Making Clothes for the Older Woman, Agnes M Miall, 1948.

If you are familiar with sewing books of this vintage you could definitely be forgiven for wanting to skip the chapters that cover the construction and finishing techniques as you will doubtless be familiar with them already, in print if not also in practice but I would urge you to read it through regardless as like many other of the best-known authors in this field, Agnes Miall writes from long, personal experience and to skip sections is to potentially miss some useful, anecdotal nugget, doubtless won through personal error, which you may not find elsewhere.

Moving to the book’s ‘unique selling point’, it focusses on the figure faults of the more mature woman. I’m not certain that everyone (or indeed anyone) falls neatly into one of the main six figure types but that said, the advice given about style types is sensible and the guidance on fitting is good.

You won’t find any patterns here.  It’s not that kind of book.  It’s very much aimed at the home dressmaker who uses commercial patterns and it rightly pays a great deal of attention to the primary rule of commercial patterns which is to make the majority of alterations to the paper pattern itself, before EVER cutting it in fabric, so that alterations in the cloth will be minimized and no cloth will be wasted.

Be prepared to scream out loud when you hear what the threshold is for reaching “middle age”. Whisper it quietly and then discard this information forever.  Thirty five.

Once you’ve picked yourself back up off the floor, comfort yourself with the thought that as this book was written at a time when fewer people carried extra weight before reaching that age, here in the 21stcentury it is certain that the modifications suggested here will be useful to as many below that age as above it, dealing largely as it does with accommodating extra flesh.

The six figure types are each given a name (Leonora, Penelope, Juno, Editha, Marianne and Augusta) and these names are frequently mentioned in the text, forming a neat reference to the types most likely to benefit from whichever modification is being described, e.g. “…Marianne and perhaps Editha, who are very generously built in front, may find too much room in the back…” and “”Skirts with a number of pieces or gores are more flattering to the older figure (especially to Augusta’s ample hips) than straight ones cut in only two pieces.  So a golden rule for Mrs Over-Forty [yes, that threshold has shifted] to remember is that fitting will very likely need to be done on eachof the seams.”

Another useful reference point about this book is its use of numbered paragraphs for the three chapters which cover fitting.  These are then listed in a ‘Fitting Ready Reckoner’ which is set out in a table of six columns, one for each type, under which is listed the numbers of the paragraphs most likely to be needed when fitting that particular type.  She also suggests that the first time one uses the book, it is helpful to mark with a pencil tick each of the paragraphs found to be pertinent which is another useful hint I have not seen elsewhere.

The main chapter headings are:

I           Getting Ready

II          Older Figures and Styles that Suit Them

III         Concerning Paper Patterns

IV         Cutting Out and Marking

V          Tacking Your Dress Together

VI         Fitting – Shoulders and Neck

VII        Fitting – Bust, Back, Hips and Waist

VIII       Fitting – Armholes and Sleeves

IX         Darts, Seams and Pressing

X          All About Sleeves

XI         The Neck of Your Dress

XII        Binding and Rouleaux

XIII       Plackets, Belts and Pockets

XIV       The Hem and Finishing Touches

XV        Blouses, Skirts and Underwear

XVI       Altering Ready-Made Clothes to Fit

XVII      Cutting Down and Remodelling Clothes



Agnes Miall is very thorough and competent in her explanations.  She explains things fully but remains focussed so it is easy to follow her guidance whilst losing track of the point she makes.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to anyone who has been making (and fitting) clothes since their early adulthood as even if the fitting issues begin to increase and appear in different places than formerly, most will nonetheless be familiar to those competent in recognising and addressing the source of such things.  If someone is coming to dressmaking later though, or with a bit of excess weight already in place, then this will be helpful.

That said, it’s worth it for the read alone, and also for the polite euphemisms such as “sit-upon” for bottom.


Copyright of the blog owner 2018

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Hannah Wroe
    Apr 28, 2019 @ 09:53:59

    What a great post!
    I am currently writing a research paper on post war pattern cutting for the older lady and one of the texts I am discussing is Agnes Maill’s ‘Dressmaking for the Older Woman’. My copy sadly does not have a dust jacket and I was wondering if you could send me photographs of the dust jacket and inside/back of the dust jacket. There are few records of Agnes Maill beyond her books.

    It would be wonderful to be able to include this information in my presentation in June.

    Best wishes
    Hannah Wroe
    Fashion Lecturer (University of Lincoln)


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