Vintage Sewing Library: W. D. F. Vincent on Shirtmaking; early 1900s shirt miscellany


I’m having a mini-obsession at the moment, trying to learn to make a proper shirt. The boyfriend is in dire need of some new ones, so, armed with a Craftsy course by David Page Coffin on shirtmaking details, this book from late 1890s-early 1900s? by the W. D. F. Vincent, prolific editor of Tailor and Cutter, and a heavy dose of Boardwalk Empire = weekend filled!

Parenthetically, I should say that really, really love the David Page Coffin Craftsy courses. He has an interesting way of approaching his areas of interest, which I find relatable with my usual pattern of get obsessively interested + read a bajillion things tangentially related to subject –> try to synthesize firehose of information in way that makes sense and breaks subject down into components. Of course, I think my process is complicated by attention deficit/distractability issues (which is why I sewed a pair of pants and a cut-on Mandarin collar kimono experiment blouse a whim this week, instead of, oh, say, a SHIRT). But I really enjoy his way of breaking down the problem of shirt or trouser making into a core pattern and interchangeable detail elements, rather than being another dressmaking sew along this is how you do it from start to finish kind of course. This course doesn’t really cover how to construct or draft the bare bones shirt pattern itself, but that’s where the W. D. F. Vincent comes in.




Detachable collars are familiar enough to me from Peaky Blinders and the mini-obsession with them I had while binge-watching that show, but I wasn’t fully aware that the shirt fronts (or “detachable shirt bosoms”) were also detachable. Apparently these were made in detachable and even disposable form:


Apparently they were made in cardboard, paper and other materials for kinds of work like waiting tables, where it was easier to just trash the false front rather than launder one.

Then I vaguely remembered seeing the Bugs Bunny opera skit and suddenly the world became comprehensible:

When the singer’s layers start to unfurl, you see his detachable collar come off, his shirt front roll up, his suspenders holding everything in place. Apparently these detachable shirt fronts were typically held in place with buttons to the trouser front. Thank you, google patents! Also, fun fact, apparently they didn’t incorporate this into the elaborate, very accurate costuming for Downton Abbey and you can sometimes see these formal fronts bunching up on the actors where they would not have if buttoned properly. (citing my source) Apparently shirts of the era would have had a button there, where loops like this could fasten:



Patents reveal a variety of fronts and fastening configurations (I have a patent fetish, not gonna lie):


And the cherry on top–did I mention detachable collars in the Vincent book? Because this is sewing porn right here.



I think that’s about all the overcaffeinated tangents I’ve got. Happy weekend!

There Will Be Blood; or, Amanda Works on Hand Sewing and other August Sewing Randomness

Often I find myself hesitant to post because I’m never satisfied with the work I’ve done and tend to not complete things as often as some sewers. Often I discover mid-project the shoulder slant isn’t right or the fit is off in some way that will prevent me from ever wearing the garment so in the fabric scrap pile it goes. But this month, I actually finished two things! Self drafted corsets, no less. They aren’t perfect, but I’m going to try not to look at my sewing that way from the point on…instead I’m going to appreciate everything I learned this month, and the skills I started to acquire while doing these projects…like inserting boning, adding eyelets, encasing boning channels, inserting a busk, cording, hand stitching, adding puller loops to a corset, etc…

An underbust/waist cincher in black shantung and cotton duck.
My first go at inserting eyelets.

I liked this corset and wore it for a full day to test the fit and how it behaved actually on my body. Since it didn’t have a busk and is somewhat long for my short torso, I found it a bit uncomfortable for some activity. My grandma helped me lace it up initially and since grandma was a very accomplished lacer of corsets back in the 50s when the ladies in her family took it to near tightlacing levels for an evening out, it was quite the study in masochism until I loosened it up a bit. Driving in it was absolutely miserable because it somehow seemed to be too long for comfort while at the same time riding up and compressing my rib cage to a degree that was miserable. I think part of the problem might be the ratio of my hip / waist / bust being what it is; without the valley of a significantly defined waist to rest it, if I didn’t have it cinched very tight it sort of drifted. I think a waist tape might help with this, and/or converting the corset to a proper underbust where the bust might help it stay in position.

