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.

American Dressmaking Step by Step – Lydia Trattles Coates

A well written book illustrated clearly with black and white photographs showing a very comprehensive range of stitches, techniques and articles.

This is not a book which includes patterns which may be scaled up and used but it does include line drawings which provide sufficient visual information about fullness, style lines etc for a competent pattern maker to draft a similar garment – this being especially true of the childrenswear, which examples are particularly engaging, especially the middy blouse and rompers.

One of the peculiar strengths of these older volumes is the particular attention give to construction. Possibly because of the weightiness of full-length skirts cut from woollen cloth the waists were not simply set into a modern style of waistband but were instead often hung from a strong, internal waistband of shaped petersham or similar rigidly woven tape which allowed the weight of the skirt to be carried not by the fabric of the costume but by the abdomen of the wearer.

Similar attention is given to the fitting of a corset cover – the care with which the garment is quartered by twin rows of gathering threads which are then gently pulled up and shepherded into the correct position is a study well worth revising today for any garment in which gathers are to form the main shaping over the bust.

Suffice it to say that all of the usual hems, stitches and seam finishes are described and illustrated and good suggestions made for correcting and disguising ill-fitting portions of garments such as a sleeve too long above the elbow or tight across the forearm.

In conclusion this is another very comprehensive volume and one I would not wish to part with.

Practical Home Dressmaking Illustrated – Lynn Hillson

A highly informative volume introducing a full introduction to the sewing machine and its attachments, including a demonstration of using a veining foot to make picots which I have never seen before and am very glad to know. The book lists suggested items of equipment for sewing, pressing and the mending basket. As well as the usual, ubiquitous instructions on where and how to measure, instructions are given for padding out a dummy and fastening a padded arm thereto, all valuable lessons when trying to achieve a good fit either in shop-bought, or home drafted patterns.

Given that this book is not written as a drafting book the instructions for creating and adapting basic blocks are really very good; simple to follow but easily comprehensive enough to form a firm basis for most dressmaking and furthermore, patterns are shown throughout the book, drafted against a grid for easy transferral. 

A good appraisal is given to fabrics, their widths, quantities and qualities as well as their suitability to various styles. 

Reading the chapter on pressing I was again struck at how sensible and comprehensive was the advice given. Clear illustrations showed real-life examples of what was being discussed, including the use of a pressing cloth, using a padded rolling pin to press open seams and the use of the tailor’s ham in pressing sleeveheads. You will certainly learn all the correct methods here and your sewing will be the better for it.

The chapter on fitting is equally clear. I can’t claim that it covers any more or less than other books on the subject but somehow the diagrams get right to the very heart of the matter and make it simple to compare the problem in hand with the issues illustrated and find out how to solve it. 

The chapter on sewing details once again cuts through the unnecessary and gets right to the heart of the matter – namely how to deal with all those awkward, non-standard fastenings like leather buttons and the bone ones which need to be removed before washing. I have also never seen such a neatly illustrated description of inserting zips – truly this book is an absolute gem. 

The Lingerie chapter supplies patterns for some truly elegant and timeless pieces – a bias cut nightdress, a long sleeved nightdress, a princess slip, camiknickers, brassiere and knickers but be warned that the bra in question is a dainty little number best suited for nothing beyond a B-cup and of a simple, rounded shape. You won’t learn how to draft a bullet bra here (although in truth that would not be hard to do, simply by straightening the vertical seam lines a little and reinforcing with the requisite concentric stitch lines).

This book truly does attend to precisely the right things. Rarely have I ever seen bound buttonholes, tucks, pleats, piping, rouleau loops, cuff openings and bound hems so nicely and plainly described.

The same applies to pockets. Bound pockets, welt pockets, slot pockets, patch pockets, flap pockets. All well described and beautifully illustrated.

How to make a belt? It’s here, with many pretty ideas on how to finish and fasten.

The chapter on collars shows very clearly how the different types are drafted from the bodice blocks laid together at the shoulder seam. Each has a particular profile, depending on how high or flat it is to lie and the different shapes are very well shown here.

