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.)

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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.

Vintage Sewing Library: Modern Pattern Drafting by Harriet Pepin

I adore old sewing books. These tend to have much more information than contemporary books, which may be due to sewing being a serious occupation for many more women during the first half of the 20th century than it is now in our era of cheap ready made clothing. *suppressing rant on exploitation built into system of production of cheap ready made clothing and why the first world nations have this luxury as hard as I possibly can* I’m going to work on adding many links to the vintage books I have found online, but for now, just one gem:

modernpatterndesign

Harriet Pepin. Modern Pattern Design. Available from Michou Loves Vintage, a gorgeous site in German. The download page is (here); Modern Pattern Design is under the expandable menu for “Schnittkonstruktion.”

Another source is (here), and yet another source is web based, through the Wayback Machine’s archived version of vintagesewing.info, a site (now unavailable) that was a rich resource of vintage sewing books. It is (here) and photos to follow are sourced from there.

It’s available for over $100 on etsy (here) if you’re into collectibles!

This book goes into incredible detail on constructing patterns from a basic sloper. To give you an idea of how well it shows pattern manipulations, here are several examples of how to modify a pattern to create various types of cowl necklines. I just did this on a jersey kimono top and it took me about an hour using a Threads Magazine tutorial. It was an involved, frustrating process. Next time, I will try one of these:

cowl1cowl2

cowl6 cowl5 cowl4 cowl3

And just one more gushing fangirl inclusion. I have been messing around trying to figure out bra making for my unique figure (broad rib cage, small bust, forward shoulder, etc) since bras have ALWAYS been a problem for me. Without the context of the bodice pattern around it, the bra cups and band are a bit puzzling and easy to screw up. Enter this sense-making illustration:

bratopBless you, Harriet Pepin. Bless you.