So then I tried a shorter version:


Puller loops for the win! These are the loops that look out of place above–most of the time the lace goes from one side to the other but to create a puller loop, go to the hole directly above where the cord last came through. Keep a lot of slack in the lacing here. Lace up the rest in the normal crossover pattern. Then when you’re lacing it up, you tie it at the top or bottom or wherever as usual, but you can pull the puller loops to tighten and then tie them off in a bow too. I found this made it much much easier to remove them too!

The shorter version is more comfortable but sort of wanders freely over my rectangular torso. Also the shorter version seems to give a much less satisfying line, since my proportions are what they are, and the corset seems to actually add a bit of girth even as it smooths the line of the torso. For me, the result wasn’t hourglassy; my ribs are too large for that figure flattery. The look is much more abrupt and I discovered when I squish in everything, it creates a nice squidgey little roll of displaced fat between my underbust and the top of the corset. Oof. I’m sure with practice and some habitual waist shaping these things would be less of an issue for me. (Also, I cut the bias binding far too narrow, so it’s a bit messy, but I found hand sewing the binding to be the most soothing activity ever. It’s what I do at school pickup time when I’m trying to quell my social awkwardness around my parent peers. Go ahead, mfers, ask me about my obsessive interest. I DARE you.)

On the uncompleted front, I tried a Renaissance era set of stays and also a set of 1810s-ish conical stays; they didn’t work out for me. (Large ribcage + small bust + large waist = bust fabric floppage and/or unflattering boob squishdown with nothing left to spill over like some heaving bosomed Jane Austen romantic-yet-snarky heroine.) But I learned so much!

Cording is time and thread consuming but actually pretty magical. Same with handsewn eyelets. This is done here with plain old yarn and muslin for practice🙂

Now I’m on to a simple pattern for a very simple corset with gores for shaping. It’s self drafted and it’s a crude trial run I’m giving myself full permission to make a mess of. It’s in cotton duck with a front busk and back lacing. I inserted a busk for the first time. I did a ton of hand sewing on it for practice, even though it’s terribly inefficient and I have torn the living sh*t out of my fingers in the process.

Super sewing tip–if you get blood on a garment you’re sewing, saliva does a fantastic job of removing it before it stains. Just spit on the spots and rub. Probably something to do with enzymes breaking down the blood. Also–beeswax is your friend. This is rapidly turning into my favorite thing to do.


Be it ever so humble, my hand stitching is starting to resemble a proper line.

Happy almost autumn…getting excited for the return of layered clothing!

Vintage Sewing Library: 1930s-40s Draping

I’m not sure if I have shared this link before or not, but I returned to it recently and thought I should share. These books were linked to on The Vintage Pattern Files blog, which is itself an incredibly generous resource for knitting and vintage fashion too. But the books themselves are great resources on draping, and one of them happens to be a Woman’s Institute booklet produced in the mid 30s. Evie of La Couturiere Dimanche scanned it and made it available on her blog (here). I love all things Woman’s Institute, and their materials from the 30s are especially hard to find. Yay for the internet!


There’s another by Mary Evans from 1935–Draping and Dress Design.


It goes into some depth on draping sleeves and shoulders and necklines, which are my current problem areas to get the fit just right. Also interesting historically, since there seems to be an erroneous contemporary idea that toiles or muslins weren’t really used, despite Mary Brooks Picken advocating them in notes in Fashion Service in the 20s and these draping guides. My suspicion is that wartime shortages made fabric more expensive during the 40s, or maybe people had less disposable income for muslin, or the make do and mend mentality changed sewing practices during that time, and maybe that stuck until our contemporary era. If anyone knows more about that, I’d love to hear it!

As far as my own projects go, I have two wearable muslins in progress at the moment–one is a blazer jacket that actually allows some movement and incorporates tailoring techniques (thank you Craftsy courses!) and another is my first decent self drafted corset.  Both started as flat pattern attempts, went wrong multiple times, and gradually morphed via draping and chalking and cutting and cussing into something more like a workable pattern. I think draping is more my style thank flat patterning, despite all my attempts to do it the hard way. Sigh.



Fitting Woes: Moulage Drafting

Wow, it appears I have not posted in months. Sometimes I go full Luddite and stay offline for everything but work and listen to wordless cello music while I sew buttonholes by hand, because the pileup of current events has me too depressed about everything to subject myself to the bombardment of information about the all the terrible things…but then Craftsy drags me back.

