Dressmaking in Detail by Ann MacTaggart


I own a great many books on dressmaking. Most of them assume construction knowledge or simply don’t cover it at all as they assume that the dressmaker will be using a commercial pattern, which will come with instructions which explain how to put the garment together and in what order. True, my older books do cover this but the emphasis is on hand sewing; if a machine is used at all, it is mainly for the long seams and the rest is very much hand-finished.

For those who seek to design their own garments and machine sew them, this leaves a frustrating gap in know-how and this is where this book really comes into its own.

As I mentioned, I do own a LOT of dressmaking books but this one really does have the best and clearest illustrations of complicated seam finishes that I have seen anywhere. Where some books use a series of stepped illustrations to demonstrate a technique, this one, by clear and well-thought-out diagrams, manages to make the entire process clear in a single picture. I can – at last – say that I understand a Mantua-Maker’s Seam…

So, if you need to know how to insert an under-arm, diamond-shaped gusset or the proper method of inserting godets, this is the book you need.

Fly fastenings, collars, plackets, cuffs and zips… it’s all here.

I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading this. It has a really good ratio of text to diagrams, the text is well written and easy to follow – not pitched too high – and it has a good index. It’s a handy reference for design students, home dressmakers and professionals alike.

Garment Making, the cutting-out and making-up of common-sense comfortable clothing for children by Jane A. Fleming


Definitely one for the girls as there are no boys’ garments included here. As a mother of a boy this was naturally a little disappointing but other volumes of similar era exist which do include boys so I was not entirely bereft.

The text is clearly written, the subject matter covered comprehensively and the line drawing diagrams are particularly well drawn, showing clearly the needle position, stitch sequence or whichever detail or method is being illustrated.

I am always impressed by the amount of practical and sensible tuition contained, so succinctly, in these older volumes. All the basic rules are here, with thorough explanation and examination of techniques, stitches and materials and – more pertinently, in my opinion – on how to choose which to use in a given circumstance.

Returning to the diagrams, those relating to the pattern cutting are especially clear. The method used in this book is especially suitable for the inexperienced or unconfident pattern cutter. The starting point is a piece of paper of set proportions and by folding this paper a number of times both vertically and horizontally, the resultant grid is used to plot the pattern according to the accompanying diagram. (Those interested in this method should also seek out the book “Pattern-Making by Paper Folding”, by Miss F Heath, published by Longmans, Green and Co in 1910.)

Unlike many contemporary needlework volumes, there is no mention of mending; it is purely making.

I do not think that the patterns lend themselves to modern interpretation quite so readily as the simpler garments covered by “Simple Garments for Children” by M B Synge but with suitable modification (slight modification to side seam silhouette, fullness arranged as pleats rather than gauged gathers, etc) there is plenty of scope for practical application and even if one ignores the patterns altogether the explanation and illustration of technique makes this book a very worth while purchase.

There is a section specifically covering dolls’ clothes and bedding which, whilst originally intended as reduced scale practice pieces, will appeal equally to those interested in producing dolls’ clothes from patterns which are correct for the era of the doll.

Modern Dress Design – Harriet Pepin (1942)

Large format, hardback book measuring 11″ tall x 8″ wide x 1″ thick. Green boards (1945 reprint of 1942 original), 253 pages.

I have an increasingly extensive library of vintage sewing and needlework books and confess that this has to be just about the best I have seen.

Not only is it beautifully presented but unlike Mme Trois Fontaines’ Dress Design and Margaret Ralston’s Dress Cutting (who both cover a similar era and similar subject matter) Pepin goes one step further and gives a proper discussion to the matters of proportion and good design and encourages experiment and the development of a well-trained eye.

Pepin is also extremely comprehensive – more so than Fontaines and Ralston. She is similar in content to Natalie Bray except that she gives more consideration to the process of good design and the illustrations are, to my eye at least, more pleasing and easy to interpret. Unlike Bray, Pepin is also contained in a single volume.

The front bodice draft is a very simple, single-dart pattern which is easily adapted and lends itself very well to experimentation.

The chapter headings are:
1) Pattern Designing
2) Slopers
3) Hip Length Patterns
4) Sleeve Patterns
5) Adapting Patterns
6) Capes, Ties, Neckwear and Scarves
7) Collars
8) Skirts
9) Slacks, Shorts, Culottes and Bathing Suits
10) Lingerie
11) Coats
12) Children’s Clothing

I had to wait a long time to find a hard copy for a reasonable price but would certainly recommend this book to anyone wanting to study not just pattern cutting but clothes design as a whole.

