Making Clothes for the Older Woman, Agnes M Miall, 1948.

If you are familiar with sewing books of this vintage you could definitely be forgiven for wanting to skip the chapters that cover the construction and finishing techniques as you will doubtless be familiar with them already, in print if not also in practice but I would urge you to read it through regardless as like many other of the best-known authors in this field, Agnes Miall writes from long, personal experience and to skip sections is to potentially miss some useful, anecdotal nugget, doubtless won through personal error, which you may not find elsewhere.

Moving to the book’s ‘unique selling point’, it focusses on the figure faults of the more mature woman. I’m not certain that everyone (or indeed anyone) falls neatly into one of the main six figure types but that said, the advice given about style types is sensible and the guidance on fitting is good.

You won’t find any patterns here.  It’s not that kind of book.  It’s very much aimed at the home dressmaker who uses commercial patterns and it rightly pays a great deal of attention to the primary rule of commercial patterns which is to make the majority of alterations to the paper pattern itself, before EVER cutting it in fabric, so that alterations in the cloth will be minimized and no cloth will be wasted.

Be prepared to scream out loud when you hear what the threshold is for reaching “middle age”. Whisper it quietly and then discard this information forever.  Thirty five.

Once you’ve picked yourself back up off the floor, comfort yourself with the thought that as this book was written at a time when fewer people carried extra weight before reaching that age, here in the 21stcentury it is certain that the modifications suggested here will be useful to as many below that age as above it, dealing largely as it does with accommodating extra flesh.

The six figure types are each given a name (Leonora, Penelope, Juno, Editha, Marianne and Augusta) and these names are frequently mentioned in the text, forming a neat reference to the types most likely to benefit from whichever modification is being described, e.g. “…Marianne and perhaps Editha, who are very generously built in front, may find too much room in the back…” and “”Skirts with a number of pieces or gores are more flattering to the older figure (especially to Augusta’s ample hips) than straight ones cut in only two pieces.  So a golden rule for Mrs Over-Forty [yes, that threshold has shifted] to remember is that fitting will very likely need to be done on eachof the seams.”

Another useful reference point about this book is its use of numbered paragraphs for the three chapters which cover fitting.  These are then listed in a ‘Fitting Ready Reckoner’ which is set out in a table of six columns, one for each type, under which is listed the numbers of the paragraphs most likely to be needed when fitting that particular type.  She also suggests that the first time one uses the book, it is helpful to mark with a pencil tick each of the paragraphs found to be pertinent which is another useful hint I have not seen elsewhere.

The main chapter headings are:

I           Getting Ready

II          Older Figures and Styles that Suit Them

III         Concerning Paper Patterns

IV         Cutting Out and Marking

V          Tacking Your Dress Together

VI         Fitting – Shoulders and Neck

VII        Fitting – Bust, Back, Hips and Waist

VIII       Fitting – Armholes and Sleeves

IX         Darts, Seams and Pressing

X          All About Sleeves

XI         The Neck of Your Dress

XII        Binding and Rouleaux

XIII       Plackets, Belts and Pockets

XIV       The Hem and Finishing Touches

XV        Blouses, Skirts and Underwear

XVI       Altering Ready-Made Clothes to Fit

XVII      Cutting Down and Remodelling Clothes

Index

Plates

Agnes Miall is very thorough and competent in her explanations.  She explains things fully but remains focussed so it is easy to follow her guidance whilst losing track of the point she makes.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to anyone who has been making (and fitting) clothes since their early adulthood as even if the fitting issues begin to increase and appear in different places than formerly, most will nonetheless be familiar to those competent in recognising and addressing the source of such things.  If someone is coming to dressmaking later though, or with a bit of excess weight already in place, then this will be helpful.

That said, it’s worth it for the read alone, and also for the polite euphemisms such as “sit-upon” for bottom.

