“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.

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