Sleeves are quite narrow and sculpted, as to be expected from this particular era but other types are discussed also. Useful tips such as the application of interlinings, stiffeners and special tight linings into the sleevehead of a puffed sleeve to prevent it migrating down the arm are again all subjects new to me and very welcome. Another new tip for me was that of how to cut and attach a shaped interlining into a sleeve; cut half the breadth of the sleeve, rounded at the top and sewn into the lining it provides extra warmth.

Pattern diagrams are given for the following garments, with extremely detailed instructions for cutting, fitting and making up: one-piece dress, princess style; cardigan suit (a neat suit with shaped jacket and straight skirt with kick pleat); blouse with rever collar and bishop sleeves and the items of underwear mentioned earlier.

The childrenswear chapter is truly a delight as it covers a far better range than the usual rompers, dress and knickers. There are proper instructions for the drafting and making of a woollen blazer, suggested to be best suited to a boy of ten to twelve years but easily adapted to other sizes besides. Knee-length trousers to match are also covered here and the photo is simply delightful – the shorts are shown knee-length and fastened with a snake belt. This is such a timeless accessory I have photos of my father (born in 1919) wearing one when he was about ten and my own little boy, aged four wears one even now. For girls, a neat, pleated skirt with inverted box pleats is shown for a schoolgirl. It is cut a couple of inches above the knee similar to gym shorts and is worn with a blouse made to the same pattern as the boy’s shirt but fastening the other way of course. Also for girls, a pair of ‘School Knickers’ which resemble athletic shorts, being of a simple shape gathered onto a band of elastic at the waist. It is suggested that these can be made in a thinner fabric for wearing under party frocks in which case the leg edges could be finished with a fabric frill or with lace. There follows a plain, cotton print frock with a high neck, simple collar, elbow length sleeves and waist sash, cut above the knee and very ‘youthful’!

There is just the one dress for a baby – a classic, knee length design with short puffed sleeves and a skirt gathered onto a yoke under the arms. 

The final articles of childrenswear are again refreshingly practical – a darling set of unisex pyjamas. The jacket is made to the same pattern as the blazer, but fastened up to the neck and the trousers made from the shorts draft, lengthened accordingly. A modified pattern is described wherein the bodice and trousers may be combined and feet added to make a sleepsuit for a younger child.

The final chapter deals with mending, patching, darning and the setting in of the small triangular gussets into the bottom of side seams.

This is, in my opinion one of the most comprehensive texts I have read and should you buy only one book on home dressmaking, this would be a very good one to choose.

Making Clothes for Children – Agnes M. Miall

The author explains that this, the second edition differs from the earlier only in that a few minor alterations have been made and the index made more comprehensive. I mention this as often books are substantively enlarged and revised between editions, photographs and techniques being updated in line with changes in fashion and technology but as childrens’ wear changes little this is not the case here.

I must say right at the start that anyone wishing to see full drafts for contemporary fashions will be disappointed as this book supposes that the mother will buy a pattern, not make it so the subject matter is limited to the cutting out, making up and finishing only.

This should not be held against it though as the book has much to recommend it, containing many good tips not often considered today such as allowing for growth in the garment so that its usefulness is extended.

The book itself is printed on good quality, silky paper and has aged very well with no sign of deterioration or discolouration at the edges and corners. The illustrations number 100 and are all greyscale photographs. While they are quite charming (lots of ‘Marcel waves’ in the figure shots, suggesting their origin a full decade earlier) they are quite dark and do not give such a clear demonstration as a line drawing would do.

The book is much more wordy than many but Agnes Miall writes in a confident and easy style and it is by no means hard to follow.

Agnes assumes no prior knowledge of sewing and helpfully suggests a detailed list of sewing items required and gives tips also on good working practices and the need for a well-lit spot and the necessity of taking regular breaks from sitting, especially when pregnant.

This book truly does start with the basics, including a basic education in the three different types of stitches – namely joining, hemming and edging – which will be encountered and reassures that the twelve stitch types contained therein will, between them, serve every purpose.