Darned Jeans Pocket using Singer 201k

The first job for today was to finish what I first started last night; darning the splits in my husband’s jeans. Both the back pockets had pulled away the fabric onto which they were stitched and all four top corners needed to be reinforced and the missing threads darned over.

The particular challenges with this sort of mending relate to the different densities and thicknesses of the fabric layers. Sewing in close alongside the pocket edge is difficult as the foot is naturally deflected by the vertical edge of the pocket piece and when sewing back and forth across the top of the pocket corner the foot is required to rise up and over the ramp in both forwards and reverse. I could have minimised the deflection issue by using my new ‘Slim Jim’ foot but because of the need to ride up and over different thicknesses I chose the normal presser foot as it is hinged. I minimised the deflection by loosening off the presser foot pressure.

The job was performed on my usual machine, the electric, 1939 Singer 201k and a size 12 needle. The needle ought to have been a 14 or a 16 for this sort of fabric but as I presently have only 10s and 12s I simply went slowly over the thicker sections, occasionally just ‘handing’ it for a couple of stitches where it crossed the thread bars and had no trouble. The thread in both bobbin and upper was a cone of core-spun overlocker thread which I always use for these jobs as it is a good match for faded denim. Because of the need for cones to feed off vertically I run the thread from a large, industrial-type thread stand bought from Barnyarns.

Low Shank “Slim Jim” Sewing Machine Foot

A very exciting day for me today as Helen Howes has one again come up with the goods and provided me with something I have wanted for ages; a ‘Slim Jim’ presser foot. Although I knew, by definition, that it was a slender foot with equally-matched limbs it was still a pleasant surprise when I saw how dainty it actually is in the flesh and for this reason alone I have included a photograph which shows it next to the normal, hinged foot from my Singer 201k so that the two may be compared.

I have long wanted one as I often use the edge of the presser foot as a sewing guide and it is useful to have both prongs equal in width so that the foot will be a true guide in either direction.

The first thing I have tried it out on is baby run-and-fell seams and tiny, parallel pin tucks (see photograph). I predominantly sew baby clothes am working at a particularly small and dainty scale and having a foot which allows me to get right up close without the edge of the foot hitting and being distorted by the previous line of pintucking means I can make my pintucks smaller and closer than ever which I am particularly pleased about.

The only downside is one that can easily be remedied; because the foot is so tiny it makes much less contact with the feed dogs than feet which are wider and longer but this is easily rectified by simply tightening down the presser foot tension to compensate.

A Lined Shirt (from “Pattern Making by Paper Folding” by Miss F. Heath, 1910)

A Lined Shirt.

The measurement required: – The size round the neck of the intended wearer. The collar is one-and-one-sixth of the neck. All the other measurements are derived from it. The body of the shirt is made in one long piece three-and-three-quarter times the collar length, folded nearly in half, the front being only one-quarter of a collar length shorter than the back. The width of it is one-and-a-half the collar length. Where the fold comes is the top of the shirt.

To Cut The Pattern.
As the back and the front of the body of the shirt are alike at the top, in making the pattern it is only necessary to cut the back-half. Take a piece of paper two collar lengths long, and one-and-a-half the collar length wide; fold it into four each way. Keep it folded in half lengthwise, and curve out the arm-hole from one-third of a division across the top, to the point of the first division downwards. Keep the piece you have curved out.

To Cut The Sleeves.
Take a piece of paper once-and-a-quarter the collar-length long, and two collar lengths wide. Fold it lengthwise into eight. Open it out, and then fold and cut a diagonal line through the two middle divisions. Take one of the pieces and fold it down the middle, as shown by the dots, by making the straight side lie on the sloped side. That will leave a single piece of the paper at either end which must be cut off. A small piece must be sloped off the bottom to prevent too sharp a point, and the top must be shaped. Use the piece you cut out of the armhole as a guide for that, as the top of the sleeve and the armhole must be alike.

To Cut The Neck.
The neck should not be cut until the shirt is partly made. A pattern the exact size of the piece required to be cut away can be made by cutting out a circle, the diameter of which is one-third of the collar before the turnings are allowed for, and then flattened a little (rather more than is shown in the diagram) at the top and bottom, and marking a line across it about one-eighth from the top. The following directions for making up the shirt are given, because they will simplify the work of teaching a large class. They have been found useful in the London Board Schools, as a great many shirts of this pattern are made every year for the Industrial Schools.