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Copyright of the blog owner 2018

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Singer 431G Slant Shank Sewing Machine

The Singer 431G has been on my wish list for quite a few years now.  I patiently waited for one to come within reach and finally managed to secure one for a decent price and at a distance possible for me to collect it in person.  I took a bit of a chance with it as I didn’t manage to find out what accessories and plates were included before hitting the “Buy” button but I was lucky.  The only thing missing is the straight stitch plate but as I have many dedicated straight stitch machines, I don’t mind that.  The general (zig zag) stitch plate will work just as well and I do of course have a LOT of options when it comes to sewing a straight stitch on fabrics that require the smaller needle hole.  Of much more importance to me is that the chain stitch plate is present, which it is, together with the general plate and two cover plates and a full set of feet, cams and bobbins.

feet

I always give new arrivals a thorough clean and service and removing the needle plate I discovered the ‘achilles heel’ of these machines: that is the fragility of the clamping pins over which the plates fit.  These are a mushroom-domed pin, cut vertically down in quarters, which allows the pin to squeeze together a bit when the plate is passing over it. I managed to snap off one quarter when I was lifting the needle plate free.

clamping pins

The complete, unbroken one is shown above left and right.  The broken on is shown at the bottom, together with two views of the broken piece to the right of the photo.

I doubt it can easily be fixed; it is too small to drill and pin and glue would not be sufficiently resilient to the constant strain of having plates squeezed over and prised off it repeatedly.  I shall just have to be careful not to dislodge any more.  It seems to hold absolutely fine with three quarters of the pin and a quick Google search shows me that this is a common problem.  If sufficient sections come free as to make it unusable I shall simply drill out the stumps and tap in a straight pin of correct dimensions to fit the holes in the needle plate or else tap in a threaded insert and use some ordinary needle plate screws.

Researching this machine before bidding, I found very little.  I’m not particularly surprised by this as what I did find out was that they had a very limited production run in the early 1960s.  I can’t find a serial number on her at all…I’ll continue to look but I’ve searched all the usual places.

Those of you who are familiar with my machine reviews will know how much importance I place on facts and figures so here follows some definitive data about the serial numbers of the accessories and plates which came with my machine.  I can’t guarantee that all of them are original but the plates all fit and so do the feet.

  • Chainstitch needle plate:                    Singer 503601
  • General (Zigzag) needle plate:          Singer 503583
  • Straight stitch needle plate cover:     Singer 507753
  • Zigzag needle plate cover:                 Singer 503541
  • Special purpose foot:                          Singer 161167
  • General foot:                                      Singer 172075-001
  • Button foot:                                        Singer 161168
  • Seam guide:                                        Singer 161172
  • Cording (Zipper) foot:                         Singer 161166
  • Narrow hemmer:                                Singer 161195
  • Multi-slot binder:                                Singer 161420
  • Ruffler:                                                Singer 161581
  • Straight stitch foot:                            Singer 170071-001
  • Darning foot:                                       Singer 161596
  • Five black top hat’ cams numbered 1-5.
  • 4 type 66 metal bobbins.
  • 1 small screwdriver
  • Small tube of Singer oil.

This is a composite photo of the chainstitch plate.  Its serial number is 503601.  I show it from three different angles – side, top and bottom, with the bottom photographed twice to show the range of motion in the swivelling piece that forms the chain stitch.

chain stitch plate

This photo shows the chainstitch.  It is beautifully formed and not difficult to do.

chain stitch

The bobbin is removed and the upper thread passed through the extra tension hook that is immediately left of the takeup lever.

chain stitch thread guide

I loosened the tension and used a stitch length of around 8 stitches per inch.  Using a longer stitch length increased the likelihood of dropped stitches, as did a hesitation in pace whilst sewing.

The thread I used was just a cheap polyester but I was nevertheless impressed with the results and look forward to experimenting further with this as it was indeed the primary reason I wanted this machine.

