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.

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