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!

Advertisements

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!

designingbydraping1936

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

drapinganddressdesign1935

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 than flat patterning, despite all my attempts to do it the hard way. Sigh.

Vintage Sewing Library: Medieval Embroidery Inspirations

This is the rabbit hole I’ve been down today. Medieval blackwork embroidery:

All of the above examples are from medieval portraiture except for the photograph, which is from (here).  There is a gorgeous reproduction of the cuff above, which is from Holbein’s portrait of Jane Seymour during the Tudor era. This version was done by Alexandra Gray (more info here).

3493160_orig

I’ve found a few great sources for this on archive.org–one is a book from 1532 from Alessandro Peganino, because when I go vintage, I go VINTAGE. Here are some of the illustrations it includes:

The original book is available for free (here). I’m hoping to incorporate some of these designs as trimming details on some of my 1920s tunic attempts!

Free Sewing Inspiration: ABC of Dress by Harry Collins

Oh internet. Daily you force me to confront the best and the worst in humanity. *waits for pizza ordered online thus avoiding the dread and horror of talking to real humans on the phone* Is there a special circle of hell for people who claim to be book lovers and knowledge preservers who just sit back and profit off of some poor publicly funded librarian’s scanning efforts? I would like to think so. (I noticed this book, and many others, from archive.org listed on Etsy, being sold as someone’s own work. The listing *did* make me sit up and take notice of the book’s content, which is a plus, but also depresses/frustrates/enrages me bc there are sellers who just take others’ work and sell it as their own.)

But where was I? OH YES. Art deco 1920s excellence that I wouldn’t have ever found had I not been snarkresearching on this Etsy seller’s stock. This book by Harry Collins called the ABC of Dress is part dressing guide, part dressmaking guide and the illustrations are gorgeous:

Wanna download it? A variety of formats available (here) free of charge, thanks to the indefatigable wonderful folks at archive.org.

Free Sewing Inspiration: Simplicity Preview, April 1958

simplicity-april-58-telephone
This image just begs for creative captioning.

I’ve been scanning and hoarding, scanning and hoarding lately, revelling in old paper and list-making. Bookworm heaven. Learning new software, working on a real live sewist/compulsive archivist type site design. Even brushing up on my sad, sad French skills because I want to work on some translations of old French pattern drafting books. (Can you tell I’m desperate for brainwork post-college? I was in school so long I can’t function without the structure and the immersion in a subject; sewing history is seriously keeping me from losing my mind as suburban middle age overtakes me.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a free PDF I made of a vintage pattern mini-catalog. It’s too fragile for much handling so it was a good candidate for scanning practice. 🙂 It’s a fun little piece of Audrey-Hepburn-in-her-heyday inspiration, particularly appropriate since I’m mourning the fact that Mad Men wrapped up. I haven’t seen any of the final season yet–I’m trying to dodge spoilers till Netflix puts up the final season and I can lose three days to drooling over Jon Hamm and Janie Bryant’s costume work as fully as they deserve.

(click here to download the pdf)

Enjoy!

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!

Vintage Sewing Library: Free Isabel Conover Books Online

Old sewing books are a weakness for me; when the original is not available or is too expensive, I can usually content myself with an ebook. When this ebook is sold by a seller who scanned the material him/herself, I am perfectly okay with paying them their asking price for the time and effort put into digitizing the info. I also sympathize with their obsessive, hoardy nature and their love of the vintage; we are probably similar creatures. But I am decidedly NOT okay with shifty, shitty booksellers who find material on sites that offer it for free (University of Wisconsin has a great archive, archive.org, etc) and then present it as their own “item they have seen value in and brought back for our customers.” What really, really pisses me off is when I spend $8 on an ebook of a super rare book from a bookseller overseas which turns out to be taken from the University of Wisconsin site. So I could have downloaded it for free, but instead I paid someone $8 to be a shady shit. The seller even offered me a discounted rate, still upward of $40, to buy a hard copy reprint of the same book. Jerks.

So today I find myself hunting for Isabel Conover books and see that the same shady shit bookseller is offering ebook versions of her stuff (let’s just say they’re based in Delhi, India). So I KNOW it’s on the internet somewhere, because said shady bookseller isn’t actually going to bother with scanning something themselves to offer valuable information back to the world, they’re just going to steal someone else’s contribution to humanity. GAH.

So because screw them here are all the links I have found while looking for Isabel Conover materials. She had a dressmaking course in two versions (a longer, 12 volume, 1200+ page version which I did not win a heated bidding war for on ebay, and an abbreviated multivolume version) and a Dressmaking Made Easy book out during the 1910s-20s, so the designs are very lovely Edwardian and art deco designs. Which I’ve been crazy about in the last few weeks. (My sewing obsessions flit wildly from decade to decade as I get a broader sense of my own style, the lines I like, the detailing that appeals to me, what flatters and what does not. See: HBO’s Mildred Pierce as case study in what to sew and what not to sew. Kate Winslet’s costuming=vintage but dowdy and unflattering, as befitting her character. Rachel Evan Wood=sizzling, flattering vintage that makes me want to lose 10lbs and wear a epic shit ton of satin. More on this later, I’m sure, as that movie has me in a style swoon marveling at the perfect clothes of one of the coldest women I’ve ever seen on film.) Anyway, links:

Archive.org has one volume (Lesson 12) (Men’s Clothes and Index) of the complete dressmaking course available for free (here).