I will scan and publish a full version of the manual when time permits but in the meantime, here follow the pages relating to the chainstitching:

P19

P20

P21

P22

P23P24

The top hat cams are the old style ones with two apertures in the brim.  I am indebted to Barbara at Oldsewingear for her excellent blog post explaining the differences here: http://www.oldsewingear.com/blog/which-disc-is-which.  I can confirm her advice that the 431 takes the ones she describes as Type 1.

primary patterns

These cams supplement the primary stitch patterns which are built into the existing, metal cam stack which sits below the area where the plastic cams may be fitted.  The patterns are shown under the lid but further fine-tuning may be done using the stitch length too.

The manual advises to use the ‘Special Purpose Foot’ for these stitches as the raised area below the foot allows room for the depth of the satin stitches.

special foot

I do not presently have a straight stitch needle plate.  I believe that its serial number may be 503582 but have no way of checking this.  If any of you have one and can check it, please let me know.

I must draw attention to the fact that the lettering “AK3” appears on the top of the chainstitch plate as well as the straight stitch one so if you are seeking one or the other, do check that you are buying the correct one.  The best and easiest way to tell them apart is that the chainstitch plate has a slightly oval needle hole and more notably a pivoting bar underneath that helps form the chainstitch.

Another common confusion that has come forwards in my research is the subject of replacement needle plates and whether the superficially similar T&S plates are compatible.

Instinct is telling me that I can see enough differences to make it unlikely that the T&S ones could be substituted but I can’t say for certain unless one came into my possession so that I could try it.  Helen Howes (my favourite UK supplier) has several on her webpage and I can spot four main differences straight away, some obvious and others less so.

The 431 zigzag plate and the cover plates all have a rectangular area cut away on the underside, with a further two corners cut away further so that the base of the sides flared out at 45 degrees.  Lining it up with the feed and the bobbin case I can’t see any reasons for this but I nevertheless can’t ignore it as possibly relevant for the plate to fit.

This photo shows the zigzag and straight stitch cover plates, both front and back.

zigzag and straight stitch cover plates

This photo shows the area cut away from the underside of the bobbin plate.

bobbin plate underside

Some of the plates for the T&S have measurements scored both sides of the needle hole.  The 431 plates have measurements scored on the right hand side only, as shown here in this photograph of the general (zigzag) plate.

general (zigzag) plate

This photo shows the bobbin and needle plate together, top and bottom, showing how the two plates fit together.  At the bottom of the photo, the underside of the needle plate is juxtaposed with the area which is covered by it.

plate shapes

Where the needle plate meets the bobbin plate, the curved sides of the 431 plates reduce width through a 90 degree turn.  This edge is smooth.  Some of the T&S plates are shaped similarly but have an extra piece of metal running below the edge of the bobbin plate, perhaps to improve the fit.  I would be cautious of assuming that these extra pieces would marry up ok with a bobbin cover not designed to be used with it.

The holes for the clamping pins may be in a slightly different position; it is hard to tell.  The back of the feed dog holes on the 431 plates looks as if it is slightly closer to the back edge of the plate than on the T&S plates.  On the 431, the distance between the rows of feed teeth looks to be the same as between the feed and the back of the plate.  Measuring confirms it – the distance is 2mm in both cases.  These distances don’t look equal on the T&S plate.

plate dimensions

Because it is impossible to accurately gauge size from photos, I have also measured the zigzag plate.  It is 63 x 30mm.  Mine has obviously suffered a bad needle strike in the past and I shall certainly replace it if I ever get the chance but as spares are rare, I’m not holding my breath for that…

The feet and accessories are all generic slant shank ones that I think will be able to be shared between any other slant shank machines.

