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.

sacshirt

 

yoke-back-fronted-forepartfronted-part-variationsdirectmeasureshirts-from-lounge

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:

1912-fiberloid_shirt_dickey

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:

trouser-button-detachable-front

 

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.

collars-and-cuffs

 

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

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Fitting Woes and Effin Slopers.

Grumpycat_meme1

I’ve sewn three slopers in the last two days. The only explanations I had left were a) I’m deformed b) I’m deformed and a terrible measurer or c) I’m deformed, a terrible measurer and I suck at digital drafting.

Let me show you why I am deformed. This is my dad:

dadbeingstatuesquelol

Don’t get me wrong, he was the best dad. He was funny and smart and so very, very kind. I miss him every single day, and credit him with what little patience and persistence I have. While my dad’s physique was quite the accomplishment, and while I am, of course, ever appreciative of the glorious blend of Arnold Schwarzenegger-isms and raw egg protein concoctions that comprised my childhood, THOSE BACK PROPORTIONS THOUGH. I inherited those lats, and I curse them every time I sew. (Alas I inherited neither his motivation to be super fit nor his abs, although I do okay–no sugar, healthy eating, etc. I just loathe any exercise that isn’t walking or dancing around my living room like Thom Yorke. Don’t do this barefoot; it’s a good way to break your foot. Ask me how I know this.) Also: my posture plagued my dad. He designed workouts to fix my forward shoulders, which back then I didn’t care about, being a stubborn kid who stooped mostly out of shyness. I still notice myself doing this when the social anxiety kicks in. The combination of broad man back I inherited from a long line of farmer strong brawler folk and my grunge era forward stoop means that fitting a bodice is a nightmare. NIGHTMARE. I also have pretty much no waistline and narrow hips, so that’s not fun when all my vintage patterns are drafted for someone who wore a girdle from age ten. I have been stubbornly fighting with the various pattern fitting possibilities since I began sewing. In the last few days, in a veritable paroxysm of determination, I have tried:

-a forward shoulder adjustment
-a round back adjustment
-a broad shoulder adjustment
-a sloped shoulder adjustment
-lowered armhole
-shoulder seam darts
-neck darts
-drafting a bodice block from my measurements using two different systems

It has been so incredibly frustrating. I can get a block to fit my torso, kind of, using these methods. But as soon as I add sleeves, my broad back renders any forward motion of my arms impossible. The fit is uncomfortable AF. So after the failure of attempt number 3, I broke out the duct tape dress form and tried draping again. I tried this in the past, but wasn’t very practiced, so my results weren’t the best and I sort of let it fall by the wayside. But this time, after all the math and all the frustration, it was easy as pie.

I was going about it all wrong. I’m not deformed; I just have a manbody. And I’m not even that bad at drafting, but all the formulas I was using were based on creating blocks for a much more stereotypically feminine form. The final blocks I came up via draping look way more like this:

mensvest

than anything even vaguely resembling this:

woman's sloper2

and I wonder how many other women with petite, larger waisted, broad backed figures are also making themselves crazy trying to make the formulas work for them when (it would seem) the basic proportions involved are wrong from the start. From now on for myself it’s all man-blocks. I actually had already gone this route for a few pairs of pants, hellbent on not risking the cameltoe look. They work great, actually. And since most of what I want to sew channels Lilith from Frasier and the tailored suit look, blocks designed for men with a slight bust adjustment might be far less of a headache for me.

If anyone else has been through the gauntlet of these particular fitting issues and knows of any solutions, I would *love* to hear about it! I’m also very curious about the theoretical differences in drafting for men vs women. It seems like the tailor / couturier-dressmaker traditions were historically quite separate industries, which I don’t fully understand the reasons for and will have to read up on.¬† But it seems like the basic methods of drafting should be universal, regardless of the figure? I’m also curious about how many people have fitting problems because of the standard male vs standard female figure used for drafting…

 

Woman’s Institute Sewing Books Editions and More Vintage Library: Designing by Draping, 1936

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.

9thgate

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.)

designingbydraping1 designingbydraping2 designingbydraping3 designingbydraping4So 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!