So I just lost about 10 hours of my life to attempting to draft a moulage. Never again. I took Suzy Furrer’s class on Craftsy, after a lot of reading on the subject and a lot of optimism about this maybe being the thing that finally gets the right armhole/shoulder/neck fit that has eluded me for a few years now. Having just drafted my basic moulage, I can see that it’s clearly a f-ing disaster and it’s going to take either remeasuring measurements I’m 97% sure are accurate, having taken them a gazillion times for a gazillion different drafting attempts, or this process will require a holy fuckton of muslin making iterations that I’m not willing to do, having already been there and done that so many times and have a trial/error based sloper that works already. Let’s call this one a total FAIL.

The problem isn’t the class, really–Suzy Furrer does a fine job of teaching something that seems incredibly complicated to convey via distance learning. She’s thorough and as clear can be expected when neck deep in the hell of applied geometry using fractions. But I have a feeling that the industry standards, basically the formulas and rules behind the drafting, are not going to work for my proportions. As with virtually every set of out of the envelope patterns.

And it seems to be a bit more complicated than simply doing a “forward shoulder adjustment” seen all over the web (see: here for example) and on Kathleen Cheetham’s “Fitting the Neck and Shoulders” Craftsy course, which I have *also* taken and found abysmally lacking in anything new or revelatory that can help with my weird body shape. I like her body positive framing of the adjustments, but it’s mostly what I’ve seen in any number of books on basic pattern alteration already.

I have a) forward shoulders b) a broad back and somewhat wide shoulders and c) a large rib cage and d) relatively thick, short waistline. In fashion column what-to-wear parlance, I’d be an apple body or an inverted triangle. Comparing my trial and error slopers has been interesting, because my back bodice is almost two sizes larger than the front. My shoulders are not only forward, but have something of a concave curve in the front. I’ve noticed this on family, too, almost as if being broad backed without our front proportions being equal causes the shoulder angle to shift slightly to arrange this mass on the frame. It seems as if having a forward shoulder takes the straight horizontal line of the back and makes it into two planes moving in different directions, also rotating the shoulder blade slightly out. I think this changes patternmaking for close fitting garments in a way I have yet to see explained. See exhibit A from some random Tailor and Cutter board I can’t find now which had no citation for the original source anyway:


I think a lot of drafting assumes the figure alignment to the far right, while mine is basically the center one plus boobs and maybe a slight swayback. Le sigh.

There was a fantastic piece in Seamwork (here) talking about gender neutral or gender flexible fashion (a subject near and dear to my heart because some days I want to dress like a 18th century dandy and some days I want to be Scarlet O’hara and my taste ranges all over the place!) On the difference between menswear and womenswear:

“Fundamentally, womenswear and menswear are made for differently shaped bodies. Menswear proportions usually consist of more width in the shoulder, long legs, and a short torso. Womenswear is designed to accommodate someone who is the widest at the hip, and who has a shorter torso, a bust, and shorter arms.”

So, again, I’m wondering if simply adding bust definition to a sloper intended for male bodies wouldn’t be the easier way to get here. Full bust adjustment + waist darting on a menswear sloper? Maybe the usual seam shifting of most forward shoulder adjustments? The world may never know, because I’m irritated to the point of sewing knits for awhile.


Lol, just kidding. I’m actually working on a pair of stays with shoulder straps to work on my garbage posture because it’s probably easier than learning to draft for this sh*t.

Rabbit Hole of the Day: WTF is a Fichu?

I watch a LOT of period dramas. (Aptly named, quoth the partner. Har har.) And I read a lot of old timey sewing materials, so I know I’ve seen a fichu collar, and I have seen it referenced in pattern books, but ask me what it actually IS and/or how to make it and I don’t really know. So…wikipedia says:

A fichu is a large, square kerchief worn by women to fill in the low neckline of a bodice. It originated in the United Kingdom in the 18th century and remained popular there and in France through the 19th with many variations,[1] as well as in the United States.[2] The fichu was generally of linen fabric and was folded diagonally into a triangle and tied, pinned, or tucked into the bodice in front.