The machine itself was in excellent cosmetic condition and did not need a great deal of cleaning.  Despite this, I have taken all of her plates off and removed a great deal of fluff and a couple of needles from the base of the free arm.  I was very happy to see how easily this may be cleaned out.  The whole bottom of the free arm casing is a single piece, held in position by one bolt so it is very easy to access this area to clean and service it.  The hook and bobbin case look at though they would benefit from a more thorough cleaning than I have been able to do so far but as I am unfamiliar with this style of bobbin and hook I will wait until I have educated myself a little further before attempting this.

The machine is now clean, oiled and ready to use.  That said, I intend to run her in gently.   It is certainly a good few years since she was last used and she has spent the last six months in a garage.  Once I have properly run her through her paces I will report back with a post relating to performance, its neatness and quietness and how well she compares with my other machines.

I have not weighed her, but she is made from aluminium so whilst solid, is lighter than my cast iron machines and also lighter than my Bernina 830 Record, although similar in size.  The extension bed is much easier to remove than the one on my Featherweight 222k. It is released by pressing a small button on the machine bed, close to the rear of the machine pillar and slides back on again very easily.  The accessories are stored beneath an aluminium lid in the extension bed which opens up to reveal the compartment within, with space for the cams, oil, feet and attachments.  The motor is housed vertically within the pillar and is easily accessed by removing the single bolt which secures the oil pan below.  All in all it is very sturdily made and I am impressed.

Copyright of the blog owner 2017

Clothing Construction by Evelyn Mansfield

Clothing Construction

Originally I gave this a 5-star rating but I downgraded it on account of the quality of the photos. In common with many books of this era, the photos are grainy and lack contrast, especially through their mid-tones. Where the photos are intended to illustrate a process this makes it very difficult to interpret the picture as much of the necessary detail is hard, if not impossible to make out.

Elsewhere, the book makes good use of line drawings which ably demonstrate techniques such as construction of cord froggings and I think the book would have been better had line drawings been more widely applied. The artistic licence that an artist can apply to emphasise certain points and downplay others is especially useful when demonstrating intricate detail. The photograph labelled 19.13, for example, illustrates a technique of inserting a decorative band made up of short lengths of bias strips, sewn to a strip of paper. These short strips are then each nipped and stitched across to secure their cinched centres and give a decorative, bow-like finish but neither is this last point described in the accompanying text nor is it mentioned in the label and it was only by giving the photograph some intense scrutiny under a good light that I was able to discern exactly what I was looking at.

Leaving the photos aside though, this book has certainly surprised me, and favourably so. I very nearly left it unpurchased; a quick flick left me unmoved and fairly sure it would offer nothing new to my groaning shelves full of similar sewing books but it was only £2.99 so I decided to buy it anyway and prepare to give it some more attention.

I am glad I did. Truly. There is a lot of emphasis on couture techniques and good and thorough coverage of such essential, if supplementary skills such as pressing.

The contents list follows:
1) sewing equipment
2) the sewing machine
3) basic hand sewing stitches
4) pattern and fabric
5) pattern alterations and fitting
6) layout, cutting and marking
7) assembling dress for fitting
8) seam construction
9) pressing
10) methods of handling fullness
11) bias and its use in cordings, bindings and folds
12) buttonholes, buttons and fasteners
13) plackets, fly fronts and concealed closings
14) pockets
15) collars, necklines and closings
16) sleeves
17) waistlines and belts
18) hems
19) decorative construction

Appendices
A) sewing supplies
B) preparing a blue chalk board
C) directions for making pressing equipment
D) home methods for shrinking fabrics
Index.

Do give it shelf room if you are lucky enough to find it.

Copyright of the blog owner 2017

Pattern-Making by Paper Folding by Miss F. Heath

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An ingenious little volume whose method is one of folding paper of predetermined dimensions into a grid which is used to plot the design. The method can be applied to a garment of any size as the proportions are calculated, for the most part, from a single body measurement: usually the neck measurement or the height of the wearer.

