curve with facing or bias binding.
  10. Hemming a fancy (scalloped) hem.

 

Seaming stretch fabrics

  1. Straight seam using ordinary zigzag (use a small stitch and a small zigzag).
  2. Straight seam using triple-stitch.
  3. Repeat for whatever utility stitches your machine is equipped with for stretch fabrics.

 

Hems

  1. Single-turn hem. Practice with sewing it pinned & also with it basted and compare.
  2. Double-turn hem.
  3. Faced hem.
  4. Bias-faced hem.
  5. Single-turn hem, neatened with bias sewn flat across raw edge.
  6. Single-turn hem, overcast edge (by hand).
  7. Single-turn hem, herringboned (by hand).
  8. Double-turned hem, slip stitched (by hand).
  9. Blind hem.
  10. Rolled hem, machine stitched.
  11. Rolled hem, hand stitched.
  12. Pin hem.
  13. Narrow hem.

 

Buttonholes & Buttons

  1. 2-hole shirt button by machine (with a stand).
  2. 2-hole shirt button by hand (with a stand).
  3. 4-hole shirt button by hand (cross-sewn, with shank).
  4. Metal shank button (using thread).
  5. Metal shank button (using eyelet & split pin).
  6. Metal shank button (using tape or fabric, sewn through eyelet).
  7. Handmade buttonhole (keyhole).
  8. Bias bound buttonhole.
  9. Faced buttonhole.

 

Darts, Gathers & Ruffles

  1. Stitching a straight dart.
  2. Stitching a curved dart.
  3. Gathers on different stitch lengths. Measure and mark 10cm distances across pieces of cloth and then, using a gathering foot, stitch across between the marks on different stitch lengths then re-measure and note down how much each one had ‘shrunk’ by.
  4. Ruffles on different stitch lengths and settings. Measure and mark 10cm distances across pieces of cloth and then, using a ruffle attachment, stitch across between the marks on different stitch lengths then re-measure and note down how much each one had ‘shrunk’ by.

 

Pleats and Tucks

  1. Straight pleats.
  2. Part-sewn pleats (sewn down for part of their length).
  3. Straight tucks.
  4. Pin tucks.
  5. Box pleats.
  6. Hemming a pleat.

 

Pockets

  1. Patch pocket with rounded bottom edges.
  2. Welt pocket.
  3. Bound pocket.
  4. Flap pocket.
  5. Jetted pocket.
  6. Side pocket (set into a seam).
  7. Hip pocket (set into a shaped panel like a front jeans pocket).

 

Zips and Fastenings, Openings & Miscellaneous

  1. Faced opening
  2. Bound opening
  3. Continuous opening
  4. Sleeve opening (with tab end placket)
  5. Bias-faced V-neck
  6. Faced V-neck
  7. Faced round neck
  8. Faced square neck
  9. Closed-end zip sewn into seam (no underlap).
  10. Closed-end zip sewn into seam (with underlap).
  11. Closed-end zip sewn into slit.
  12. Invisible zip sewn in seam.
  13. Invisible zip sewn into slit.
  14. Open-ended zip.
  15. Zip set into a fly opening.
  16. Hooks and eyes.
  17. Press studs.
  18. Thread bars, loops & chains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Order of Making Up

Looking through my old needlework books I found the attached and thought it an excellent resource well worth reproducing and sharing here.

The jpeg is necessarily in quite low resolution to meet the file size requirements for attachments so I’ll transcribe the text here:

“The sequences for making-up on the opposite page naturally have to be altered for jackets and complicated garments. Especially important is the frequent pressing, which has to be done after every seam is sewn. All embroidery should be worked before the garment is made up, unless the design crosses the seams, in which case it is better done afterwards.

The Sequence for Sewing a Dress
1. Put in darts at back, front and side. Draw out tacking threads, and press.
2. Machine side seams, draw out tacking threads, and press. Any fastenings can be left until last.
3. Machine shoulder seams, draw out tacking threads, and press.
4. Machine skirt seams, pull out tacking threads, and press.
5. Join skirt and bodice, remove tacking threads, and press. 
6. Machine sleeve seams, remove tacking threads, and press.
7. Put in sleeves, press and finish off.
8. Finish off neck.
9. Finish the wristbands.
10. Turn up the hem, press all seams again, put on trimmings, and press finally.

The Sequence for Sewing a Coat
1. Machine darts at front, trim and press, shrinking material at the points.
2. Machine underarm and shoulder seams, and finish them if the coat is to be unlined. Press.
3. Cut canvas or linen interfacing, and tack to wrong side. Join to coat and outer edge of under collar. Press.
4. Join under collar and coat – trim seam and press open.
5. Make bound buttonholes.
6. Join coat facing to collar.
7. Join collar and facing.
8. Turn facing and collar inside, tack into position.
9. Turn up hem.
10. Make pockets.
11. Cut out and fix in lining.”

From Weldon’s Encyclopedia of Needlework (undated but looks 1940s. Red boards. Hardback. Boasts nearly 2000 illustrations. I also have an earlier version dating from the 1920s which is much smaller and with only 500 illustrations. That one has pale green boards. The two volumes are not at all alike and the contents equally valuable.)

Practical Home Mending Made Easy – Mary Brooks Picken

Published by Odhams in 1946 this is a hardback book with a grasscloth cover, measuring ten by 7 inches and printed on quite thin but good quality, silky paper. The text is well written and is liberally scattered with pen and ink diagrams, very well drawn and clearly illustrating the techniques they demonstrate.