Directions for Making Up.

The Lining.
This should be put on first. Open the shirt flat, and then tack, and afterwards hem on the lining, giving exactly one-half of it to the front, and the other half to the back. Leave unhemmed three-quarters of an inch at the ends, until the seams are finished, in order that they may not be interfered with.

The Side Slits.
The side slits must be the same length as the armhole, measuring the front breadth of the shirt.

The Front.
The opening for the front must be cut about half-an-inch to the left side of the shirt, and must extend half way down the front.

The Front Piece.
This must be carried down from an inch to an inch and a half below the opening.

The Sleeves.
The sleeves must have the straight part to the front of the shirt.

The Sleeve Slits.
The sleeve slits must be half the length of the wrist-band.

The Wrist-Bands.
The wrist-bands must be divided into three, and all the gathers must go into the middle third.

To Cut the Neck.
Fold the front over as it should be if buttoned, and place the neck pattern on it so that the crossway line may meet the top of the shirt, and point A touch the middle of the front. Cut round it, leaving nothing for turnings.

The Gussets.
Gussets must be put in at the top of the sides and sleeve slits.

Technical Studies – A Samples Folder

When I was first at college, studying for my fashion diploma we had to produce a folder of samples. This served both as practice and reference and I have often thought about it and how useful it was for me as a beginner. The subject has occurred quite a lot in conversation so I’ve been prompted to put together a post of suggested practice pieces which might prove useful to anyone wanting to do the same. The important thing is to label everything well and to list the stages involved – either by including examples of each point or by listing the steps taken to reach the finished sample shown.


Stitch Samples

You will need: plain cotton lawn, medium-weight cotton, cotton jersey, coarsely woven fabric. All fabric should be plain – patterns make it too hard to see the detail of what you have stitched. Stickers and pen to label the fabric with. Tension should be set at between 4 and 5 unless stated otherwise. Match the thread colour to the fabric as closely as possible.


Stitch Length Exercises

Each machine will vary in the range of stitch lengths (mine are old machines and are incremented in 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30 stitches per inch) but for simplicity’s sake I will suggest sewing with 1, 2, 3 and 4mm stitch lengths although you may of course include samples for 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5mm if you wish to do so.

  1. Stitch length exercise – Topstitching:
    1. Fabric – a 20cm square of medium weight cotton folded in half and pressed.
    2. Sew parallel lines down the length of the fabric, each line in a different stitch length.
    3. Observe the finish and which seems to be neatest, which disappear into the fabric weave and which sit above it.
    4. Press them and label them. This may be repeated on as many fabric types as desired.
  2. Stitch length exercise – Seaming:
    1. Fabric – cut a 20cm square of fabric into four equal strips, cut each strip in half and press them. This will give us eight fabric strips 5 x 10cm. We will sew strips together in pairs, using different stitch lengths on each to show how it looks and behaves when pressed open.
    2. Take a pair of the strips and sew them along the longer sides, right sides together, using a 1.5cm seam and the longest possible stitch length. Repeat for the other stitch lengths and press all of the seams open and observe how each looks.
    3. Tug on the fabric either side of the seam and see whether the fabric appears stressed and likely to tear alongside the seamline.
    4. Press and label.


Seam Examples

Fabric – cut a 20cm square of fabric into four equal strips, cut each strip in half and press them. This will give us eight fabric strips 5 x 10cm. We will sew strips together in pairs, using different stitch lengths on each to show how it looks and behaves when pressed open.

  1. Open seam, pressed open, raw edges unfinished. Practice with sewing it pinned & also with it basted and compare.
  2. Open seam, pressed open and with raw edges turned under and stitched on both sides.
  3. Open seam, double topstitched.
  4. Open seam, raw edges pinked.
  5. Open seam, raw edges zigzagged.
  6. Open seam, raw edges overlock stitched (if your machine has this stitch).
  7. Open seam, raw edges overlocked (on an overlocker).
  8. Open seam, raw edges overcast (by hand).
  9. Bias bound seam.
  10. Hong Kong finish.
  11. Side-pressed seam – press seam open first, then press both to one side, raw edges unfinished.
  12. Side pressed seam, pinked edges.
  13. Side-pressed seam, overcast (by hand).
  14. Side-pressed seam, raw edges turned inwards then stitched down through all layers (looks like a felled seam).
  15. Corded seam – side pressed seam, topstitched through all layers from RS.
  16. French seam (straight seams only).
  17. Lapped seam.
  18. Felled seam.
  19. Tape bound seam (straight, using seam tape or ribbon).
  20. Bias bound seam (curved).
  21. Crossed seam – practice matching up seam lines where two cross.
  22. Piped seam – practice with and without piping cord.