Having covered those stitches the book moves on to the first garments; the baby’s layette. Again expecting no prior knowledge, it gives a list of the average layette required:

4 woollen vests (bought or home knitted

4 nightgowns

4 flannel petticoats

4 dresses (daygowns)

1 large carrying shawl (bought or crocheted)

2 to 3 dozen Turkish towelling napkins (bought ready made)

3 pairs of bootees (knitted)

1 sleeping bag (for the pram)

2 bonnets (or crochet caps)

2 matinee coats

1 or more silk or muslin robes, with nainsook petticoats to wear beneath.

Chapter IV deals with cutting out and marking, emphasising the correct methods of pinning, use of the straight grain, tacking and arranging the pieces on the fabric, cutting out and marking the seam allowances through between the two pieces. It may all seem a little long-winded compared with modern methods but I can confirm from personal experience that time taken in careful preparation is never wasted as no number of flawless seams can salvage a garment which twists due to being cut slightly off grain.

The next chapter teaches what seams should be used to join the various portions of the garment and instructs on the matter of plackets, facings and bindings and how to construct and apply them although some of the suggested applications, such as a drawstring pulling in the full circumference of a wide neckline, would be frowned on now as unsafe so do please exercise some caution if using this book as a resource for making similar garments.

The garments covered in that chapter include flannel petticoats, a sleeping bag, day dresses, petticoats, matinee coats and bonnets. Suitable fabrics are suggested for each as well as the general instructions for making them up.

Chapter VI covers trimmings, including bias binding (home made), tucks, lace trimmings and insertions and finally hand embroidery. As previously mentioned the greyscale photographs represent the finished item rather better than the technique being employed but nevertheless the text provides perfectly good instruction.

Clothes for the Toddler covers some good ideas for making bibs out of table linen and face cloths; feeders (larger, plainer bibs), sleeping suits and rompers, knickers for either sex and finally leggings. The subject of correct pressing is also discussed here.

Chapter VIII deals with the subjects of growth and of fitting. In brief, extra turnings are suggested so that the garment may be let out as the child grows.

Very good advice is given on altering patterns, specifically on the subject of where and how to add the extra. The book warns that unless the alteration is a small one, simply adding to the seams will frequently just throw the whole pattern out of proportion. It advises instead to think of the body as a series of definite segments so that it is simpler to see where the extra needs to be added and apply it accordingly.

Hints are given as to placing hidden tucks which may be let down later and also of extra depth hidden up inside a yoke which may simply be unpicked and reset lower down when the need arises.

Finally in this chapter, a whimsical topic called the “Language of Pins”, used when fitting, which promotes the idea of angling pins according to a set formula – pins placed vertically along a hem means that the hem is too short between the pins; placed horizontally means too long and should be turned up deeper to the level shown by the pin; two pins pointing diagonally outwards means to let out whilst the opposite means to take in. Pins set in a cross show the exact position of a button or other fastener. That is the only one I was previously familiar with.

Dressmaking for Little Girls introduces some more advanced methods of facing and finishing hems, including the correct method of hemming a square neckline, the making up and setting in of collars, bands and cuffs and pleats. Some general guidance is given on the subject of Gym Tunics.

Trimmings such as frills and gathers are covered next, including some instruction in gauging, which is the gathering of the fabric in parallel folds such as is done when preparing fabric for smocking. Some practical ideas are given for decorative trims made from simple braid – ruching, shelling and box-pleated ruching – and the use of fur and fur fabrics is also given special mention and while the use of real fur has quite properly fallen out of favour in modern times the instructions given for the treatment and handling of fur fabric are still valid today.

Hand embroidery fills the whole of the next chapter but because this is such a ubiquitous subject I shall not waste words on it here. Suffice to say that the usual stitches are covered – lazy daisy, smocking etc.

Chapter XII covers tailoring for little boys. Boys’ clothing is generally covered less comprehensively than clothing for little girls so any mention at all is worthy of especial notice.