The garments covered are:
1) child’s chemise (two patterns)
2) woman’s chemise
3) woman’s yoked chemise
4) combinations
5) baby’s drawers
6) child’s knickerbocker drawers
7) girl’s knickerbocker drawers
8) woman’s tucked drawers – circular band
9) cottage pinafore
10) yoked pinafore
11) baby’s morning gown
12) baby’s frocks (two patterns)
13) child’s pelisse
14) baby’s flannel – baby’s shirts
15) bodice
16) night-dress
17) lined shirt, a back yoke for a tucked night-dress
18) single half-square gusset, circular band.

Copyright of the blog owner 2017

Ruby Zigzagger Instructions

Following a request for the instructions for this, I’ve chosen to add them to the blog so that they are available to the wider community.  I hope you all find them useful and enjoy using the attachment as much as I do.

Copyright of the blog owner 2017

Dressmaking in Detail by Ann MacTaggart

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I own a great many books on dressmaking. Most of them assume construction knowledge or simply don’t cover it at all as they assume that the dressmaker will be using a commercial pattern, which will come with instructions which explain how to put the garment together and in what order. True, my older books do cover this but the emphasis is on hand sewing; if a machine is used at all, it is mainly for the long seams and the rest is very much hand-finished.

For those who seek to design their own garments and machine sew them, this leaves a frustrating gap in know-how and this is where this book really comes into its own.

As I mentioned, I do own a LOT of dressmaking books but this one really does have the best and clearest illustrations of complicated seam finishes that I have seen anywhere. Where some books use a series of stepped illustrations to demonstrate a technique, this one, by clear and well-thought-out diagrams, manages to make the entire process clear in a single picture. I can – at last – say that I understand a Mantua-Maker’s Seam…

So, if you need to know how to insert an under-arm, diamond-shaped gusset or the proper method of inserting godets, this is the book you need.

Fly fastenings, collars, plackets, cuffs and zips… it’s all here.

I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading this. It has a really good ratio of text to diagrams, the text is well written and easy to follow – not pitched too high – and it has a good index. It’s a handy reference for design students, home dressmakers and professionals alike.

Copyright of the blog owner 2017

Garment Making, the cutting-out and making-up of common-sense comfortable clothing for children by Jane A. Fleming

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Definitely one for the girls as there are no boys’ garments included here. As a mother of a boy this was naturally a little disappointing but other volumes of similar era exist which do include boys so I was not entirely bereft.

The text is clearly written, the subject matter covered comprehensively and the line drawing diagrams are particularly well drawn, showing clearly the needle position, stitch sequence or whichever detail or method is being illustrated.

I am always impressed by the amount of practical and sensible tuition contained, so succinctly, in these older volumes. All the basic rules are here, with thorough explanation and examination of techniques, stitches and materials and – more pertinently, in my opinion – on how to choose which to use in a given circumstance.

Returning to the diagrams, those relating to the pattern cutting are especially clear. The method used in this book is especially suitable for the inexperienced or unconfident pattern cutter. The starting point is a piece of paper of set proportions and by folding this paper a number of times both vertically and horizontally, the resultant grid is used to plot the pattern according to the accompanying diagram. (Those interested in this method should also seek out the book “Pattern-Making by Paper Folding”, by Miss F Heath, published by Longmans, Green and Co in 1910.)

Unlike many contemporary needlework volumes, there is no mention of mending; it is purely making.

I do not think that the patterns lend themselves to modern interpretation quite so readily as the simpler garments covered by “Simple Garments for Children” by M B Synge but with suitable modification (slight modification to side seam silhouette, fullness arranged as pleats rather than gauged gathers, etc) there is plenty of scope for practical application and even if one ignores the patterns altogether the explanation and illustration of technique makes this book a very worth while purchase.

There is a section specifically covering dolls’ clothes and bedding which, whilst originally intended as reduced scale practice pieces, will appeal equally to those interested in producing dolls’ clothes from patterns which are correct for the era of the doll.

Copyright of the blog owner 2017

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