Seaming and Hemming curves:

  1. Seaming a convex curve onto a concave one – will need to notch and snip the seam to get it to lie flat when turned and pressed. Use a tailor’s ham. Good practice for pressing princess seams and yokes.
  2. Seaming a convex curve onto a straight edge – experiment with where to notch and where to snip to get the seam pressed flat (over a tailor’s ham – good practice for pressing princess seams).
  3. Seaming a concave curve onto a straight edge – experiment with where to notch and where to snip to get the seam pressed flat (over a tailor’s ham – good practice for pressing princess seams).
  4. Piping a curved seam (gives strength as well as decoration).
  5. Binding a convex curve.
  6. Binding a concave curve (harder than convex, easiest to finish second side by hand if the curve is tight).
  7. Hemming a convex curve with darts (cotton fabric) & braid or bias binding.
  8. Hemming a convex curve with gathers (wool fabric) & braid or bias binding.
  9. Hemming a concave curve with facing or bias binding.
  10. Hemming a fancy (scalloped) hem.


Seaming stretch fabrics

  1. Straight seam using ordinary zigzag (use a small stitch and a small zigzag).
  2. Straight seam using triple-stitch.
  3. Repeat for whatever utility stitches your machine is equipped with for stretch fabrics.



  1. Single-turn hem. Practice with sewing it pinned & also with it basted and compare.
  2. Double-turn hem.
  3. Faced hem.
  4. Bias-faced hem.
  5. Single-turn hem, neatened with bias sewn flat across raw edge.
  6. Single-turn hem, overcast edge (by hand).
  7. Single-turn hem, herringboned (by hand).
  8. Double-turned hem, slip stitched (by hand).
  9. Blind hem.
  10. Rolled hem, machine stitched.
  11. Rolled hem, hand stitched.
  12. Pin hem.
  13. Narrow hem.


Buttonholes & Buttons

  1. 2-hole shirt button by machine (with a stand).
  2. 2-hole shirt button by hand (with a stand).
  3. 4-hole shirt button by hand (cross-sewn, with shank).
  4. Metal shank button (using thread).
  5. Metal shank button (using eyelet & split pin).
  6. Metal shank button (using tape or fabric, sewn through eyelet).
  7. Handmade buttonhole (keyhole).
  8. Bias bound buttonhole.
  9. Faced buttonhole.


Darts, Gathers & Ruffles

  1. Stitching a straight dart.
  2. Stitching a curved dart.
  3. Gathers on different stitch lengths. Measure and mark 10cm distances across pieces of cloth and then, using a gathering foot, stitch across between the marks on different stitch lengths then re-measure and note down how much each one had ‘shrunk’ by.
  4. Ruffles on different stitch lengths and settings. Measure and mark 10cm distances across pieces of cloth and then, using a ruffle attachment, stitch across between the marks on different stitch lengths then re-measure and note down how much each one had ‘shrunk’ by.


Pleats and Tucks

  1. Straight pleats.
  2. Part-sewn pleats (sewn down for part of their length).
  3. Straight tucks.
  4. Pin tucks.
  5. Box pleats.
  6. Hemming a pleat.



  1. Patch pocket with rounded bottom edges.
  2. Welt pocket.
  3. Bound pocket.
  4. Flap pocket.
  5. Jetted pocket.
  6. Side pocket (set into a seam).
  7. Hip pocket (set into a shaped panel like a front jeans pocket).


Zips and Fastenings, Openings & Miscellaneous

  1. Faced opening
  2. Bound opening
  3. Continuous opening
  4. Sleeve opening (with tab end placket)
  5. Bias-faced V-neck
  6. Faced V-neck
  7. Faced round neck
  8. Faced square neck
  9. Closed-end zip sewn into seam (no underlap).
  10. Closed-end zip sewn into seam (with underlap).
  11. Closed-end zip sewn into slit.
  12. Invisible zip sewn in seam.
  13. Invisible zip sewn into slit.
  14. Open-ended zip.
  15. Zip set into a fly opening.
  16. Hooks and eyes.
  17. Press studs.
  18. Thread bars, loops & chains.










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