Monday, July 27, 2009

Art of Dressmaking -1927

This is the latest addition to the sewing library.

We were out on Saturday and ran into a couple of porch sales. I managed to resist the tiny portable sewing machine at one sale (do I need another machine? Technically I have 5, and I haven't even tried out the last 2 old ones), but this I couldn't resist.

I love sewing books. I think all of us love sewing books, and the more obscure and harder-to-find, the better. That being said, if you come across a copy of Butterick's Art of Dressmaking, published in 1927, grab it in your sticky hands and run with it.

Butterick's purpose, according to the introduction, called "Home Dressmaking by Professional Methods," is not to provide a current how-to book: "It is not a book of current styles - those you will find in Delineator and the Butterick Quarterly - but it has been prepared with the hope that it will be useful and helpful all the time whenever and wherever clothes are being made."

Note to the editors,2009: good job.

The sewing information in this book is still accurate. Some things, of course, are missing - there are great instructions for a button fly, for instance, but nothing on zippers.

There are instructions on making various buttonholes, since "buttonhole makers" are new attachments and not readily available yet. Now there's a little innovation I'm thankful for. I'm not a big fan of the hand made buttonhole.

I love the illustrations. Even though there's a huge amount of information on properly measuring yourself, all the female figures in the book are 20s-era straight-up-and-down figures.

There are chapters on basically anything you could want - hems, facings, collars, cuffs, pockets, plackets, buttonholes, eyelets, tucks and pleats (spelled plaits), bias trim, ruffles, embroidery, lace, shirring, puffing, ruching, braid, applique, ostrich, maribou and fur, coat making, maternity, layette, boys and mens clothes, pressing, cleaning, laundering and "remodeling."

Anyone who has read Kenneth King's books or taken his Bound Buttonhole and Pocket class on Patternreview, you'll recognize the little smiley pocket at the bottom. (His instructions are better, but it's an interesting pocket in either era).

What has changed between the publication date and my reading of the book is the cultural information. In the chapter titled Maternity Clothes, the following statements are enough to make any 21st century pregnant woman go into premature labor.

"Maternity clothes have two objects: one is to make your condition unnoticeable, the other is to give you every physical advantage possible. If your clothes make you feel conspicuous and awkward, you will shrink from going out and suffer from lack of exercise and legitimate amusement which would keep you in a happy, contented frame of mind."

Not enough? Try this: "Clothes that are designed solely for maternity wear are apt to look the part and call attention to a woman's condition. At this time, you do not want to be conspicuous in any way. You want to look as much like other women as possible so thatt here will be nothing to draw notice to you."

Is anyone else getting the visual of a woman with a "Baby on Board" tshirt? Sewing may not have changed much, but attitudes certainly have. The writers of this book couldn't possibly have imagined an entire industry catering to making pregnant women look . . . pregnant, and quite often, fairly hot. I won't even get into the advice on maternity corsets - now there's an oxymoron.

The book also contains great instructions and illustrations for tailoring. Their collar instructions and illustrations are really clear.

Other than its dated attitudes, it's definitely one of the most complete sewing books I've ever come across, and I've got a long and sagging shelf of them by now.

So if you see it, buy it, both as a curiosity and as a really good reference.

In other sewing news, there is no sewing news. The room is still torn up, the wood is still in the way of my chair, and I still can't reach the power strip to turn on my machine - or unplug it to cart it off elsewhere.

Why did I start a major project when I wasn't ready (or able) to finish it? And why do I even ask such questions? I do things like this. I do them all the time. I just generally don't do them in the room I escape to when my projects get out of hand.

I think I'll go out back and visit the tomatoes - also a project getting out of hand, but at least there's a solution to that little problem.

9 comments:

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

I have that book! I found it in a vintage bookstore about a decade ago...I love it too!

Rose said...

I'm going on a mission to find that book...good sewing info and cultural history. I gotta have it! BTW, tomatoe plants are grown for times when other projects get out of hand (as well as for great eating!)

Lindsay T said...

Ooh, v. cool book! The earliest sewing book I have is mid-70s.

Myra said...

I have it, and love the hand techniques shown as well as the old advice. The suitable colors section is very cute...

McVal said...

That book looks so fascinating! I'll have to see if I can find a copy.
Thanks!

Lisette M said...

What a fantastic find!

The Slapdash Sewist said...

That looks like a wealth of information. I love the fashion illustrations as well.

Nancy K said...

A good laugh on a hot day is always welcome. I will have to see if I can find this book. It looks like a great addition to the library.

Kat said...

That's an interesting book. I think part of the maternity clothes advice might have been based on a bit of "gender" discrimination at the time. I spoke to a few *senior* employees when I first started teaching (the secretaries in the main offices), and they told me stories of how they hid their pregnancies until the 8th or 9th month because they would have been fired. The one secretary concealed her entire pregnancy, took two weeks off, came back and told her coworkers she had a baby. They couldn't believe it. No one knew she was pregnant.

I tell ya--those were the days, weren't they. Glad we don't live in the stone age anymore, but there is still room for improvement.