Knickers are the name used for what we would more usually call shorts these days and these are the first item mentioned. I concur with the author that these are very simple and quick to make and I love the ideas she gives for fastening them onto the ‘bodice’ (or shirt, in modern terms). All very sensible for keeping a child neat and trim at the waist yet allowing for easy and quick access when changing a nappy or potty training. For the slightly older boy, instructions are given for the making up and setting in of pockets and fly-fastenings. Pyjamas and shirts are also covered in this chapter although remember that no patterns are given; it is simply the order of making up and the appropriate seams and finishes which are covered here. Hand-sewn and bound buttonholes are introduced here and the introduction of gussets into the end of the cuff opening placket and the bottom of the side seam where the shirt tails commence.

Chapter XIII, trimmings for boys’ clothes, admits in the very first sentence that it is a very short chapter, as boys whose clothes are over-trimmed will soon be teased by their peers so the author quite rightly urges restraint. She suggests that up to the age of three the clothing may be as ornate as the mother chooses and even up to the age of four or five rompers may possess small amounts of smocking or laid pleats are acceptable but in today’s society I would advise that these age limits are shunted downwards quite considerably! Some of these details have survived better than others though: whilst I cannot think of having my son have smocking at any age, pintucks and laid tucks I would be perfectly happy to introduce in a linen or cotton shirt at any age up to about seven or eight. The author suggests that while hand embroidery is ok up to the age of four or five, much less should be used than on a garment for a girl of the same age and neat topstitching, tailored details and belts, collars and cuffs trimmed in a plain, contrasting colour is a better choice for little boys. Unexpectedly, embroidered buttons are introduced at the end of the chapter.

Dressing the older girl introduces the subjects of darts, flimsier fabrics, french seams and methods of supporting the fabric when sewing flimsy fabrics such as chiffon.

Chapter VI covers another of my favourite topics, that of mending and cutting down of clothes.

Preventative mending is covered very well, with suggestions for almost imperceptible reinforcements to stockings, socks and jersey elbows and the seats of pants. Also suggested is the use of linen tape behind any area receiving strain from buttons and the suggestion to reinforce by extra stitching any button or fastener in a bought garment, making certain to include shanks and suitable reinforcement. This makes it much less likely that the garment will suffer damage from a button pulling free or the bother of having to find a match for a lost button.

Patching and darning are covered well, including how to pattern match the patch to the surrounding area.

Cutting down of garments is covered quite briefly here and it is pertinent to note that it is covered much more comprehensively in “Home Dressmaking” by the same author.

Fancy Dress commands a whole chapter and challenges the mother to look afresh at all manner of household items to see whether they could be utilized as costume. The author recommends a “Costume Trunk” into which can be thrown any old garments which would lend themselves well to being adapted to theatrical purpose as well as scarves, curtains, beads, woollen skeins and ribbons. Photos are given for a highwayman, a nun and an Arabian as well as instructions for making a wig out of wool and various ideas for curtains, pillowcases and old sheets.

Finally there are chapters dealing with baby equipment and nursery furnishing. Trimming a baby’s cot and providing the bedding is straightforward. More interesting to the modern reader is the idea of making the baby’s own mattress at home from a flour bag filled with chaff, this being – it is insisted – easy to wash and renew as well as being cheap to make and comfortable besides. Another cautionary word though: instructions are given for making an adorable wadded quilt, similar in looks to the satin eiderdowns so popular during the 1930s and 1940s. Modern childcare advice is to avoid the use of quilts on the bed of infants under the age of one; ours being an age of central heating the child would risk overheating and small babies can neither regulate their own body temperature nor kick off the excess layers. Instructions for making a larger one for an older child are also given and this would certainly be fine to make today as the size given (4ft long by 2ft 6 inches wide) clearly equates to a small single bed.

The final project suggested is a loose cover for a small armchair, one of which is often found in the nursery for the child’s use and I conclude that anyone who completed all the projects contained in this little book would clearly be very competent by the end of it!

A Textbook of Needlework, Knitting and Cutting Out with Methods of Teaching, by Elizabeth Rosevear

A lovely little volume, hardbacked, measuring about 7″ x 5″ and with good quality, silky paper. It is a comprehensive volume, quite wordy compared to others of its type but the descriptions are clear and good and the diagrams, where they do appear are well drawn and easily understood.