Some of the text is amusingly obsolete – my husband and I were equally amused by the “When You Mend for Men” section which commences with the observation that “every new husband is happy about the first button that comes off. His bride will sew it on for him and he will revel in this special attention” and which later, mentioning the sense in putting a price on one’s time and keeping a notebook of time spent and money saved sets as an example the “one woman with husband and three children to sew for learned to mend, took the necessary time to learn to do it well. At the end of a year she showed her husband she had really saved enough to warrant his buying a piano for her”.

Anyone familiar with the author won’t be surprised to hear that this really is an excellent and very comprehensive book and whilst the skills taught herein are hardly exclusive, the pleasing layout of this book together with the clarity of the diagrams makes it easily one of the better books I have encountered.

It truly does start with the basics. This is certainly the first time I have seen close-up diagrams showing how to thread a needle but each of us has to start somewhere and with people less likely than ever before to have learned these skills from a relative or at school it is not inappropriate to have them mentioned here.

Indeed many of the finishings and techniques covered as standard subject matter here now find themselves promoted to the lofty status of “couture” techniques and are overlooked by many ordinary sewing books whose aim is to use the sewing machine almost exclusively. The example of factory-produced goods too frequently leads us to believe that items are “homespun” and inferior unless made entirely by machine and it is time we debunked this.

Even though this is a book specifically about mending there must necessarily be some overlap with books on dressmaking and general needlework so seams, hems, embroidery stitches, darts, gathers, tucks and ruffles, pleats, godets, neckline and sleeve finishes, plackets, fasteners and buttonholes are all covered here but often with a slightly different bias – bound buttonholes are, for example, promoted as being an excellent way to refurbish a buttonhole frayed out of shape too badly to be simply reworked in buttonhole stitch.

There is a handy section dealing with how to recognise the fibre content of cloth and also a good introduction to the sewing machine and its attachments.

In keeping with a sense of proper economy and foresight there is discussion about reinforcing areas prone to wear and tear and also the particular method used in mending each of a variety of different tears – invisible darn, slashes, reinforced darn, one-way darn, corner tear, runs in knitwear, cross-wise splits in knitwear, stocking grafting and irregular machine darn.

Patches are shown in variety; including some which are cunningly designed to look like a design detail whilst in fact hiding a stain or a tear.

Underpinnings receive a lot of coverage; the reinforcement and renewal of straps and fastenings, how to disguise minor repairs, mend frayed edges, deal with broken fagotting, seams and worn elastic, reinforce where bones and wiring pushes though.

Some things, like repairs to cuffs, collars and pockets I have seen before but others, such as gloves, ties and belts are less common as is the very comprehensive coverage given to the repair of blankets, pillowcases and sheets, including the hemstitched variety which often tears along the hemstitching.

Laundering is also mentioned: stain removal, washing, ironing, cleaning and pressing, as well as an area akin to dry cleaning referred to here as “Freshening” but  do indeed treat this with caution as the chemicals are indeed eye-watering and the reader must be responsible in his or her own research into the chemicals involved before attempting to follow any of the advice in this section.

The final part of the book deals with refashioning clothing – of refreshing worn areas, updating them and in picking them apart and reusing the cloth. It advises the seamstress to look carefully at each garment and assess its merits before deciding upon its fate: first considering whether some refurbishment, recutting or readjustment could do anything for it. Next consider whether, when done the garment would do anything for you!

If that seems hopeless, either give it away or else rip it apart at the seams and reuse the material for something different. I have to say I snorted somewhat at the part where the author advises against the home sewer attempting to draft her own patterns, opining that it “requires equipment and experience beyond the home sewer’s ken.” I do happen to have had the benefit of professional training in pattern cutting but certainly don’t agree that it is beyond a home sewer to learn the same skill.

Ideas follow as to the sorts of project which could be attempted for different garments – evening coats into skirts, jackets, even boudoir cushions! Men’s shirts are particularly prized as being a suitable basis for children’s shirts, blouses, aprons and pinafores. The author sets a pretty tight schedule, mind: to produce a pair of trousers or a dress from reclaimed fabrics will take six hours by her estimate: one for ripping and pressing, one for cutting, one or possibly two for basting, half an hour for fitting, half and hour for adjustments after fitting, one for stitching, half an hour for buttons and buttonholes and half an hour for a complete pressing. The author does concede that this represents a highly concentrated schedule, as she puts it “making every stroke count”.

Coats merit a section all their own – trimming with new fabric on pockets and revers, recutting, remodelling and relining.

Dresses also receive a chapter all their own: suggestions being made to sew in entirely new sections of fabric where areas are looking worn and to use even the smallest piece of fabric to add a cheerful touch to cuffs, pockets and other small details. Eyelet embroidery, velveteen and taffeta are all shown used in a variety of ways to liven up old items as are lace, tassels and ribbons.

When cutting down garments to be remade for children the author suggests using the following checklist:

1) Is the fabric worthy of my time?

2) Is it easy to wash and keep in repair?

3) Is it worth the expense of needed new material?

4) Is it in suitable colour and weave for a child?

5) Is it right for the child who is to wear it?

One caveat – this section advises using tie fasteners of narrow tape or ribbon or wider ties of material for baby’s first garments and tot’s dresses. Please be aware of strangulation risks when having any tie on clothing intended for babies and small children.

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