I feel this maniacal compulsion to make myself expert on all things Woman’s Institute. To shout its wonders to the world. To missionize. Because holy freakin crap do I love these books. And today, discovering minor differences between editions, I was positively mad with book lust. (See: The 9th Gate. It’s what my life would be if I were glamorous, rich, important and in accidental league/sex thrall with the devil. So not like my life at all except for salivating over old books and caressing them lovingly, creepily, way too much for normal people to find comfortable.) There’s a scene where Johnny Depp starts examining illustrations for tiny differences all wide eyed behind his big glasses–that is me, today.
The most fascinating example of this was the lingerie and underwear instruction books and booklets. I have three different versions–a two part paperback booklet set, and two hardback volumes printed in Britain. I assumed they’d have the same content, but it turns out they are all different! One features Edwardian type lingerie (corset covers, brassieres, knickers), one of the undated booklets features 20s era lingerie, and the final one contains 1930s more contemporary styles. It’s a fascinating transformation and I find it so interesting that around the era of suffrage, the silhouette was loose, unrestricted and free.
At least one other book has multiple versions with completely different designs–“Draping and Designing with Scissors and Cloth” (1920s version, later renamed “Designing by Draping”), “Designing by Draping” (1928) and Designing by Draping” (1936). This one is extremely rare, though reproductions are available. (Which I refuse, utterly, to buy. I know that the sellers of these are probably just hoarders like myself trying to fund their addictions, which I respect, but I require a facsimile reproduction or nothing. My compulsions demand the satisfaction of vintage page design, typeface, the exquisite yellowing of pages. And if the cover features any kind of crappily rendered, computer-drafting looking piece of crap line drawing for a book FULL of exquisite period illustrations then, um, NO.) And the Woman’s Institute books are all exquisitely designed–except, it seems, the 1936 version, which is available in PDF, for free, courtesy of the lacouturieredimanche blog (here). The illustrations have a different feel, and the text is typewritten…??? The book is genuinely a production of the Woman’s Institute, as the logo/name printing on the cover looks right, and the subject matter and instruction is definitely their kind of book, but maybe it was a very limited run not meant for wide dissemination or it was produced during the era when they were winding down their correspondence lessons. Not sure. But it’s fascinating. (Did I mention the designs are frickin’ amazing? This is my favorite era to date–the collision of art deco and the coming 40s power suit trend. Love love love.)
So where was I? Oh, yes. I want to devote vast amounts of time, energy and money toward becoming an expert about something that no one else but me is really that interested in. So kind of like being a philosophy major all over again. Except more people seem to care about vintage sewing and if I want to sew for customers I could, maybe, perhaps, make a decent living at it without suicidiality and/or having to confront daily the silences of the vast empty spaces. Even writing, which I also wasted years of my life and thousands of dollars in formal education for, isn’t a pleasureable existence for me, mining one’s own psyche for arbitrary meaning and all that. My happiness moments have been working with my hands at a craft, baking pies at 7am in a restaurant, staining houses in the middle of the woods, etc. There is such a pleasure in craft work–tangible, puzzle like problems and cultivating a specific skill set seeking mastery even though you know you will never fully get it. (If you’ve never seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Netflix that shit STAT.) *lost in swoony reverie*
My hoard of books is amassing at a ridiculous rate. I’ve happily sort of stalled on amassing sewing machines, though my recent trip to the backwoods of cell-service-black-hole-of-despair Missouri to take Ray White’s AMAZING sewing machine repair course has me dangerously close to backsliding on that. Over the course of his class, somehow I went from being a girl with a hobby to a girl with a dream of her own sewing machine/historical fashions business. That’s some heavy shit, that is.
So for now I’ll have to wait (the old day job beckons) to scribble some annotated bibliographies, which is sort of one of the greatest pleasures of human existence. And to sit waiting by my front door eagerly awaiting the arrival of the mailman (who knows me and my obsessions so well that he actually gave me an old Kenmore–thank god he’s a patient sweetheart, because a lesser person might resent all the things he has had to lug to my house. When I joked about being a hoarder, I think he believed me.) ALSO: in bouncy bouncy news, I just won what looks to be the abbreviated version (shorter books) of the 12 vol. Isabel Conover dressmaking set circa 1921! More on that very soon!