I often measure the usefulness of a book by how well it covers the subject of gussets. I laugh whenever I write that but it’s true. I often make little garments with square-set sleeves which require a gusset set into the seam yet many books – thankfully not this one – deal only with the setting in of the triangular type commonly found as a reinforcement at the bottom end of a side seam on garments having a curved hem, such as a shirt with shirt tails.

It covers the absolute basics such as the correct way to use thimbles and needles, basic seams and hem stitches, casting on two and three knitting pins, darning, patching, the use of tapes and other reinforcements, buttonholes, turning a heel on a sock or stocking, working with pleats, tucks and gathers as well as decorative stitches.

The cutting out section happily contains workable patterns (illustrated upon grids and with dimensions clearly labelled) and useful hints about cutting out such as to caution against cutting a curved seam too deep as once cut out the curve cannot be made tighter whereas to cut away excess is comparatively simple.

Line drawings are also included of some of the finished articles, nicely drawn and with good attention to the detail and neatness which best tempts the reader to attempt the item. Shirts (both day shirts and nightshirts) for men and boys are covered here together with chemises, petticoats, night dresses, aprons, pinafores, combinations and drawers (knickerbockers) are all covered as are the techniques required for finishing them, for example the working and neatening of plackets, false hems (facings), sleeves, collars and bands. A wide selection too of infants’ garments together with example costings and suggestions as to suitable materials make this a useful resource for anyone interested in infantwear as with some obvious exceptions such as stomach bands much of these little garments are timeless.

It is also worth noting how unusual it is to have any boyswear covered in dressmaking books. As previously mentioned, boys shirts are covered here. I have often been disappointed to find that books purporting to cover the subject of childrenswear indeed concentrate purely on infantwear and beyond that, dresses for little girls; boys being seemingly forgotten. I’m not making the mistake of thinking that little boys didn’t wear dresses as toddlers either; one such book was published in the 1950s.

The third part of the book deals with the knitting or articles such as stockings and socks, knitted vests, petticoats and jackets, hoods, scarves and muffatees (a long, knitted cuff worn over the wrist and hand with a hole for the thumb), shawls and muffs, quilts, blankets and fringes. Netting, crochet, straw weaving and plaiting are also given a brief mention towards the end of the book.

In conclusion another very comprehensive but eminently usable book, well worth space on the bookshelf and not one I will be in a hurry to part with.

“Manual of Needlework and Cutting Out” and “How To Make Up Garments” (Agnes Walker)

I am lucky enough to own the above books bound as a single volume but will review them separately.

Manual of Needlework and Cutting Out

Another highly rated little gem from my collection, this volume once again answers my desire to collect books which not only teach construction technique but which also give workable patterns, or instructions on how to create them so that perfectly authentic examples may be created without having to trust to the authenticity of patterns created for commercial sale by others.

The scope is obviously not particularly wide – you will not find herein the means to create a period ballgown or walking outfit but for the basic garments easily made at home such as childrens’ pinafores, chemises, overalls, aprons, knickerbockers, nightshirts and nightdresses for all ages, combinations, day-shirts and infants clothing you will find little better than this book.

The methods given are often simple – frequently worked to a proportional system of folding a sheet of paper – but this makes them very approachable. The garments are also made with the absolute minimum of waste – a Cottage Pinafore gives a very pleasing arrangement at the shoulder simply by clever cutting and with zero waste along that seam.

Written as an aid to teaching, this volume starts at the absolute basics. The correct use of a thimble, how to hold the needle, how to form a stitch – all are covered here. Knitting, darning and patching are also covered very comprehensively and ever with practicality in mind. As well as the ubiquitous instructions for hems, seams, buttonholes and decorative stitches here you will also learn how to turn the toe of a knitted sock, how to deal with a hem crossing a seam and how to sew the strengthening gusset at the foot of the side seam.