I’ve seen it in books from the 1800s, and especially like this example from Godey’s (source):


Here are some gorgeous examples from 1780s era paintings by Adelaide Labille-Guiard, whose story is fascinating in its own right–I had never heard of her before researching fichus, but she was a talented painter who defied convention by learning painting at all in a mentoring system that typically denied access to women and went on to earn a living as a professional painter and teacher of her craft, painted royalty, and even divorced and remarried in the 17oos! (source for paintings; source of biographical info)


Some more pretty pictures of unknown origin:


And here are some examples from museum collections (all from The Met, I believe, via pinterest and here):

So how might one sew up one of these pieces of lacy frilly uber feminine indulgences? Like so (from Peterson’s Magazine, found on this treasure trove of historical pattern inspiration here):

fichu petersons magazine june 1877

Or like this, from an unknown source but originally viewed (here):

fichu1 dressdiariesdotlivejournaldotcom

Tea In a Teacup has a great, in depth post on different varieties of fichus and how one might construct and embroider the different shapes (here). She created the following diagram, which is a great starting place for sewing up a few of my own to slip under vests or into necklines that scoop a bit lower than I’d like (what can I say, I’m a prude about my decollete):


Also cool to see was the ways this historical article comes back from time to time in fashion cycles, as does everything, it seems. (Except maybe the monokini.) For sewing inspiration and some styling and interpretation ideas, here are way too many images of fichus, fichu collars and fichu-esque drapery, mostly from Etsy, Pinterest, Ebay and the Vintage Pattern Wikia. The vast majority of actual fashion pieces are from Dior in the 50s/modern day:

Hour count for 10k hours project: 298

Current Sewing Projects: Knit Blouses and Victorian Blazers, Oh My

I want so many things on my sewing table. Impossible things. Impractical things.



Black tulle tutus and sunglasses and spring cool.


To draft the perfect catsuit.


But more than anything this week, I have been working on a Victorian style blazer. Something like this, but sleeker, more vampirey. This is a Burda jacket from the Hills are Alive or something about the sound of music, but my brain is taking it to a dark nuclear post-apocalyptic place. I loathe the running stitches and the pockets and the boxy fit, and I don’t like the position of the front bust darts either. So like this but not really like this at all except the high shoulder and the high-ish back neckline. *shrug* I also have been irritated in the past by the lack of seam allowance on Burda patterns, so I definitely won’t be buying this one. Just eyecandy. Also: do you think that’s really her hair, or is that a weave? It’s a serious hunk of hair there.


My partner hates poofey shoulders. So of course those have to happen. Because like Lady Gaga, I’m a free b***h, baby, and I LIKE a little old timey high sleeve cap if it doesn’t poof vertically. I’m thinking a single button closure in the front, a shawl collar, with a high back neck. I’ll probably give it a go in denim waste fabric for now, saving my red herringbone suiting for when I get the fit right.

I’ve actually had a good sewing week–I tried using  a vest pattern to draft a bodice for a jacket, and used my 1880s sleeve from the recent tailored jacket attempt. The fit is nearly perfect, except for the shoulders. When I move my arms forward, it pulls on the front of my shoulder and on the back, along the edge of the scye near my scapula. All my reading of historical tailoring stuff has me wanting to try a new approach on my next attempt. They talk about getting armholes TIGHT, which seems to be sort of the opposite of the slash and spread suggestions I’m used to seeing and trying and failing miserably with. The idea, as I understand, is that the better the fit of the bodice, even–and maybe especially–in the armscye area, the more independent the sleeve movement will be from the more stationary bodice. Instead of lowering the armhole or adding more back ease and sacrificing the hard earned fit, I’m going to try adding more fabric to the bodice armhole, but not only in my usual vertical direction–I’m going to shift the side seam outward and slightly up. With my back being broad and somewhat rounded at the shoulder/scapula line, as well as slightly hunched forward, my back is taking up fabric from the sleeve and my shoulders/back extend in this weird diagonal way compared to the standard form. What I want to do is cover my entire back with the bodice, so that the ease in the sleeve isn’t used up by my back mass. If that makes sense. We’ll see!

I took my jacket attempt #1 and chalk lined it all up trying to figure out where to add. I even bought some hook and eye tape, since I haven’t gotten over my buttonhole aversion just yet. So drafting and cutting attempt 2 is my project for tonight!

