Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading List Part Three: So You Want to Learn to Sew Historically

You, too, could embroider napkins
with your four identical friends.
Step one: acquire a historical sewing manual!  I'm lucky enough to have access to a university library of some size, with a large textile arts section, so I've found most of my favorites by just browsing the TT 500's.  I've also tracked down some gems by requesting an inter-library loan at my local public library, so that's an option if you know what you're looking for.

Here are a couple of my discoveries:

Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques--more accurately titled Authentic Edwardian Dressmaking Techniques--is a reprint of a Butterick pamphlet from 1905, and oh how times have not changed.  Sleeve cap ease?  Check.  FBAs?  Check.  There are even pictures of a pleasant-looking woman with very big hair having her measurements taken, from which we modern readers may learn that the 'bust' measure at that time was actually what we'd call 'high bust' or 'chest'--good to know, if you're sewing from a very old pattern.

This is an excellent book to own if you strongly agree with one or more of the following statements:

1) I think ten dollars is the best price for a book.

2) I am titillated by pictures of women in pigeon-chest corsets.

3) I sometimes/frequently sew from Edwardian patterns.

4) I would like to know how to finish my floor-length skirt hems with velveteen or braid binding to protect them from snow and mud, hand-sew a number of practical and ornamental stitches, and alter a perforated pattern with nothing but a pair of scissors and my own ingenuity.

Sewing Made Easy: All About Dressmaking and Sewing for the Home, by Mary Lynch & Dorothy Sara.  I found my copy serendipitously, at a small used bookstore we stopped into on the way out to a vacation town for lunch, but more copies seem to be available cheaply on Amazon.  It's full of those cute, fifties-style line drawings that omit noses and make women look like Barbies with DA haircuts, which is part of its charm.  It's aimed towards beginners, so if you've been draping your own ballgowns since time immemorial you won't find much here, and it spends what we might think of as an inordinate amount of time on topics like "minimizing your figure faults," "building a wardrobe," and "making ruffly curtains."

Some highlights: accessory advice for petite women falls under the heading "If You Are a Wee Bit!"; the chapter on "clothes for the expectant mothers," like most maternity patterns of the era, does not actually include pictures of actual pregnant women; the dustjacket on my copy features a photo of a Dick Nixon lookalike wearing an apron embroidered with dancing vegetables.

This is an excellent book to own if you strongly agree with one or more of the following statements:

1) Anatomically inaccurate line drawings entertain me.

2) My home or apartment would be greatly improved by the addition of ruffly curtains.

3) The man/woman/pet in my life would be greatly improved by the addition of a dancing-vegetable apron.

4) I'm planning to live my life from now on as an upper-middle-class woman from 1953, and need advice on assembling the perfect wardrobe.

More books to come later--hang tight, readers.

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