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!

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