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.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aderu
    Feb 28, 2013 @ 23:30:24

    Thanks for the review of Ralston’s book. Good to get your perspective and I’ve linked to you on my blog (http://retrospectivedress.blogspot.com.au/2013_02_01_archive.html).

    Ralston’s book was the first pattern drafting book I ever used. I can’t really count the ‘sewing without a pattern’ book I used as a teenager in the 1980s.

    With only intermediate sewing skills, I think things turned out surprisingly well using Ralston’s book. It was a nice clear primer to get started.

    I didn’t know how to transfer a shoulder dart to the under arm side seam so I was stuck with the pleat. But I thought the pleat worked well when I added a cowl neck.
    I was very impressed with the nice fit around the armhole Ralston’s drafting method produced for me. No gape, no bra showing.


    • Offspring
      Mar 01, 2013 @ 12:02:22

      Thanks very much for the comment, Aderu and for adding a link to your blog. I’ve started ‘following’ you so I can read more – always love meeting and exchanging ideas with like-minded people so thanks again for this. I’ve yet to try any of the drafts personally – I’m more of a 1950s shape than a 1930s so the pleat would have to be pretty deep for me! Still – it’s a challenge to experiment with and when I do I’ll certainly report back! The first books I used were the set texts for college – Hilary Campbell – and then at degree level Natalie Bray. Natalie Bray is still my “go-to” twenty-odd years later. 🙂 x


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