The discovery (or rediscovery) of methods still valid today but seldom taught are what make these old volumes such a delight. Anyone who has ever struggled to make gathers sit neatly would welcome the instructions for ‘stroking’ which induce them to lie in such uniform fashion.

The diagrams for cutting out are shown drawn against a grid, with dimensions clearly displayed for each piece, making it simple to recreate it for oneself. The grids are turquoise, the lines themselves either black or else red and they are very easy to interpret.

If I had to choose to keep only a fraction of my books, this one would surely survive the cull as it contains much that is covered elsewhere and more besides.

How To Make Up Garments

A companion volume to “Manual of Needlework and Cutting Out” by the same author and somewhat harder to come by, I am lucky enough to have secured my copy bound up with the former title as a single volume.

Whereas the earlier title also gave a substantial attention to cutting out and making up, it gave equal attention to the basic skills, seams, hems and techniques required in their making up. Such preliminaries are entirely skipped over in this second volume. I am happy about that as every other book I possess seems to demonstrate slip-stitching a hem and I would much rather dedicate shelf-space to new subjects.

A certain degree of overlap is admitted, especially in the clothing types for which the patterns and instructions are given but the patterns are not the same as those covered by the previous book and in addition to the chemises, petticoats, aprons and nightshirts, more advanced items are introduced such as some very fancy sleeves and sleeveheads and also techniques such as bone casings and gussets discussed in greater detail.

As the title suggests, this volume also gives detailed instructions as to the making up of the garment, the order and the types of seam suitable for each part. This makes it a valuable addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in authentic techniques as well as the patterns of the turn of the last century.

Obviously a sewing machine could be used to save labour on the longer sections of the projects described in this book but it will be found that there are many areas, such as the insertion of square gussets, where hand-sewing is much simpler.

Dress Cutting by Margaret C. Ralston

This is a small, hard back book bound in red linen. Compared with the book “Dress Making” by Mme Trois Fontaines, published at a similar date the quality and size of the volume are inferior but despite this and the similarity in subject matter Ralston’s book still possesses plenty to recommend it.

The diagrams are not as large and clear as in the Fontaines book but the styles shown within are much more casual and practical. Where Fontaines supplies a great range of evening dresses, Ralston provides a sweeter and somehow more achievable selection such as a lovely, V-necked blouse, two different styles for a tennis dress and a number of dresses I would best describe as neat and stylish day-dresses for the modern, office-working girl.

Ralston does have one quirk which, as a trained pattern designer I have never encountered elsewhere – that of including a strange little tuck pleated into the shoulder edge of the bodice block exactly where one would expect a shoulder dart to appear. The block itself is drafted entirely without darts and this little tuck is intended presumably to supply the necessary ease for the bust.

Two foundation garments are provided as a basis for the patterns: a bodice and a sleeve. The skirt is drafted simply as a rectangle so not a block in the modern sense. The bodice block is incredibly simple, being dartless as previously mentioned and as with the other diagrams is simply a line drawing with red ink used for emphasising the main construction lines. 

The drawings are less easy to follow than Fontaines, as the description of the type and colour of the lines used is described for the one and only time in Chapter V, before which point one simply had to muddle through with ones own interpretation. That said, the key is not a complicated one – red, solid lines to show the original block; red, dotted lines to show construction lines and black, solid lines to show the new pattern as it should be cut. This information appears before the pattern cutting proper commences so is not too far removed from where it is best needed although I do believe it would have been better to mention it before commencing the blocks as these make use of all three types of line but without the benefit of explanation.

Ralston is a more wordy volume than Fontaines but this is not to its detriment. Many a gem of advice is contained therein both on the subject of taking measurements correctly and in the proper manner in which to construct the garments, many of which tips are simply not widely covered today.

The style of reading is easy to follow and in reading it I was impressed that such a wealth of valuable information could be imparted so simply and so sensibly. There is nothing herein what Fontaines does not cover yet more comprehensively (and indeed liberally) but unlike Fontaines, the Ralston volume can be slipped easily into a pocket, a bookshelf or a handbag and covers wonderfully well a wide range of accessible and authentic patterns for anyone interested in this era.

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