Antique Pattern Library (a fabulous free resource for lots of arts and crafts; I love their calligraphy books too) has six volumes of the abbreviated booklet version:

Lesson 1: Introduction (here)

Lesson 2: How to Make Aprons and House Dresses (here)

Lesson 3: How to Make Underwear (here)

Lesson 4: How to Make Infants Clothes (here)

Lesson 5: How to Make Blouses (here)

Lesson 11: How to Make Coats (here)

Archive.org also has her entire 160pg book, Dressmaking Made Easy, available (here) for free.  Incidentally, it was part of a “Made Easy” series which also included Entertaining, Dancing, Etiquette, Grammar, Spelling, and Tricks and Magic Made Easy, all available on the archive.org site for anyone interested in the cultural atmosphere of the era. 🙂

Happy reading!

Vintage Sewing Book Addiction: Constance Talbot and Mary Brooks Pickens

womansinstitutebooksby booksbw etsy

(image from Etsy shop BookBW)

My hoarding continues. I’m currently fiending on the old Domestic Arts and Sciences Institute books and found a few for decent prices on Ebay. I also discovered Constance Talbot’s The Complete Book of Sewing which, fortunately for us, was reprinted frequently and is relatively readily available on Amazon and used book sites for really low prices. It’s also available (here on archive.org) to borrow. You have to create an account but it takes all of three seconds and involves no spamming whatsoever.

Archive.org is a treasure trove. The Secrets of Distinctive Dress by Mary Brooks Pickens? They have it. For download. For FREE. (Pdf version here.) It’s part of the Domestic Arts series I’m trying to collect, and it’s a 280ish page gem of style advice and cosmetic tips from the period (1918). It’s like doing anthropology on your own culture. Bonus artifacts: the archive also has the Institute’s volumes on cookery, in case you want to cook a meal to match your period dress. Extra points for doing so on an open hearth. (Click here for the page links for all five volumes.)

Sewing Stagnation: Fitting Woes and The Basic Button Down Blouse

Ever since I began seriously sewing, I have been struggling to attain the perfect button down ivory shirt. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult this is. Almost every pattern I have tried has been too tight for my man shoulders and large rib cage or fit me like a burlap sack. I just tried another (McCalls 4922) and as soon as I finished the set in sleeves found the fit is, once again, awful.

I am so picky some of my woes are self-inflicted. I don’t like the shapelessness of jersey or the places it clings unflatteringly to the body (looking at you, lower belly pooch), so I lose out on the simple fitting joys of stretchy material. I also don’t like the way the seams look in anything but a straight stitch, which is silliness, I know. I want the crisp look of woven materials but I also want to be able to streetfight with no range of motion loss in my tailored blouse. My wardrobe desires are truly ridiculous. This is what happens when you watch too many comic book movies with women who are basically doing acrobatics in a corseted skin tight suit while they fluently speak seven languages hurling perfect one liners at bad guys. SUPERWOMAN COMPLEX INDEED.

But where was I? Oh, fitting issues. I have sewn probably 20 shirts, and I still haven’t found the pattern I want to settle down with as a tried and true reliable basis for further modifications. I have tried draping a sloper on my poor duct tape dress form but that just hasn’t ended well. What looks good on the form does not translate into a flattering shape on my moving body and I don’t know exactly what I’m doing wrong, but it is seriously pissing me off. My sewing skills have come so far in the last year, and yet, virtually none of my sewing projects are making me happy because the fit just isn’t as good as my favorite ready to wear shirts. Even tried dissection of one of these, and somehow the block I drafted from those pieces still didn’t work.

So here’s the problem(s):

1. wide rib cage + nonexistent bust combination is not something most patterns fit well

2. short torso + nonexistent waistline is not something most vintage patterns work for

3. forward shoulders make sleeve fitting suck ass

4. broad shoulders + forward shoulders + hatred of the poofy sleeve cap means you will never be happy in your sewing life ever.

5. I don’t even know if there’s a name for my broad-at-the-bust-line man back but it makes me sad that the princess lines of my back pieces are easily confused for the front pieces bc there’s almost the same amount of muscle mass there as in my itty bitty titty committee case study goin’ on up front here. Shirts always, always, always pull at the back underarm when I try to move because of said mass. On the plus side in the zombie apocalypse I have serious farmer/ax swinger muscle genetics going on.

All of this is a long way of saying I am giving up on set in sleeves for awhile. The cumulative effect of all of this sewing failure is that I’m not even excited at trying new patterns because I know how it’s going to end up: 1980s shapeless boxy shit that only David Bowie could make look sexy (see below), or another thing that makes me unable to move my arms. It’s time for the gusset/kimono sleeve to come into my life in a big way.

80sbowieOh, David Bowie. You make everything better.

Wanna know who else makes everything better? Esther Kaplan Pivnick, that’s who. Sewing guru extraordinaire whose vintage pattern drafting book Fundamentals of Patternmaking can be found at the delightful blog of the awesome TJ at A Perfect Nose (here). After some kimono sleeve sewing therapy I may, once again, under the masterful tutelage of Esther Pivnick, try redrafting a blouse from my own measurements because, let’s face it, the set in sleeve is a part of virtually every awesome garment I see on tv and lust after for my own.