Another thing to consider is sleeve pitch. Sleeve pitch, as I understand very roughly, is the sort of rotation of the sleeve in the scye. Most of the time the center top of the sleeve is aligned with the shoulder seam in the usual high position on top of the shoulder. But with stooped posture or forward shoulders or very erect postures, tailors *seem* from my reading to rotate the sleeve slightly within the scye to accomodate. This keeps the grainline in the right position relative to the arm. So with my shoulder being rotated forward maybe 10-15 degrees from standard (this would be set “high” in the tailoring parlance, I think), I might try rotating my sleeve forward to keep the hang correct. What I’m curious about in this case, though, is whether it matters at all that this might throw off the match up of underarm sleeves and side seams. Would one need to shift the underarm seam? In my case with the 1880s style two piece sleeve it doesn’t matter at all, though.

I’ve been branching out and sewing with knit fabrics quite a bit too. I resisted it for ages, seeing it as something like playing an electric guitar to sound good because your technique isn’t good enough to play acoustic. But the perfectionist in me loves the lack of fraying seam edges and the lazy instant gratification craver in me who has been sewing for three years with precious little wardrobe action to show for it ADORES the fact that I can sew up something quickly that forgives minor fitting issues. So far in the last two weeks I’ve made: two great fitting, exceedingly comfortable pairs of thongs (which I intend to make a pattern of to send out into the world soon!), a princess seamed scarf collared 1930s style blouse and another more Edwardian-ish high necked, poofy gathered sleeve blouse in a sleek, pretty ITY knit! Not gonna lie, I’m pretty stoked. That’s like a year’s worth of finished objects for me, and ALL self drafted. Someday, when I find a tripod, I’ll have to post pictures. It’s an incredible feeling to find that my spread-so-thin sewing attentions come together sometimes and actually produce something.

Also, the weather is BEAUTIFUL here. I love it.


Happy weekend!





Sewing Machines: Slantomatic 401

I’ve been trying to rotate some of my favorite machines recently. I love my Necchi machines so much that I could sew on them forever and never feel like I was missing out on anything (is there such a thing as sewing machine monogamy?) but variety is the spice of life, they say. Also I want to use the others enough to keep them well maintained and to break some of the older ones back in to optimal performance. So I’m revisiting some of my Singer machines.

I currently have two Slantomatic 401s. One of them came to me perfectly tuned, oiled, adjusted. It was the first vintage sewing machines I purchased for myself when I began sewing regularly and the Walmart plastic Brother sewing machine just wasn’t working for me anymore. The first time I sewed with it, I was in love. Compared to the rickety, inconsistent stitch quality of the bargain basement Brother, with its dismal white lump design and utter lack of aesthetic appeal, it was heavenly. The stitches are gorgeous and the feed is so consistent that I can turn my work and sew perfectly over the stitches that came before. *swoon*

It converted me to a vintage machine enthusiast forever. It’s gear driven, which gives it a feeling of solidity and precision like nothing I’d sewn on before. Internally it’s all metal, save for one part–there is a very large, crucial gear on the handwheel that is actually textolite, a very durable plastic material. Unlike many of the plastic and nylon materials Singer used over the years, it doesn’t seem prone to breaking, thankfully. (For more info, see Old Sewing Gear’s great blog here.) It has zig zag, a blind hem stitch, and three step zig zag stitch built in, as well as a ton of other decorative stitch possibilities. The needle position is adjustable and the needle plate has measurements engraved in it, which is really helpful with seam allowances.

I bought another in awful shape as a clean up project. It was caked in weird greasy gunk externally, which was impossible to get off without alcohol soaked q tips. It was varnished up internally as well, which alcohol works well to clean up–it evaporates quickly enough that it isn’t as much of a problem near wiring as something like WD40 would be (which the jury seems out on using to loosen stuck sewing machines anyway). The camstack and gears that allow for the decorative stitching were bound up as well–I had to use a hair dryer multiple times to allow the warming and cooling of the metal to expand and contract the parts enough to work the oil in and loosen up everything. Now it sticks a bit from time to time, but overall it’s working wonderfully.

So that’s my current go to machine for my foray into sewing with jersey. With a ballpoint needle, it works incredibly well for this purpose. I thought I’d share some photos of mine and some of the technical information I’ve found over the years. (Apologies to the original source of the schematic–although the manual can be found on the Singer website, I’m no longer sure where the schematic is from. And the service manual was made available by Donald of Sewing Dude – his post here. His blog is very informative and very, very funny!)

singer 401a – manual

singer 401a – schematic

singer-401-service-manual from Sewing Dude blog